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Learn More About Ranching

Sweetgrass follows the last sheepherders to lead their flocks up into Montana's Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains for summer pasture. Learn more about the American West, romanticized depictions of the cowboy or ranching and the economics of sheep ranching.
  • Investigate sustainable sheep-raising practices (or practices for the livestock typically raised in your state). Encourage your state to adopt or enforce sustainable ranching and farming practices.

  • John Ahern sings to pass the time. See if you can find a transcript of the songs he is half-remembering. Write your own sheep herding song or cowboy poem and record a video version to post online.

  • About 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, sheep were among the first animals to be domesticated by humans. They provided both animal protein and skins for shelter. Ask friends and family to identify things they own or use that rely on sheep ranching. Where are those things made?

  • Analyze political advertising that uses cowboy or sheep imagery. What messages are the politicians trying to convey and how real or romanticized are their depictions? Why would a politician who isn't a cowboy by profession choose to associate him or herself with the image of a cowboy?
  • Host a screening and discussion of Sweetgrass at a 4-H meeting.

  • Host a follow-up panel to discuss the depiction of nature and the West in Sweetgrass, including the role of "rugged individualism" and the "cowboy" in American culture. Consider including speakers or artists who can discuss their own visions of the West, or of human-animal relations.


Get informed about the issues in the film and lead a discussion in your community.

Discussion Guide

Discussion Guide

Sweetgrass is a contemplative elegy depicting the twilight of a defining chapter in the history of the American West. It follows the last sheepherders to lead their flocks of sheep up into Montana's Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains for summer pasture. Shot between 2001 and 2003, the film provides a rare glimpse into the beauty and the hardships of a lifestyle once central to Big Sky country, now gone. As an outreach tool,Sweetgrass asks viewers to both celebrate and question romantic depictions of cowboys, the West, wilderness and ranching. It raises issues of land use, animal husbandry practices, the economics of sheep ranching and public policy.

Lesson Plan

Lesson Plan

In this lesson, students will watch and research animal husbandry practices for managing newborn lambs. The clips used from the film depict ranchers caring for sheep and the now defunct practice of driving sheep to summer pasture in Montana's Absaroka-Beartooth mountains.

Reading List

Delve Deeper

This multi-media resource list, compiled by Gina Blume of the Monroe Township Public Library, includes books, films and other materials related to the issues presented in the film Sweetgrass. Learn more about topics like the American West, filmmaking, and ethnography.

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Sweetgrass... is a tribute to past and contemporary people who still manage to eke out a bittersweet living on the land.”

— Ilisa Barbash, Producer

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