Herding at Cedar Ridge.
Text by Kathy Eckles Hooker
Photographs by Helen Lau Running
I put this livestock here for you; it is your father and your mother,
your thoughts and your mind. You will have children and grandchildren
and so forth as time goes on. Your livestock is going to be your life.
- Relocation Booklet, Teesto, Arizona
Ella and Leonard Deal are sheepherders. Thirty years ago, Ella's father
gave them a flock of 10 sheep and two goats as a wedding gift. Today
their herd numbers 150 sheep and goats and is an important source of
income for the family. The surplus animals are either sold at auctions
or butchered, their wool sold or used for weaving.
Ella, her daughter Daisy, and I stand outside the Deals' hogan this
morning and watch Leonard in the distance as he herds their flock of
animals back to camp. The white coats of the sheep and goats contrast
sharply with the green fields. "The sheep and goats got up early this
morning," Ella says, "and they have been grazing, just eating grass and
drinking water." Leonard moves the animals back toward the corral as
Ella continues: "He knows when it's time to bring them back because they
are missing home, and it's getting too hot for them." During the warm
weather, sheep and goats graze from mid-morning to noon and from
afternoon to sunset.
As Leonard swings a lasso and yells to the animals to move on, a
sheepdog leads the parade through sage and rabbit brush. Three other
dogs harass the herd, snapping at their heels. While the dogs bark
loudly, the animals bleat in complaint and stomp their feet in
rebellion. Heads bobbing in objection, the animals kick up clouds of
dust as they enter the corral.
Once inside, the babies nestle close to their mothers to nurse. Leonard
checks the flock, cooing to them. After feeding their lambs and kids,
the sheep and goats cluster together in the shade of the corral walls.
All is quiet. Leonard closes the gate and says good-bye softly,
returning to his hogan for a cup of coffee and rest. It is time to
return to the peaceful part of the sheepherder's life.
All of the elder Deals herd sheep, and many hours are spent with the
animals. "Sometimes it can be a boring job," Daisy says. "When my mom is
with the sheep, she brings her wool and spins and cards it. I bring a
book, and my dad does leather work. We can fill the time and get two
jobs done at once. Even though we're busy, we still keep an eye on the
Deal family life revolves around their sheep -- it's essential that they
prevent overgrazing damage to the land. The family moves with the flock
to a different camp every season. "We move from camp to camp and move
the sheep, too. They go where we go because then we can find them lots
of food," Daisy says. "We used to move all four seasons, but now we
don't have to. We only have three hogans because the hogan at our fall
camp is too old and broken down. We're not worried, though. We know our
sheep get enough grass from three moves." Each camp is a home, complete
with hogan, shed, and corral. The winter camp is located in a forested
area of their land, but the spring and summer camps are on flatter
terrain. "In the winter," Daisy continues, "we take our sheep to the
mountain. They eat trees and leaves up high because the ground is
covered with snow. In the summer, they eat in the flat area."
The sheep eat rabbit brush, greasewood, pi–on, and juniper. "My sheep
eat many kinds of grasses," Ella says. "We chase them to the salty weeds
up on the mountain. If you don't chase them up there, they will eat
dirt! We're lucky to have enough for the sheep to eat, but we do worry
about finding enough water for them. When we herd, we listen to the
animals and do what they want to do. Sometimes they want to drink and
drink, and in the winter they eat snow for water. We can't always count
on water in the summer. The hole dried out last summer, and we had no
water. The tribe had to haul water to us."
Aside from worrying about the scarcity of water, the Deals must protect
their sheep from wild animals. "It's best to stay with your sheep. If we
just let them run around, then the coyotes get them. So far, we've lost
two lambs this summer. The coyotes don't kill just one sheep. They kill
one and then keep on trying to kill them all. You have to watch for
foxes, too. Most of the time the sheep don't run off. We chase them
across the wash, and then they eat their way home."
In addition to watching the herd on a daily basis, the Deals have
seasonal tasks to perform, such as tending the ewes at lambing and
shearing in the spring. "We [three women] shear before it gets hot. It
took us 25 days to shear our sheep. We're busy," Ella says. Also in the
summer, the family dips their sheep with a chemical solution that
controls pests and skin diseases. "The tribe has a place near our area
where we can go and dip our sheep. We usually dip after the Fourth of
July. Some of our sheep might carry a bug, so we give them a shot and
put them through the dip."
Family members, including the children and the elders, help with the
herding, lambing, shearing, and dipping. Learning to care for livestock
is considered an important maturing process for young Navajos. The
Deals' sheep and goats are a source of both livelihood and pride. With a
smile, Ella says: "When you're able to care for yourself and your sheep,
you are grown. It's hard to keep sheep, but we like them. We're proud
that we have them. My children get hungry for mutton. They come home and
butcher. They get homesick for it, and we're glad we have our sheep and