10 Years on Mt. Jumbo

In 1999 the city of Missoula enlisted John and his sheep in an unconventional weed control project. Instead of the conventional practice of using herbicides on invasive weeds, John’s sheep would graze city land on Mt Jumbo. In the beginning only a few sheep were enlisted to accomplish a huge task. Each year more sheep and time was added to the project. Now about 400 sheep spend less time to accomplish the goal to complete the annual Mt. Jumbo sheep grazing project.

Once the project got big enough, a sheep herder, a horse, guard dogs and a campo were needed. John already had the horses and dogs but needed to find a herder and build a campo. John also needed to get the sheep to the mountain but transporting them was too dangerous so, John asked the city for permission to herd them the 9 miles on city streets. That’s how getting the sheep to and off the mountain became a public event.

The community was offered a chance to ride bikes along with the sheep and assist in the herding. The sheep usually go up to the mountain in July and come home by September… so watch for the posts, grab your bike and join the herd on the three hour trek!

Please remember, when the sheep are on the mountain so are the guard dogs. If you are hiking the beautiful mountain and you have a dog, please keep them on a leash for their own protection, and that of our dear Mt. Jumbo sheep.

Leaving The Farm

The last Saturday of June is usually when we have our sheepherding trek to Mt. Jumbo. We meet at the main house of the ranch at 6:00 am then ride down to the lower acres of the ranch where the sheep are and herd them out the side gate onto Schmidt Lane. We drive them across Mullan Rd. and onto Flynn Lane.

Going Through Town

As we go down Flynn Lane it’s like a parade. People come out of their houses, wave and take pictures of the sheep herder on his horse, the bike herders (riders) and of course the sheep. We have to be really careful that the sheep don’t go into people’s yards to get a snack, or to stop alongside the road to play in the water. We drive the sheep right down the middle of the road stopping all traffic until we get to Broadway, another one of Missoula’s busy streets. Once at Broadway we have to have people stop all the traffic so we can drive the sheep across Broadway. Once we cross Broadway we get to go over the Rail Road tracks towards the cemetery. It can get kind of complicated here as there might be a train coming or going and we’ll have to stop the sheep and keep them in a close herd where they are safe. The road past the cemetery is very busy with traffic going up to the North Hills and to the dump. It is complicated here too as we have to stop traffic so the sheep can go by or stop the sheep to the traffic can go by, Along the 9 miles we might have to have the horse trailer and pick up a couple of slow seep and take them to the mountain.

Randolph Moon Homestead

Finally, we reach the Randolph Moon Homestead were the sheep rest for the night before they start their grazing. Once we get all the sheep in the field, we take bike riders back to the ranch in our big horse trailer or riders are free to ride off. We got the sheep to their safe haven for the next couple weeks! Our established Mt. Jumbo sheep grazing project will continue for a couple short weeks before we make the trek back to the farm.

The Purpose

Due to Farmer John’s Mt. Jumbo sheep grazing the hills of Missoula, Leafy Spurge, a weed with seed capsules that explode, shooting seeds to distances of 15 feet, is decreasing on the mountain. This invasive plant is difficult to control with herbicide because of root depth, and we love providing an alternative and sustainable answer with our animals. A fence going up the mountain, with the green and yellow weed covering the west side of the fence(the control in the experiment) shows the difference of how effective the project has been over the last several years.

We are limiting the spread of weeds by allowing sheep to munch on unwanted seeds as they grow, the sheep’s effectiveness coming in because they eat the plant before the seeds can fall, and intensive, repetitive grazing is what allows the natural, native plants to come back to Missoula naturally. We will continue this great tradition and we are always looking for volunteers to help with the rounds trips, to and from the farm. Come check out our calendar on our community page, sign up with our newsletter to better stay informed, or just simply give us a holler.