Shepherd wanted, but not for a Nativity scene

Rod and staff are not required.

But any sheepherder hired by Western Range Association will need a dog and a horse, which the association will provide.

What is required: at least three months of experience attending grazing sheep.

Few apply - perhaps just those attracted to the nomadic lifestyle of a shepherd or shepherdess - and even fewer are selected.

Association executive director Dennis Richins said the group, based in Salt Lake City, is required by federal law to first advertise for American labor, which it does through ads in newspapers. Richins said his association spends $20,000 a year on advertising for "domestics," and he may get 14 to 15 referrals a year. The majority of those don't qualify because of a lack of experience.

"U.S. people don't want to do it anymore," he said. "Most of our workers come from Peru or poorer countries. There they can make only $140 a month. If they come to Nevada to work, they make $750 a month, plus furnished room and board."

The association coordinates about 800 shepherds a year. Most come from Peru, Chile, Mexico and Bolivia to work for ranchers in 10 Western states. They earn from $650 to $1,200 a month, depending on the state.

"It's hard and lonely. A lot of the time. you're out by yourself with the sheep. You might not see anyone for four or five days.

"It's you, your horse and dog."

What exactly does a shepherd do? The ad sums it up:

"Herds sheep using trained dogs. Guards flock from predators and from eating poisonous plants. May examine animals for signs of illness and administer vaccines, medication and insecticides. May assist in lambing, docking and shearing."

The day goes like this: early morning wake-up to herd the sheep and turn them to feed, go back to camp, check on flock periodically to make sure everything is in order, turn sheep to feed elsewhere, turn them out to bed on higher ground, which sheep prefer. The job is 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In the winter, shepherds take the sheep to the high ground. The shepherd sleeps in a trailer. In the summer, he or she has a tent.

Richins employs four shepherds, one of whom has been working on his ranch in Salt Lake for 20 years. That employee has his green card and a business back home. Many sheepherders can make enough after a few years' work to return home and start a business or build a home.

"You can save your money because there is no place to spend it. The benefits are good for people from poorer countries."

A guest worker can take a contract for up to three years, he said, then must return home. The shepherd can then apply to come back for another stint.

Richins said sheep may be thought of as dumb animals, but never underestimate them.

"Sheep are smarter than you think. You might think they're stupid, but try and catch one sometimes, and they'll get away from you."

n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.


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