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Frank Shirts - A Year in the Life of Raising Sheep

Wilder, ID

Sheep ranching is an Idaho tradition that dates back to the 1880s. Scottish emigrants like Andy Little, who was known as the "Idaho sheep king," brought sheep ranching know-how to Idaho and established the industry in a state with lots of open range.

Basque sheep herders played a major role as well, finding jobs tending to sheep flocks in Idaho as they had done in the Basque region of Spain. The Basques brought cultural traditions to Idaho that are still celebrated today.

At the peak in the 1930s, there were hundreds of sheep ranching outfits in Idaho, running more than 2.7 million sheep statewide. Nowadays, there are fewer than 40 sheep ranchers and 180,000 sheep overall.

Frank Shirts is one of the last sheep ranchers standing. He runs 12 bands, or about 28,000 ewes and lambs, from the low country in Wilder to the high country in the Boise and Payette National Forests every year.

In the spring, Shirts' sheep flocks navigate through the Boise Foothills -- a popular recreation zone next to Idaho's largest city. And in the high country, Shirts' Peruvian herders cope with predators like coyotes, black bears, mountain lions and wolves.

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