Cowboy Poetry and Music and More at the BAR-D Ranch

About Tom Nichols




Ranch Raised

I was ranch raised,
I say it with pride.
I wanted that for her
It’s eating me inside.

Got a lump in my throat
And a tear in my eye.
I dropped her off
Now I’m cussing, why…

Don’t you think it was easy,
It’s not the way of the ranch.
I’m supposed to be the tree
She, the fruit on the branch.

My roots should be deeper
So she’s nurtured with care
Not dropped at the club
Nor shuffled here and there.

I’d always taken her with me,
I met the bus after school.
Taught her about fawns, frogs
And other things that are cool.

We shifted stockers,
And poly wire for grazing,
Watched red tails swoop
At speeds that were amazing.

We lambed out ewes,
Caught minnows in the creek,
Hauled big round bales,
Played hide and seek.

We watched cranes
Fly North high above.
Just me and a little girl
I cherish and love.

It’s this darn city job
That’s getting me down.
This is no way to raise her,
Not this living in town.

Aside from grade school,
We were a team before…
I don’t know if I can take it
I’m about to walk out the door.

She’ll play, make new friends
And go places I’ve never seen
But darn it! It’s summer,
It’s too early to wean.

© 2008, Tom Nichols
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Tom told us, "The inspiration for this poem was the first (and so far only) time that I took our six-year-old daughter to the local Boys and Girls Club."

UPDATE, 2015:  Now Tom's daughter is headed for high school, and his sentiments haven't changed. He wrote on his Facebook page that, " is still too damned early to wean."

Tom shared a photo from her childhood, taken at a county fair, with what he remembers as a leopard cub.

He comments, "Do you have any idea how hard it was to keep that girl from petting that cub? We were at the country fair to watch her cousin show sheep and she couldn't wait until the show was over to take me to see the cub...She said, 'They wouldn't let me pet it but I was tickling it through the sheep skin.'"


Huckleberry Hoedown

Huckleberry pickin’ at Neil Spring
Filling a bucket, hanging by a string.
“Is your bottom covered yet?
I’ve picked more than you I bet.” 

“Your bucket’s empty, you’ve barely got any!
You’d have more, if you’d quit eatin’ so many!
I’m going to pick that patch over there
If the bear comes ‘round be sure to share.” 

George is spinning tales by the fire.
Every camp’s silent heedin’ the squire.
He’s chasing a cougar down the valley...
He’s roping a buck then taking a dally... 

He tells stories ‘til his voice is worn
Then fries eggs and bacon in the morn.
He’ll have his bucket full by lunch.
We worshipped him; the whole Nichols bunch.

Camping in the mountains was our thing
Until the rangers capped that spring.
Like the Indians, we summered there.
That patch was ours—it wasn’t fair.

We’d have to find some place new
Under big timber—where berries grew.
An unlikely place that few would know
A place up high with winter snow.

All summer, we salted cows after church
Then into the mountains we went in search.
We’d stop by a creek for a picnic lunch
Then bounce down logging roads on a hunch.

“Psst. Berries are ripe off 37 Road.”
That’s the big secret, Mom was told.
Forget the cows—don’t matter if they’re out.
Mom’s got huckleberry fever—aint no doubt.

Four boys, ridin’—in the bed of the pickup
Mom, drivin’—like we’d pulled a stick-up.
Pop rides shot gun, Grandma’s in the middle
All of us wishin’—Mom’ll slow down a little.

George and Anne are behind in his Jeep
They can’t keep up—the hills are too steep.
Volcanic dust billows on our tail.
Whoa!! Ripe berries!! Grab your pail!!

Huckleberries hit the bottom; Ping, Ping, Ping
We’ll have huckleberries ‘til next spring.
At the Nichols Ranch we were blessed
Mom’s huckleberry pie—Best in the West!

© 2008, Tom Nichols
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Tom told us, "While I was checking sheep at the OSU Dairy, the Jersey string was run in for their evening milking. In a moment of nostalgia, I was inspired to stop and write about my Dad milking his Jerseys. Later that night, I shared the poem with my daughter as a bedtime story then went on to explain that her grandpa milked a cow all year around except when she was dried up for the County Fair, huckleberry picking and the beginning weeks of deer season. Her resulting questions evoked more nostalgia, stories and 'Huckleberry Hoedown.'”



Milking Time

With cats following,
he shakes the bucket of grain,
calls, "Whoa Bos," "Whoa Bos,"
and she saunters up the lane.

They meet at the stanchion,
she leans in for a bite,
he quickly closes it,
‘case she’s inclined to fight.

He sits upon his stool
zinging milk into the pail
holding with his teeth
her dirty swishing tail.

He wore his cow milking hat—
of the Stetson Stockman kind.
I wish I had it now
it would surely be a find.

It wasn't much to look at
with its greasy crumpled brim
from pushing into Jersey flanks
while filling buckets to the rim.

Then away to the "Tin Can,"
a shed for ranching gear,
saddles, saws and shovels
with separator in the rear.

Mounted on a little stand,
soon it whirled like a top.
Then he’d turn the spigot—
just, one memory of my Pop.

The cream went into a bowl
placed by the sickle grinder.
White Paws perched upon a saddle,
Gray—a ledge behind her.

Both purring happily,
waiting for him, to—
scoop the foamy milk,
when milking time was through.

© 2008, Tom Nichols
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Tom says that the comments on his poem above explain the inspiration behind this one.




“This is Elouise, Milt’s wife,

I’m mad as ever in my life!

That darned Milt’s nowhere to be found

I’m chasin’ heifers, nearly drowned!

Don, that brother in law of mine,

He said, “Everything was fine.”

Soon as he left the storm begun

It flooded the fields west of 101.

The Salmon River’s higher than norm,

The high tide’s surging with the storm.

Waves are washing over the road

It's as dark as the mother lode!

Rain’s blowing sideways in big drops

No one’s stirring -not even cops!

But I’m out in it! Where those waters meet.

Those damned sisters got me beat!

Don, left ‘em here, all alone,

Won’t answer his cell phone!

If he’s boozin’ and chasing again,

When he gets back, I’ll show him sin!

I’d sell those rips—hey that’s what I’ll do!

Call the sale—have ’em send a crew.

I’m telling you right now!

I’m not doing this anymore!

This old heifer on two legs is through

Chasing spry young ones on four!”


© 2008, Tom Nichols
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Tom comments: The poem was inspired by a phone conversation on a night of heavy rains, snowmelt and flooding on the Oregon Coast. As I mentioned, Elouise was mighty agitated and I don’t think I got a word in after I said, “hello.” She was 2 hours away so I wasn’t of much use except to vent. It was one of those one-sided conversations I will never forget and an easy one to put to rhyme.



The Lambing Sheds

Drop band spread upon a knoll
Lambing sheds squatting below.
Clear and cold, a biting wind.
Scene of memories -long ago.

A boy, barely nine,
The herders let me stay,
While Pop went on East
To buy a load of hay.

Jugged ewes,
Gave their teats a strip.
Iodined lambs,
Made sure they had a sip.

Pulled a lamb
That was breach.
Untangled twins,
Far in as I could reach.

Grafted a lamb
With the dead one’s hide.
Emptied jugs,
Moved pairs outside.

Oh, what great joy
I had that winter day.
The kind of experience
For which you cannot pay.

The sheds were alive,
With a heart and soul.
To be a sheepherder
Became my goal.

Now, sheds falling down
And weather worn.
Many years have past
Since lambs were born.

Rows of wooden jugs,
Gates missing or askew.
Nevermore to hold
A newborn lamb and ewe.

A far corner pen,
Full of tumbleweeds,
Where I caught lambs,
While herders pulled seeds.

There, beside,
A gate unhinged.
The chard pine block
Where tails were singed.

A narrow lane,
Once separating bands,
A sagging sheep wagon
Where we warmed hands.

As I wander, with camera,
Catching ambience and light,
Thoughts are triggered
By the site.

Why am I here?
Why today?
Miles from home,
Far out of my way.

Is this a pilgrimage
To renew my being?
Is there more to this trip
Than I am seeing?

Does the soul still slumber
In these sheds, this earth?
Has it drawn me
To this place of birth?

Does it long
To leave this ruin?
Is that my purpose-
What I’m doin’?

Will it travel
Back home with me?
To awaken?
To live free?

Will we go alone?
Or bring others too,
Perhaps souls of sheepherders,
Whom, here, paid their due?

Are others chosen
For a similar task?
So many questions—
No one to ask.

Withered grass upon the knoll
Lambing sheds decayed below.
Fog rolls in with the setting sun.
Troubling thoughts—as I go.

© 2009, Tom Nichols
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Tom shared photos and comments, which are also posted in an April, 2009 Picture the West::

The late summer and early fall of 1968, when I was 7, my Dad, went back into the sheep business by buying mutton ewes. He, my three brothers and I probably mouthed and bagged every mutton ewe in Southern Oregon and Northern California until we had a decent set of ewes. We bought fine-wooled range ewes and one Corriedale ewe from the ranchers who owned this lambing shed.

The main shed and one row of many rows of turnout pens

Interior shot of the barn, a close up of the jugs and sagging roof

Sun on the shearing catch pen gate

Tallies and paint brands on a grain bin

The Corriedale ewe became mine, and when she lambed, I spoiled her with a bucket of alfalfa pellets. Then I went for a bucket of water and came back to find that she had choked to death. If she had laid on the lamb as she died maybe I would have grown up to be a cowboy.


Cutting Calves

We were working spring calves,
Applying our 5¢ brand,
When a cheerful voice said,
“Could I give you a hand?”

The warm greeting was Doc’s,
The new neighbor next door.
Just how could he help us?
He’d never done this before.

An expert heart surgeon,
Just moved up from L.A.
He had best stoke the fire
And keep out of the way.

He watched for a while,
In smoke from burning hair,
Then suddenly asked,
“Know what you’re doing there?”

“Of course,” Pop replied,
“I’ve been doing it all my life!
There’s only a few left,
Want a go with the knife?”

Well, then came the joking
About not having any scrubs,
No orderlies, nurses,
Nor sterilized scalpels and tubs.

No local anesthetic
To reduce the little bull’s pain,
No walls or roof over head
Should it begin to snow or rain.

How about spring flowers,
Pink and fragrant, to ease the wait
Of those Horned Herefords,
Bellowing, just out the gate.

Doc, he took the ribbing,
He was not about to be beat.
So I flanked the next calf,
Securing the front row seat.

“Come on Doc, Lets go!
He’s ready for you to begin.
This first shot’s CDT,
Side of the neck, under the skin.”

Doc quickly corrected.
“Lateral cervical,
That’s where it’s injected.”

“Doc, here’s the implant,
Put it at the base of his ear”
“Ok. Stand back, make room!
I think I can take it from here”

“This anabolic steroid,
Will give Arnold extra heft.
You amputate the right
And disfigure the lower left?”

“Next for the castration,
It’s only minor surgery.
But hold onto him tight,
I’ll explain his anatomy.”

“First incise the dermis,
Covering the scrotum’s pair.
See the tiny blood vessels,
The capillary bed for the hair.”

“Now I slit the tunica,
Exteriorizing the testes.
Hey, what’s the matter?
You gettin’ weak in the knees?”

Scrape the spermatic cord
There’s more to it than you know.
The cremaster muscle,
It shortens when it’s ten below.

“The tiny vas deferens
Leading from the epididymus.
On the south end anyway,
A bull is just the same as us.”

He went on dissecting,
Explaining pieces and parts.
Then told us he fixed men;
Between surgeries, opening hearts.

That got our attention,
You could tell by our startled looks!
He’d taught us a lesson,
And didn’t need any text books.

Doc knew the business,
Of castrating, better than most
And we thought we had him,
That he’d be as green as a post.

Doc slapped on the brand
And called for the next calf.
Then off went his pager,
And he left with a laugh.

Ralph, Ken, Doc
And so many many others.
This is written in thanks
By one of the Nichols Brothers.

You always stepped in,
Helping out, when times were tough.
What Friends! What Neighbors!
I can never thank you enough!

© 2009, Tom Nichols
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Tom comments
If anything belies the notion that ranchers are rugged individualists more than branding time I don’t know what it could be. My family went through some tough times in the '70s and there was always a crowd of friends around for working cattle, especially brandings and trailing the cattle to the mountains each summer. This poem was inspired by a branding when a couple of doctors and a Stanford med student were present.



Another Conversation

Dressed like a dime store cowboy, smiling there, in your hat and boots,
Trying to convince me to sell out; you and my banker, you’re in cahoots.

Our little place is about all that’s left; except for the biggest ranching outfits.
Now you sit like red headed vultures, waiting to sell our home ranch into bits.

You say, “I’ve rented you pasture, you’ve fenced it and paid the rent.
Tell you what, I’ll sell this place and only charge you six percent.”

“I’ll list it at three hundred. Here, let’s do the simple math.
Look, with your share, you can choose a new career path.”

“You can do something else. Improve your position in life.
Forget the livestock business, avoid this trouble and strife.”

You just go on and on and on. I’m plumb mad to my core.
I don’t suppose you can tell, but I’m mad as never before.

I could tell you plenty! But you stand where Pop died.
Where Pop crutched his last ewe, where I sat so often and cried.

About my working up north, driving home each weekend.
Each day of the week longing for the time that we’d spend.

Of Pop and I sharing dreams, to slowly improve and expand,
Adding more cows, more ewes, father and son working the land.

But that’s all in the past now, and you’ll never comprehend,
How my heart aches and aches knowing that this is the end.

The ewes are gone now; I sold them with an ad.
Soon the cows and calves go. Damn! I feel so bad.

Over 40 years of breeding, over 40 years of pride,
Up the chute and gone, in just one fateful ride. 

Yes, I could tell you plenty, but I’ll just stand here and stew.
Yes, I could tell you plenty, but what good would it do?

You’ve been our neighbor for just about twenty years.
While subdividing the county; you and your greedy peers. 

You’ve moved in city folks on every acre you could find.
Yes, you’ve been a neighbor, but of the absolute worst kind. 

You’ve ruined this good country! Now you’re telling me to sell!
Well, you and the banker, you can go straight to hell!

© 1989, Tom Nichols
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Tom comments: I wrote this poem in the summer of ’89. My father had passed away the previous year and my mother said, “That’s it, we’re not doing this ranching thing anymore.” I was having none of it, and begged her to let me custom graze a couple truck loads of ewes and a truck load of gain lambs on the place that summer. A number of family “friends” cornered me that summer and told me how much better off I’d be if I’d forget about ranching and start a new career. One of my true friends could see the grief I was going through and encouraged me to write as a form of therapy. Baxter Black’s column in The Livestock Weekly was my inspiration for writing poetry.

I also worked my way through my folks' bookshelf that summer, mostly concentrating on Western writers such as Hyde, Doig, Van Cleave, Moody, Steinbeck and Borland. Sam Shepard’s
The Curse of the Starving Class, Ralph Beer’s The Blind Corral and William Kittredge’s Owning it All did little to improve my mental state. Still in my twenties, I could understand the drinking parts, but never understood how you could give up the struggle and sell out.


Dead Indian Memories

An early ride,
With friend beside,
You’ve sent us on our way.

With nary a rush,
Through shrub and brush,
We thank you for this day.

“Whoa Bos”
“Whoa Bos”

Hear the echo of their refrain,
See Herefords coming, once again.

The whole herd plodding single file,
‘Cept frisky calves that buck and rile.

With my “Two Spot” in the lead,
To call again, there was no need.

In a corral of split pine rails
Bulls are fighting and sniffing tails.

Cowboys shake a fly dust can.
They work together as if one man.

Watch for pinkeye and quills.
Suck on lemon Be Good Pills.

Soon dust hangs in the air.
“Shut the gate –sort that pair.”

Cows are pushing around the lick
Yearling heifers are shiny and slick.

Pride fills our heart and mind
A better life you’ll never find.

These are memories that never change,
That’s how we checked ‘em on our range.

© 2009, Tom Nichols
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Tom shared photos and comments with this poem in Picture the West.



Imagining Sheep

I want you to imagine,
A few moments if you will.
A lambing barn at midnight
When the ranch is still.

See steaming newborns
And not an empty jug.
Assist a yearling
With a gentle tug.

Glimpse twins nursing, tails wiggling,
Colostrum provides their every need.
Watch lambs jump and race
Through mixing pens as you feed.

Check pairs and new spring pastures
While taking an evening stroll.
Send your border collie "Way Back"
To gather a clover covered knoll.

Concentrate at the dodge gate,
The first fats are ready to sell.
Here comes the little bummer
He’s grown so you can barely tell.

Trail a flock of old crops
On a crisp frosty morn.
Spy a speckle-eared lamb
You revived when it was born.

Recall when the wool market
Wasn’t such a wreck.
Hear the thunder of hooves,
Across a shearing deck.

Listen to the rhythm of the machines,
Hanging oiled, ready for the first blow.
Dream you could shear them yourself,
If only you weren’t so slow.

Feel your leg muscles burn
From tromping wool all day.
Then sit back and smile
While puppies frolic and play.

Images like these,
Keep my passion for sheepherding alive.
I hope you share this same passion
For the industry in which you strive.

© 1998, Tom Nichols
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Tom shared photos with this poem in Picture the West.


Tom comments:

I used the poem in 1998 to start off an oral presentation during a job interview. Maybe it worked too well. My wife and I both were selected for interviews and I was hoping she would get the town job.

I often use the poem while teaching ANS 121 [Introduction to Animal Sciences] labs and occasionally while speaking to livestock groups.


Don’s Kill Sheet

Don showed me his kill sheet,
At Jane’s, the other day,
Could tell he wasn’t happy
By what he had to say.

“Held onto them all spring,
'Cause the price was down,
Got kicked off the clover
So they went to town.

“It cost 5 bucks a head
For their fateful ride.
They were heavy, at 170
Took a 50 cent slide.

“I don’t trust those guys!
Yearling docks totaled eleven.
Just how can that be?
Why, I only shipped seven!

“Where is their conscience?
Four bucks—that’s fine.
Sorted them out of the ewes,
Hah, should have been nine.

“They didn’t kill one.
The new family went to the sale.
Doherty said, ‘One chronic was dead,
When he stopped at the scale.’

“Must have been the foot rotters,
Not quite fat enough to grade.
I’ll slip a few in each load,
Soon, I’ll have it made.

“They tanked one carcass,
Could have been that old ewe.
You’re going to get docked.
So, send them a ringer or two.

“My last load in Colorado
Hit every slot on the grid.
Tried selling double-the-dress,
But couldn’t get a bid.

“I sheared them too early,
Their pelts were past prime.
They dumped over half,
And didn’t pay me a dime.

“Just look at that kill sheet!
Packers have a license to steal!
Can’t figure out how come
I get screwed every deal!”

© 2010, Tom Nichols
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Tom comments, "The poem is drawn from of a lifetime of sheepmen's stories and doesn't represent an actual load of lambs. I submit it with some apprehension and hope that in this day of political correctness, animal welfare and such that it doesn't cause a break in the lamb market."


Hey! We're Ranchin' Here!
                                 for George

From down on the Pecos
And up beyond the Snake
Folks are quick to tell you,
Just, so there’s no mistake,

Out here in the hills,
The Flint, the Sand, the Paint;
We’re caring for our stock
From can see until cain’t.

Buckarooin’ across a desert
Expanse of mirage and sage
Blazing our own trail
In this modern age.

Whether cracker in a swamp
Or paniolo on an Isle
Managing natural resources
Keeps our face in a smile.

Together with our families,
On prairie or endless plain,
We’re standing up to blizzards
Then kneeling down for rain.

Often overlooked,
And pushed off to the side
We come fighting back,
We’ve got that kind of pride.

Some are raising cattle,
Some are raising sheep,
But to a rancher
Our anchor is in deep.

We clothe your kids,
We’re at your every meal,
You don’t pay us much,
You’re gettin’ quite a deal.

You come from the city
For peace and to relate.
When you're done communin’
Be sure to close the gate.

The deer in the meadows,
Elk on the timbered knob,
Wildflowers by the lake,
Here, because we love our job.

Soon the sun will set,
It goes quickly in this space.
I see you like the view,
By the smile on your face.
It’s tranquil ‘cause,

No, you can’t buy an acre,
Build a house and pave a drive.
You’ll ruin what you move to—
What makes this country thrive.

All these things you love,
We want to make it clear,
Aren’t here by accident,
It’s ‘cause,

© 2010, Tom Nichols
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Tom Nichols' poem was inspired by the Art Spur, "She's a Hand," a painting by Joelle Smith. He comments:

There isn't a real apparent connection but I can assure you the picture was the inspiration of the thought process that produced the poem. One of my thoughts when I saw the picture was, "I bet she doesn't have to tell anyone, 'Hey! We're ranching here!,'" as my little brother had to when a group of drunken college kids left a gate open and let our cattle out. With those words and a few more (unfit to print) for emphasis, he sent the drunks on their way. My brother was thirteen and in the last months of his fight with leukemia at the time so he couldn't have begun to back up his words.

Tom dedicates this poem to his brother, George.


Dear Rancher

Dear Rancher,
We have never met,
So, I'm leaving this on the gate.
You've got this place fixed up
It really is first rate.

The barbed wire's tight and shiny,
The rock jacks are almost new,
The crested wheat is greening up,
Obviously, you're quite a farmer too.

There are new calves on the range.
Do you brand on this quarter?
With the new corral and water
It's really made to order.

But, hadn't you ought to ask
Before using another's land?
Sure, we don't get here much.
You've really got some sand.

We were driving up from Reno
And stopped to have a look about;
My ancestors homesteaded here,
Wasn't long, they droughted out.

We've paid the taxes ever since
And passed it down to kin,
To find you using it as your own
Gets under my skin.

So, I'm giving you notice,
Things are about to change,
We'd like to get some payment
For the using of this range.

Else, I got me a partner,
He's ten, but don't you laugh.
He wants to be a rancher,
He's got him a started calf.

The calf's name is Buster,
They make quit a pair,
Got him drinking from a bucket,
They're together everywhere.

About this time next year,
When Buster's ready for grass,
I think I'll buy some steers
And bring'em o'er the pass.

Since this pasture's fenced,
And you've never paid in full,
I think it'd be just the place
For my steers and his Jersey bull.
Your landlord

© 2011, Tom Nichols
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Tom told us, "No long stories of pioneers in covered wagons struggling on the homestead here, my ancestors' emigration is a little sketchy although we do know they came by boat and walked the isthmus. The inspiration was a visit to the grass seed warehouse of one of my landlords to pay my sheep pasture and seed screenings bill. He offered me some free pasture and told of visiting his family homestead. He figured one sure way to find out whose cattle they were was to drop in a trailer-full of yearling Holstein and Jersey bulls. At the time we were raising day old calves on about a dozen nurse cows."


Rooney’s Shufflin’ Sheep

Rooney’s shufflin’ sheep,
That’s the name of her game.
Rooney’s shufflin’ sheep,
Her everyday's the same.

She’s shufflin’ sheep,
Up around Silverton.
Oh, shufflin’ sheep,
Keeps Rooney at a run.

Rooney’s shufflin’ sheep
In the dark early morn.
She’s jugging up lambs
Soon as they are born.

Rooney’s shufflin’ sheep
Round ‘bout ten o’clock
Her yearling ewes were out
Taking a power walk.

Rooney’s shufflin’ sheep
In the middle of the day.
Farmer says, “Moove ‘em”
He wants to spray.

Rooney’s shufflin’ sheep,
In the afternoon.
Shearer called,
He’ll be there soon.

Rooney’s shufflin’ sheep
In the evening light.
Those ol’ Romney rams,
All they do is fight an’ fight.

Rooney’s shufflin’ sheep
In the lambing shed,
Gonna pull one lamb
Then it’s back to bed.

Rooney’s done shuffling sheep,
Her day is through.
Now she’s counting ‘em
Two by two.

Rooney’s shufflin’ sheep,
That’s the name of her game.
Rooney’s shufflin’ sheep,
Her everyday's the same.

She’s shufflin’ sheep,
Up around Silverton.
Oh, shufflin’ sheep,
Keeps Rooney at a run.

© 2012, Tom Nichols
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Tom told us, "I wrote this after spending an afternoon at a Willamette Valley Ram Sale swapping stories with sheep producers. Rooney looked at me and said, 'Why don't you write something about all of this shuffling sheep,' and this view of a day-in-the life of a Willamette Valley shepherd was the result."


Dog Trialing

What was it made her
Take a dog to the post?
Was it some primeval urge
That spurred her the most?

Dog and sheep, the first animals
Domesticated by man.
Could that be how long ago
This whole ordeal began?

A gather, two cross gates,
A quick pen and a shed,
She’d spent the whole morning
Visualizing each step in her head.

“Shh, Shh, away”

The run started great,
The outrun nice and wide.
Then all of the sudden,
“down, down, Moss!!!”
Moss crossed to the other side.

Then, she began to think,
As trouble started brewin’.
What the hell am I doin’.

"Lie Down, Lie Down”

All of the whistling
And shouting was to no avail
Young Moss had decided
To run the pale.

Around the turnout pens,
As he crested the hill,
But for a sniff at the outhouse
Moss might be running still.


Finally, a loud whistle
And Moss turned about face.
How long could the turnout crew
Keep the sheep in place?

Well, Moss came charging home.
Overrunning his sheep –of course.
Until the look-back whistle
Was blown with great force.

Meanwhile, back at the post,
She was getting worked up inside.
But, be damned if she’d walk off
She still had some of her pride.

Then, who would have guessed?
The fetch, it was so sweet.
Things were looking up.
This pup really was neat.

“That a boy, easy”
Around the post and out on the drive.
What a line! “There, walk up, easy,”
Moss is coming alive.

Through the gates
And on across the field.
“Down, away, down, walk up”
Her pride was just about healed.

“Easy, easy, steady”
We can still salvage this run,
It’s not too late."
Oops, a blow up on the last gate.

Two around each end
And one through the middle.
“ Easy, steady, MOSS!!”
Just slow-down a little.

Oh, the highs and lows.
Could her heart take this abuse?
They’d been to all of the clinics,
But what was the use?

"Down, come by, come by"
Around and around the pen.
"Away, look back, DOWN!!"
Damn! For everyone else
They just walked in.

“Look back, get back Moss”
Darn that ewe,
Why’d they give me one that’s lame?
Can’t worry about that now,
Gotta get my head in the game.

“Steady, easy, walkup"
Moss finally eyed them in
And she slammed the gate shut.
Now for the shed,
Separating blue on the butt.

“Away, away, come in”
She tried and she tried.
Whoever told her,
“Moss’ll shed 'em no trouble,"
Sure as heck lied.

“Come in, in here, easy”
When she moved up from Pro novice
What was she thinking?
Must have been all of the wine
She and the gals had been drinking.

“Come In, down, away, come in, easy”
The beep from her pocket
Tells her she’s got a minute.
"Down, away, come in, easy, away”
And to think, she walked onto the course
So sure she was going to win it.

“That’ll do, here, Good Boy"
She pats Moss
And walks off with a smile.
'Cause, even as bad as it was,
She’s already thinking about the next trial.

© 2015, Tom Nichols
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Tom told us, "This poem was written while setting out sheep at the Northwest Championship Sheepdog Trial at Scio, Oregon one drizzly spring day. The dogs and the shrill whistles and antics of the handlers along with trialing stories from a few friends inspired the poem."



Ol' Nichols' Cows

Ol' Nichols' cows are out again!
Would fixin' fence be such a sin?
The old posts are leanin' this and that,
The rusted wire is broke and layin' flat.
His big cows are thin as rails.
Would it hurt to feed a few bales?
Just watch'em comin' down the road,
Should call Dollarhide and make a load.
If I owned those breachy cows they'd get a ride!
Whatever happened to cowboy pride?

© 2015, Tom Nichols
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Tom told us, "The 'Heading West' Art Spur picture and a late evening call from the County Sheriff alerting me about my father-in-laws cows being out on the road inspired the poem.... Dollarhide was a livestock hauler from my youth."




Tom Nichols has shared interesting Picture the West entries:

  eastern Oregon photos

  sheep photos and a poem...

  photos from Oregon's Rogue Valley...

  photos of lambing sheds in Klamath County, Oregon...


See Tom Nichols'

The Little House That Grew Into A Home in our Art Spur project


Greensprings Brothers with the 2010 Cowboy Poetry Week Art Spur poems


Hereford Heifers with the 2009 Winter Art Spur poems


Country Trading with the 2009 Cowboy Poetry Week Art Spur poems


About Tom Nichols:

Tom raises sheep in Oregon's Willamette Valley.



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