My Idaho: The life of an Emmett Sheep Rancher

Posted at 4:35 PM, May 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-02 20:36:57-04

Like many industries, Idaho's sheep business took a hit in 2020.

Because raising sheep is one of Idaho's oldest agricultural traditions, it's hard to keep these ranchers down. John Peterson is one of those ranchers.

"The sheep industry I think is still an important basic Idaho industry."

Peterson grew up in Boise and married to a woman with Basque roots, whose grandfather came from the old country and herded sheep. They married and moved to Emmett. "We had a couple of acres on the east side of the valley, it was a little bigger as we built." They then bought a larger piece of land from a family who had homesteaded on the west side of the valley.

When the pandemic hit John says the demand for a leg of lamb and lamb chops that are popular at upscale restaurants and on cruise ships plummeted. "That part of the industry, the demand just plummeted. I think most of the people in the industry, it's the biggest roller coaster anyone had seen."

When asked about what he would want people coming into Idaho to know about the history of sheep ranching, Peterson replied, "There are anti-grazing they don't want any livestock on public lands. Our message is, look what we do, I think it's beneficial." And entertaining. In recent years sheep drives through towns and across state highways are becoming a tourist attraction. Peterson thinks he knows why. "They're new here and they want to see something that is traditionally Idaho, and maybe the people that have lived here a long time get a little nostalgic and don't want to see it go away."

Peterson's sheep will soon start their annual trip north through Boise and Valley counties. A trip not to take lightly. "We deal with coyotes, wolves, cougars, and bears."

But with their devoted guard dogs and a little bit of luck, they'll make it with minimal losses. And then do it all again next year.