A Book Review: Sheep and Sheep People

A Book Review: Sheep and Sheep People

By CECILIA PARSONS
Sheep Industry News Contributor

(May 1, 2013) When Mike Giles gets wound up and starts telling stories, you know it’s going to be good – not just entertaining, but interesting. Reading Giles’ new book, Sheep and Sheep People – Forty Years in the Sheep Business in the Western United States – is a lot like listening to him tell a story. You miss out on the great facial expressions, but you have time to savor the story.

Giles is a former commercial sheep man from Los Banos, Calif. He started in the sheep business at the age of 14 and sold his last ewes about 10 years ago. In between, besides being a sheep owner, broker and herder, he received an agriculture degree from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, served in Vietnam and worked for Western Livestock Journal, where he honed his photography skills. He currently resides in Palm Springs, Calif.   

Giles’ stories are a window into the western sheep industry. Readers can get a feel for the work and the struggles of sheep-raising individuals and families and why they persist in that way of life. He may not have met everyone in the West who ran sheep in the late 1960s through the 1970s, but he came close. Many names and faces in the book will be familiar to current sheep ranchers. 

With his story-telling ability – and his great photos – Giles is able to put a face on a way of life that the general public knows little about. His stories are told in such a way that even those who know nothing about raising sheep or the sheep business can become pulled into the life and gain an understanding of it. The photographs in the book range from snapshots to art. Wide-angle sheep and sky photos show the beauty of the life, but the portraits of the people show the reality.

Giles begins with his initial forays into the sheep world – backyard sheep, working in stockyards during college and for friends who were in the sheep business. Giles explains that he was not born into a livestock-producing family; instead he started with a few ewes and eventually became a foreman for a large range-sheep operation. From there, Giles hits the business world of grazing permits, Basque sheepherders and trucking sheep to feed. His experiences in New Mexico and southern Colorado detail what life was like for ranchers who made their living with sheep by knowing where to find feed and how to get the sheep from point A to point B. The California sheepherding years come with a little less adventure in wide-open spaces, but plenty of insight into the financial precariousness of the sheep industry.  

All of Giles’ stories contain plenty of humor and some drama. Grizzly bears raiding sheep corrals, blowing off steam at cowboy bars and dealing with recalcitrant sheepherders are some of his best, and maybe a little windier, stories.

Even if you’ve never heard of any of these people in the stories, their lives true.  Although it’s possible Giles hasn’t remembered the whole story exactly as it happened, his writing is convincing and makes it pretty easy to picture the train wrecks and other mishaps in your mind.

The book is available for purchase for $50, please send a check to Michael Giles at 5723 Los Coyotes Dr., Palm Springs, CA 92264. He can also be contacted at  mgiles04@aol.com .

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