Getting Out: A Weekend at Tin Willows Sheep Ranch
Two weekends after our wedding we hightailed it to Oregon for a micro-honeymoon—not the three week European I was hoping for (now planned for 2023)—but a weekend escape across the state border with the goal of relaxing in nature and doing some photography.
First A Little History
I first stayed at the Tin Willows Sheep Ranch in the fall of 2020—it was the last stop on a three-week road trip of the Southwest with my daughter, Taya. After our first night staying on my cousin’s land in the Eastern Sierras our goal for night two was the Grand Canyon, but we fell short with our numerous stops to take photos. It was getting late as we passed through Las Vegas and we needed a place to set up camp. Kelly, my now wife, had just found the Hipcamp app— think of AirBNB but for campsites—and she found us a spot in Arizona on someone’s land for $15 a night. We arrived in the dark of night not knowing anything about our campsite, but awakened the next morning to find ourselves on a hill overlooking Lake Mead surrounded by multicolored cacti of all sorts. It was like being in a botanical garden, and from that first night I was a fan of Hipcamp. And so, my daughter found Tin Willows for the last night our our road-trip.
Our one night there was magical, and being late October the next morning was a frosty one in the mid-thirties. I climbed down from the tent and beheld a golden misty morning with a herd of sheep casually eating across the field. Naturally, I grabbed my camera!
Since then I’d been thinking of coming back with Kelly— a year and a half later I was able to my new bride, this beautiful, humble place to enjoy some of the simple things in life. Being spring, a few things were different: the vegetation was green, the weather temperate—even a little humid—and the creek was flowing with gusto.
After a five hour drive after work on Friday we arrived after dark, set up the tent, arranged our sleeping bags and pillows, got our dog Tiffany situated in the back seat and we all promptly fell asleep. The next morning we awoke to a gray morning of gentle rain tapping on the roof of our tent. Fortunately just as the weather app predicted the rain cleared giving way to beautiful blue dappled with white clouds around 11am.
Taken in October 2020, this was the shot that inspired me to come back.
The sharp calls of the guinea fowl woke me in time to grab my gear to shoot the herd of sheep coming in for their morning milking. I shot in the rain all the way into the milking barn and captured some greats shots. Kelly came in for fresh coffee supplied by Terry, the owner, and helped with the milking.
The whole of Saturday we stayed put instead of exploring the surrounding area, which gave me the opportunity to observe the changing light in the valley over the course of the day—from gray, rainy morning to blue skies dappled with crisp puffy clouds to a beautiful calm sunset to a deep blue night sky complete with a rising near full moon.
The Herd & The Stragglers: A short video, comprised of three handheld sequences, that was a great learning experience. Next time I would use a good monopod, record separate audio to create a more immersive experience, and work on better focusing and framing.
Photo by Kelly Badgley. Yours truly shooting footage used in the video above.
DJI Air 2S: Evening shot looking straight down at the winding creek.
DJI Air 2S: These drone shots show me the possibilities for the next visit. I’d love to do a video running the full length of the valley.
With two milkings a day I was able to shoot photos and video twice on Saturday and once on Sunday, all amidst a dynamic landscape of changing color and light. I wasn’t quite prepared with the right tripod, but made due with my Benro Bat tripod for some evening shots of the near full moon. Now I’m hankering for the iFootage Cobra 2 monopod for greater flexibility and quicker setup in this type of environment. After photographing the herding and milking Saturday morning I planned on videoing the herd coming down for evening milking and got some decent footage (see above).
About Our Host at Tin Willows
Terry Felda, the owner of Tin Willows, like most farmers I’ve observed, is extremely hard working. Her days are long, and from what I can tell she gets up at or before dawn for the morning milking and her day ends after the evening milking and herding is done.
Terry grew up in Wisconsin and attended the University of Pennsylvania in the late 80s. After a stint in government, she listened to her artistic side transitioning into a children’s clothing designer and then an interior designer. But after watching the farm land in her native state turn into housing developments she wondered how sustainable that could be for the future, and around then she started reading about women farmers—and that inspiration with her love of sheep milk cheeses brought her to Oregon where she worked with a female sheep rancher for one lambing season.
Terry purchased her ranch in 2012, and now ten years later she has a flock of about 65 ewes and 100 lambs. Currently, she is in the process of transitioning from American Dairy Sheep to Assaf sheep that better suited to warmer, windier climates and have been bred to produce milk on “less than stellar forage”. This breed, originating from Israel and Spain is something she’s really excited about.
Regarding the future, Terry says, “I’m very conscious of climate change, diminishing water supplies and sustainability. In the last few years, I’ve been actively trying to change the ranch into more of a native pollinator/bird habitat and less of the traditional eastern Oregon ranch.”
Terry Felda, owner of Tin Willows Sheep Farm, taking a break after herding the sheep back to their field after the morning milking.
A Little R & R
Other than shoot photos and video, we didn’t do much else. Okay, we hiked to short distance to one ridge to get a better view of the surround area, and cooked lunch and dinner, made a fire and watched the sunset. There’s something so enchanting about cooking in nature, in this case in the middle of a field. We’re getting our kitchen kit refined. This trip included a new board for cutting or laying out charcuterie. And to make our stay even better we purchased firewood, goats milk yogurt and lamb sausage from Terry’s Hipcamp Add-on menu. The yogurt and sausage from the ranch—I love eating food that is made locally and supporting small farms.
I’d planned to taking a short jaunt to photograph the windmills at sunset on Saturday, but it was so nice to stay put and do nothing—something we hadn’t done in a long time.
Next week, as part of our once-a-month-weekend-roadtrip, we make the trek to the Palouse Falls in Easter Washington. Stay tuned for more adventures, photos and video!
Ewe and her lamb taking a snack break on the way to herding.