DAYTON — Paul Pradere’s son and daughter are part of the family’s fifth generation to grow up on or near the Pradere sheep ranch here.
Despite that longevity and continuity, their Basque ancestors might not recognize the ranch today.
“These were all green fields once,” Pradere said, sweeping his hand across a horizon of what is now brush-covered, sandy land.
The ranch once covered more acreage, too, Pradere said, although he doesn’t know how big the original homestead was established in the late 19th century.
And it once ran cattle, introduced by Pradere’s grandfather.
That ended about 10 years ago, about the time the Santa Maria Ranch residential development, where Pradere and his family now live, went in next door.
Then the Pradere ranch lost what he calls its tailwater rights to water from an irrigation ditch built on by the housing developers.
Today, the ranch on the Carson River has about 100 sheep roaming its 40 acres plus a neighboring 11-acre plot that once was part of the Ponderosa ranch.
At night, the sheep are corralled to keep them safe from coyotes.
Pradere’s mother and youngest brother, Brant, live on the property, and his father tends the sheep, with Pradere helping out with the annual shearing.
“They’re not a lot of work,” he said.
Some of the sheep are sold at auction and shearing their wool costs more than what the wool is sold for, said Pradere.
“We really keep them to keep the weeds down,” he said.
A long-time tenant lives in another house on the ranch, the house where Pradere’s father grew up.
The ranch also sells firewood, cut from Lake Tahoe pine brought in by loggers and eucalyptus trucked in from the San Francisco Bay Area.
About 75 to 100 cords of wood are delivered locally, to long-time customers, said Pradere, which pays for the ranch’s $12,000 hay bill to feed the sheep.
The ranch is also home to several annual Civil War reenactments.
“That’s in the front field, once or twice a year, usually around Dayton Valley Days to get the crowds,” said Pradere. “We don’t charge them anything.”
The ranch has never been a money-making operation, said Pradere, so some things remain the same.
His grandfather and father both worked for the state of Nevada and Pradere works in cogeneration and energy efficiency.
“We never really made a living off it,” said Pradere.
Also unchanging is an enduring family interest in the ranch’s work.
Pradere’s 13 year-old daughter, Laura, takes in the bummers, young lambs abandoned or orphaned by their mothers.
She’s now tending to three friendly lambs in the backyard of their Santa Maria Ranch home.
“She loves animals,” said Pradere. “She wants to be a veterinarian.”