Women preserve sheep historyWritten by Saige Albert
Boise, Idaho – Kathy Vader’s long construction history, coupled with a family history lent itself to developing a business building sheep wagons in 2007.
“In 2007, we started building sheep wagons because our grandfathers were in the sheep business,” Kathy says. “We also had a cousin who wanted a sheep wagon to represent our granddad.”
Kathy continues, “We were in construction, so we decided to build a sheep wagon for her.”
After many hours of research and going to old sheep ranches studying original sheep wagons, she was able to develop a plan to build their first wagon. She was so interested that she just kep building.
“After that first wagon, someone else saw it and wanted one,” Kathy comments. “After a couple of years, it turned into a full-time business from just building two or three wagons a year.”
Today, Kathy, her husband Kim and daughter-in-law Rebecca work together at their business, Idaho Sheep Camps, to build custom sheep wagons from their home in Boise, Idaho.
“Everyone remembers something different about the sheep wagons they have been around,” Kathy says. “Our motto is, ‘Creating family memories.’ Our wagons are all about family and bringing back the memories and history.”
Kathy notes that her aunt is Basque, and the Basque heritage runs strong within many of the wagons they build and restore.
She has also been involved in restoring sheep wagons for museums around the West to help educate others on the history of sheep ranching.
Creating a wagon
The process to build a sheep wagon is quite long, Kathy notes, emphasizing that they work with clients to make sure the design is perfect.
“From the time a person gets ahold of me, we talk back and forth quite a bit,” she says. “By the time we have a wagon finished, it is anywhere from six months to a year.”
All of the wagons created by Idaho Sheep Camps are custom creations.
The process begins as Kathy draws the wagon designs and works with old photos provided by the client to sketch the wagon.
“After we have the design, we start the construction,” she says. “I’ve been in construction all of my life.”
The interior of every wagon is also entirely custom made. Idaho Sheep Camps builds all the cabinetry, and Kim forges much of the hardware that is installed.
Kathy takes care of all the painting and staining, as well.
“We don’t – and often can’t – buy a lot of the things we use,” Kathy says.
“We can only build six wagons a year,” Kathy notes. “It takes us about 2.5 months to build a wagon, and we can’t speed it up because we want to get them right.”
From useful to pieces of art
Those who seek Vader’s custom craftsmanship in building a sheep wagon are often looking for more than just a piece of art to sit in their front yard, she says.
“These wagons are acutally being used on the range,” Kathy explains. “One pair of horse-drawn wagons that we are building will be used for many years, and they will travel about 100 miles each summer. These aren’t just something pretty. They are useful, working sheep wagons, as well.”
Clients have also used their sheep wagons as guest houses on their property and to remember their family history.
Despite the fact that Idaho Sheep Camps provides a source of income for the family, Kathy also notes that building sheep wagons is also about pursuing her passion.
“We enjoy building these wagons,” she says. “The people we build them or often become friends, and some are even like a part of their family.”
“Building sheep wagons is my passion,” Kathy adds. “It is more than the monetary value of building and selling a wagon. This is my art.”
As a woman building her own business in agriculture, Kathy says she has faced some challenges, largely because construction is a male-oriented field.
“When I’m talking to people about construction, sometimes they assume that I don’t understand or know what I’m talking about,” she says. “I also buy all the materials, and sometimes new suppliers will write me off.”
“I had to prove myself, but I know my stuff, so it wasn’t a hang-up for me,” Kathy continues, also noting that she has learned a lot by listening and asking questions of other people in the field.
She further encourages young women to pursue their passions in agriculture and to not be scared about setback.
“I tell young women that if they find something they really enjoy – something they have a passion for – don’t let anying stop them from achieving it,” Kathy explains. “We can’t be afraid to approach people and ask questions.”
Kathy also comments that she has met a number of strong and inspiring women along her path, which has helped to keep her motivated.
“Meeting and seeing new people gets me hyped up and excited,” she says. “It really keeps me going.”
After all she has learned and with her experience, Kathy says the future of Idaho Sheep Camps looks bright.
Business is strong, she says, adding, “We have orders a year and a half out.”
At the same time, her daughter-in-law Rebecca began working with Kathy and her husband only six months ago and has developed a similar passion for the business.
“Rebecca would like to continue the business down the road,” she says. “She really loves the wagons, the people and everything we do here.”
Kathy adds, “Our future looks really great right now.”
Women in Ag
During the month of November, the Wyoming Livestock Roundup spotlights women in various aspects of agriculture who make an influence in their community, state and the industry.
The 2012 Census of Agriculture showed that women control seven percent of U.S. farmland and account for three percent of sales. Additionally, 14 percent of the nation’s 2.1 million farms had a female principal operator in 2012.
“Nationally, women were 30 percent of farmers, but in states in the Northeast, Southwest and West, women comprise larger shares,” reads the National Agriculture Statistics Service Report.