So this week on my family farm, we had some fun experiences trying to herd sheep (which I am slowly learning is an art that requires a corn bucket, a rope, and lots of patience). Our farm is summering some sheep for a friend of ours. The sheep are helping us eat down our fields and make them look less like a catastrophe and, in turn, she isn’t having to feed them as much hay, so it cuts way down on her feed costs. Everyone wins.
Now, for anyone who has not experienced sheep, I want to say up front that they are on the whole the stupidest animals I have ever encountered. Not on an individual basis but as a species. They’re sweet, cuddly, loving, and wonderful, but they are exceptionally stupid. At the start of the week we had four adult ewes (female sheep) and one lamb who came with the mother. Two of the ewes had been here before last year. They knew me, and they’re reasonably affectionate when they realize from whose hands they get delicious, delicious corn. It took them a few days to settle in, but they calmed right down. The third is a little spooky, but not too bad. The last one, though, whose name I have learned is “Moonstone” is as woolheaded as they come. She was so nervous of me she wouldn’t let me feed her, the silly billy.
As a result, this one nervous sheep kept the rest of the herd in high gear, making them so difficult to manage I eventually had to call my friend and have her take the troublemaker home. The problem was she was born during a time when the family didn’t have resources to socialize her like they did the others, and since sheep are followers, if one is spooked, the whole herd goes haywire. That makes four sheep (five if you count the baby) and three goats a headache to try and move from one pen to another for sure. Particularly if you have one you can’t catch because she’s so nervous! I felt bad for her, but after two weeks of trying to make friends unsuccessfully she had to go home.
She went home yesterday and we replaced her spot at the feed trough with a third female who has been here in the past who had just given birth two weeks ago. So we now have two adorable, fluffy lambs and four mothers (and our three dairy goats). Today I decided to try luring them into the pen just by shaking the grain bucket. It worked on most of them, but one of the mama sheep (the one who has been here for awhile) decided she was having no part of staying in the pen while I went to fetch the silly ones who didn’t realize that the grain bucket means dinnertime. Or breakfast, in their case.
Thus started my ordeal.
Now, this mama sheep had figured out, previously, how to escape the pen I have set up for them. Too smart for her own good, I say, but here we are. Now, I had one of the outliers on a lead after luring her over to me with said delicious, delicious corn. I opened the gate to put her in, and mama sheep decided she wanted out. Okay. Fine. Be that way. I stepped into her way and kept a firm hold on the other lead while trying to push mama inside one-handed. Not my finest moment, I’ll admit, because mama didn’t listen. Instead, she charged through the three-inch gap between my knees.
Now, this mama sheep is not a small sheep. She is hip-height on me, and I am 5’9. She’s strong, and she’s willful (but mostly sweet-natured). When she decided to charge through the gap there was nothing I could do about it. She’s strong, and I was off balance, so she sent me pitching forward onto her back. What fun!
Being the stubborn woman I am, I kept hold of the lead on that other sheep, who spooked a little at the commotion, wrapped my free arm around mama sheep’s belly, and ended up riding her about twenty feet down the hill. At this point, with the gate open, the rest of the sheep and goats wandered out while I rolled off mama sheep, plopped down in the grass, and reconsidered the state of my life.
I did, eventually, get the sheep into various enclosures, but this has been my day. Did I mention I hadn’t even had my tea yet? Somebody save me from myself.