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Monday, April 16, 2012

Damned Sheep!

When it comes to blogging I've been a real slacker.  My last post was in September of last year.  The lack of blogging is probably associated with the lack of excitement on the farm over the winter.  Good news for the farmer but pretty boring as far as blogging goes.

We made it through what turned about to be a pretty mild winter.  Hay usage was way below what I'd projected.  I'd anticipated having to buy some this spring to supplement what I'd bought last fall.  But, because of the unseasonably mild weather the amount of hay consumed by our livestock left some reserves that we can feed this summer if we get a typical dry spell and nominal grass growth. 

Lambing started a about eight weeks ago and promptly stopped after one ewe delivered.  It was another six weeks before a second ewe delivered.  Over the past two weeks the deliveries have increased from a trickle to a fairly steady group of young lambs, the most recent being a set of triplets on Easter Sunday and a single this past weekend.  We still have about ten more ewes yet to deliver.

About three weeks ago we also had our first baby llama ever born on the property.  It was a white female, with a grey head.  Very fun to watch as she scampers away from the lambs that apparently scare her.  She's still pretty shy and will walk up to Lorraine and the girls but they still can't tough her.  At about three months old we can start offering her treats like grain that will hopefull increase her level of trust with us.

All of those births are fun and exciting, in a good way.  Yesterday was exciting, but not in a good way.  we usually check for lambs in the morning.  Lorraine was running late and headed out the door asking me to check on the sheep.  I lounged for a few minutes and finally headed out the door only to find the sheep spread in the back yard with several in the berry garden.  We'd worked hard each of the last three years trying to get strawberries, raspberries and gooseberry plants going, only to have the sheep escape and strip the leaves off the bushes and devour the strawberry plants.  Suffice it to say, had the neighbors been home when I saw the sheep in the garden, they've have blushed even if they were longshoremen. 

My first reaction was to rush the sheep in the garden to save the plants.  They scattered as expected.  After a quick review of the plants in the garden I assumed that they'd just gotten there because nary a leaf had been touched on the plants. 

Finding the berry garden still intact my next mission was to get the sheep back into a fenced area.  They headed towards one of the gates to a paddock I didn't want them in.  Not letting them get into a fenced area and then dealing with where to put them next was a huge mistake.  I turned them back towards another gate, deluding myself into thinking that actually go back into a corral that had nothing to eat.  That's was the "stupid farmer" trying to out think stupid sheep.  Instead of the sheep calmly streaming through the open guide as I'd planned, they instead to the approach of "divide and conquer" and split into two groups heading in different directions.  Meanwhile the sheep who hadn't yet escaped, escaped along with the mamma llama and her new baby. 

I wasn't too concerned about the new escapees as I figured if I got a few headed in the right direction the rest would follow, as they always do.  What I hadn't anticipated was the mad dash that half the flock made towards the newly planted hay field.  The same hay field that had just received about four inches of rain the night before.  But, the "stupid farmer" had a strategy of chasing them across the hay field and through another open gate.  Of course they had no interest in going where I wanted them too.  They instead took a beeline south, instead of west into the gate.  I gamely followed them across the muddy field, attempting to make anybody in earshot to blush that hadn't already.  I can say with confidence that primal scream therapy is a hoax.  The sheep ignored my and I didn't feel any better other than when I bent over, hands on knees, to catch my breath.

Now when I said I folllowed them gamely across the field I didn't mention a couple of brief stops to pull my shoes, without feet in them, out of the mud.  I grabbed the shoes and proceeded in stocking feet through a waterway and back into the muddy field, trying to drive the sheep back to the north and through another gate I'd opened into the corral which, incidentally, is right next to the slightly opened gate to another paddock that all the sheep had escaped through earlier which started this whole fiasco.

Getting the sheep into the paddock I wanted them in was further complicated by the fact that we had some electric netting with part of it laying on the ground.  I figured that they'd just jump across the fence on the ground into the grassy paddock and I'd get them through a gate I wanted them to go into.  Some did, some didn't.   I grabbed a hand full of the netting to step across it where it was still standing, not knowing that Mrs. Bailey, the smarter farmer in the family, had hooked up the fence charger to it.  Mercifully the fact that part of the fence was laying on the ground took quite a bit of the bite out of the electric charge.  But, a few more longeshoremen were now blushing than before. 

The few sheep (I'm now dealing single handedly with three separate groups) headed toward the gate but had no interest in going through it.  They bolted to follow the other half of their previous mini-flock back towards the gate that they'd gone through to get into the hay field that now had a multitude of hoof and foot prints where none were before.  I latched the gate I'd previously unlatched and then followed the sheep back out of the hay field to find that the half of the flock I'd previously left behind to give my feet a mud bath were back in the berry garden.  Surely no longeshoremen remained that hadn't yet blushed after this verbal outpouring from the depths of my being.

It was clear at this point they weren't going to go back into the corral I wanted them in.  So, I decided to push them through the fate they'd originally volunteered to go through had I just opened it then.  They still weren't very willing and I was still chasing a stray or too out of the garden only to see another three sneeking behind the machine shed to raid my neighbors garden.  Fortunately I went around the machine shed the other way to head them off at the pass as they say and pushed them back towards the gate that I wanted them to go through.  By now I have about 30 head of sheep spread over about an acre parcel with no volunteers to go through the desired gate. 

I started pushing a small group towards the gate thinking that the rest would follow if I only got just a few started which is normally the case.  In this case they decided to redefine "normal."  I got about ten to head in that general direction when they veered right and into our other garden.  I pushed them out of there and finally a few headed toward the now open gate, only to stop right at the gate.  Fortunately this is an alley that's blocked by fence on both sides so, as long as I was behind them, that's where they would stay with the only option to go forward through the gate.  I "pushed" a little harder and the first small batch was into the enclosed pasture.  I then went back to get the remaining sheep and llamas (mamma llama and baby llama had been joined by the daddy llama who had escaped during the earlier mud bowl event in the hay field).

Now I've never owned pigs to get a first hand experience with being "pig headed" but I was facing a male llama and a small group of sheep who epitomized that expression.  Mamma llama was complient with baby llama at her side, but the rest of the sheep from hell weren't. 

Have you ever held one of those squishy balls that keeps squirting out of your hand?  This little flock of bandits acted the same way.  Seemed like no matter which way I tried to get them to go straight towards the gate, they'd splinter into smaller groups and go in different directions.  I was eventually able to get the group headed towards the gate.  With momentum on my side I saw victory in sight.  Just as I was about to get them into the alley way, some veered right into the garden and the others backtracked.  Of course, it was easy to push them out of the garden but it took a bit more effort to make them turn at a right angle into the alley way.  With that group headed towards the paddock the others lurking behind followed.  Alas, more than 30 minutes after I'd first witnessed the sheep in the berry garden, victory was mine!  Damned sheep!