Saturday, February 26, 2011

Baaa...Raaaaam...Eeeeewe: Adventures in Animal Husbandry

Now that there are thin spots in the snow, we can't keep our silly sheep out of the neighbor's alfalfa field.  They wander out there and dig in the snow and munch the crowns off, which we have learned is not a good thing for the alfalfa.  Gayle kindly and patiently informed her ignorant neighbors of this the other day.  So Sorry Gayle.  I don't think we make very good farmers.  But we are learning what we need to know, slowly but surely.

And so we've become more diligent about chasing the itinerant wanderers home immediately when we see them out in the field.  We're getting lots of exercise.  (I should count all that for my ticker!)  I think the sheep have spring fever, because they certainly are frisky.  Butting each other, leaping and kicking their heels up all the way home.

Once they are home, back they go again toward the field.  Sometimes I am sure they are laughing as they make such quick turns on their heels.  They dart off and get around me.  And off they go.  I always start off giving them a wide berth, until I am on the far side of them.  I walk toward them, gathering them slowly, back again toward the house.

They are very curious and friendly, sometimes stopping and facing me as if wanting to start a conversation.  I can get my face right down near them, and we visit a little.  Then I stand up and clap my hands and say, "Go on home, you silly things."  They walk slowly at first, then one of them will start frisking around and soon their heels are up and they are heading every which way.

Joe had tried rope halters the other day, according to instructions on sheep husbandry sites.  For some reason, his didn't work as they were supposed to.  Probably there are a combination of factors involved: the sheep are not used to the ropes, so are fearful; the wool is long and fluffy; and Joe's hands quickly get cold while trying to work out the unfamiliar process.

Yesterday I bought two sheep halters at Fleet Supply.  Each came with a lead rope that can easily be clipped on and off.  Yesterday Joe went out with Clara and tried to get them on.  I didn't hear the whole story, so I don't know the details, but the halters did not go on last night.

They did, however, this morning, in the 17 below cold.  Well, one of them went on.

Joe was dressed and ready for his Saturday church.  I was sitting in front of my living room window enjoying a quiet cup of coffee before the kids got up.  Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of movement outside the window.  When I turned to look, there were the silly sheep going through their waking up routine.

They climbed over the big drift in front of the house and down on to the driveway.  They wandered around a bit, sniffing at the little, uh, items they have so kindly left scattered around the driveway all winter.  Ever so gradually, however, the two animals were working their way closer and closer to the drift at the end of the driveway that separates our yard from the hayfield.

Suddenly "the mood" hit them and they were up and over the drift in a flash.  I  got my boots and coats on and started my wide circuit.  I walked to the southwest corner of the church parking lot before crossing the drift into the field.  I then skirted along the edge of the field until I was passed the sheep.  As I made my slow way back toward them, they stopped and turned back for a little visit, and then I scurried them on their frisking way back across the drift to our yard.

Joe was out by this time and he was waiting in what is supposed to be the sheep's part of the yard.  Joe was baaa-ing at them and when they saw him there, they frisked in his direction.  Joe wanted to start with the ram, since he is the more skittish of the two.  So Joe coaxed him near with a handful of hay.  Just as Joe went to grab him, the ram sensed that something was amiss.  He darted quickly aside and Joe grabbed his wool.  I turned quickly to head them off from the front and ran smack into the branches of a little oak tree, that was sticking up a few feet above the drift on which we were working.  Unfortunately, it has somewhat fewer branches now.  Sorry Mr. Oak Tree.

Meanwhile, Joe was able to hold on to the ram's wool long enough to get twirled around and then swung off into the snow.  There are times a nice solid drift is a good thing.  It may have been a softer landing had the drift not been so solid; but crawling out would have been a longer process.

Out I went again to the hayfield after the sheep, again, making a wide circle around the now even friskier urchins.  It's a good thing I've been practicing running with my "couch to 5K" program, so I was able to keep up a steady jog.  I certainly could not have kept up with the sheep if they decided to really run, but I was getting tired of the whole process by that time, and didn't want to waste any time walking the distance I needed to cover.

Eventually we had the miscreants back in the yard where they belong.  The ram immediately climbed up on the hay bale out of Joe's reach.

I said to Joe, "Just grab the ewe.  It's getting late."

And so he did.  Tackled would be a better word.  Joe was not taking any chances of a sneaky get-away this time.  I handed him the halter and he tried to wiggle it onto her, but little Miss Ewe was understandably frightened of such a thing coming directly at her face.  She was gradually fighting her way out from under Joe.  I quickly grabbed the halter back from him and he reinforced his hold.  I finagled the halter on and tightened up the buckles.

Then I clipped on the lead rope, and tied it to another rope that Joe had prepared around the T-post at the corner of what is supposed to be the sheep pen.  But the ewe was still pretty worked up.  I decided that probably I put the halter on upside down.  The primary difference, is that the big buckle is right on top of the ewe's nose, so she kept seeing it and and trying to back away from her own face.  Perhaps the thinner strip in that location would have been less fearsome to her.

But Joe is a good sheep daddy.  He hugged her and calmed her and spoke sweet nothings in her ear.

Currently she is standing all alone out in the yard, because instead of staying with her as he was supposed to have done, Mr. Ram is back in his favored location between the window wells up next to our house.

Joe is off to church after getting cleaned up and dressed for church a second time.

And Clara and I are on our way out soon to see if we can finish the job.  I'm not sure I'm brave enough to tackle a sheep. But I bet Clara is. She is our animal lover and she takes very good care of all our pets.

Clara, however, may not have quite enough body mass to hold down the ram, should he choose to frisk, which I'm sure he will.

No comments: