Monday, June 04, 2007

I've created monsters!

So the time came this week to move my flock of ewes to the other side of the farm where there's still some edible pasture, as they had pretty much cleaned out the section where they've been grazing. I've been rotationally grazing them, which means every few days I move the electric fencing and posts to a new section and leave the older section to rest. This has been working quite nicely. (Other than the fact that it sometimes takes me two hours or more to move the fence on my own and the timing for pasture moving isn't necessarily in sync with my personal schedule. The upside is that it's good for the (farmer) tan and all the walking up and down the pasture has got to be good for the gluts.) They've been working on a patch of about ten acres on the Southeast of the farm that was easily divided into paddocks. The new section is in the front of the farm on the other side of a horsebarn, very small orchard and two houses.

So, I guess I was knowingly pushing my luck, but I thought if all those itinerent shepherds could move their herds around all day without fencing, surely I could, too. My ewes are pretty tame (for sheep) and readily come to me when hay is involved. My plan was to open up their pen and lead them down the driveway with a wheelbarrow full of hay to their new enclosure. I thought I was extra smart by parking my pickup across the road where I wanted them to turn into the pen. Well, from the start it wasn't quite as simple as I had imagined, but I remained hopeful. The sheep would follow the hay in a kind of scattered bunch for a few yards and then decide to run back to their pen. Gradually, they moved further and further away from home before someone would decide to go back and take everyone with them. I finally got smart enough to block off the way back to their shed so they could only go back to the first house. With the help of Jean and Phil, Bob's son, we managed to get them within about ten feet of the new enclosure--albeit not where the gate was but I pulled the fenceposts out to make an opening. At this point Bob came to help and the presence of a new person scared the ewes all the way back to the beginning.


Things pretty much went downhill from there. We employed tangled chicken netting, portable pen panels, and string to encourage them in the right direction. There were a few more excrutiatingly close near misses when one of the ewes balked at the last minute and led them all back to the house. As a last resort Bob decided to let Gort, the resident farm dog, out of the house in an attempt to herd the sheep. While it looked hopeful at first, this quickly led to group of very excited sheep running laps around the house with Gort happily chasing behind them.

Just after sunset, about three hours later, the group wound up all the way back at the Southeast end of the pasture where their shed is and the nursing and pregnant ewes have an enclosure. I gave up and opened the fence to the mama's pasture and paddock. I thought I was all done for the night at that point, until I realized I needed to find the ram that I was housing with the mama group. I am planning to breed my ewes in the coming weeks, but I want to know when and to whom and I was afraid Cosmo would be too much of a gentleman to tell me who he'd impregnated. While chasing down one particular sheep out of a group of fifty is fun anytime, it is particularly delightful in the dark! :P

So, after a good night's sleep, and a full day of work at the restaurant, I was ready to try again. This time I knew better. I would do it right--the way I had envisioned and rejected the day before. I took the three lengths of netted electric fence that composed the mamas' pasture area and arranged them into a long thin pathway that made it about a third of the way to the new enclosure. All I had to do was separate the mamas and babies from the remainder of the flock and I was golden. What I didn't count on was that their exposure to the wide world of the farm outside their pen had emboldened my timid little ewes. When I opened the gate of the paddock to bring in some portable panels for blocking off the mamas I got railroaded by some of the more aggressive members of the flock. When I was trying to herd them back in, the remaining sheep all ran out behind me, down to the last little lamb. This is when I realized it is advantageous for your sheep to be a little bit afraid because they are easier to herd. As I was running around trying to herd everyone back in for the next half-hour I just kept thinking that all I had done was create little monsters. Now that they were brave and free they were really disinterested in going where I wanted them to go and I didn't have anyone around to help me corner them.

Long story short, I finally got them back in the paddock after much running and shouting and pushing. I sorted everyone into mamas and non-mamas (a couple of times) and decided to cut my losses when I had only one extra ewe in the mama group. With Bob and Phil's help, we managed to move the main flock to the new pasture in a fairly orderly fashion by taking fence from behind and moving it to the front Jacob's ladder style. This took about half the time that my freeform shepherding took and was actually successful.

Every time I find myself cursing my stupid or naughty sheep I stop and remind myself that they are just sheep acting like sheep. They aren't capable of imagining what I am thinking or what I want from them, or maybe they just don't care to. I however have the ability to think in their terms and should be able to predict and avoid these types of frustating situations. It is more likely the fault of the stupid, naughty, or lazy shepherd than of the sheep. (Although there really are a few troublemakers in every flock!)

Another lesson learned: Premier portable sheep fencing and Sydell portable pen panels are awesome.

1 Comments:

At 10:22 PM, Blogger Tana said...

Oh, Rebecca, I laughed out loud. Not at you, mind you.

At the sheep.

: D

Great story. Glad it worked out.

 

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