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How to get your Lambs Out

Background: It’s spring. The grass is finally up after several late-season snowstorms and you can see your BFL former-bottle-lamb Sue with a mischevious glint in her eye. She’s tested every inch of the loafing area fence for weakness and now she’s just waiting, WAITING for someone to latch it wrong so she can make her bid for freedom. In past years, the sheep have, in fact, dismissed themselves from confinement and spread out across our generous front lawn area to graze. We do use the lawn for grazing, but only after blocking sheep from accessing the wellhead. Nothing spells defeat like having to shock your well because your sheep dropped a few ewe-berries into it.

Step 1: Stress out for a week trying to think of possible exigencies. Could the ewes turn left and run up the driveway and into the road? Could they turn right and run down to the rich wet area full of burdocks? Will there be a cold rain that could hurt the smaller lambs? How will we deal with the lambs that are in the isolation ward? This kind of preparation is not my strength. I’d rather make five complicated spreadsheets in an hour than try to develop a step-by-step physical plan.

Step 2: Phone a Friend – Dom and Donna Druchunas seem to like visiting my sheep, so it seemed only natural to press-gang them into wrangling the sheep out of the barn. They cheerfully said yes to my request for assistance, unaware…

Step 3: Have you ever tried to secretly build a fence? If your sheep baa because you’ve approached the garage where they know the grain is kept, then you’ll understand why I took pains to sneak around with fencing so they wouldn’t serenade me for the whole 90 minute setup time. I reserve the right to enjoy my podcast-listening-time.

Step 4: The Shuffle – With a little quick thinking, we took the lambs away from the ewes in isolation. We then took Sam the ram and two cull ewes out of the main group. Then we blocked off the creep area and removed all lambs from it so they can’t hang out in there.

Step 5: Chaos. We opened the fence and opened the gate with some portable gates blocking the sheep from running up or down the driveway. The ewes all exited in a huge mass. They ran, pronking and kicking out, onto the grass and set to work eating. Their lambs did not, though. The lambs have never left the barn before, so they were reluctant to run out, even to follow their mothers. They stayed behind, bawling. Dom and Donna were assigned to shuffle lambs forward, but the lambs really gave them a run for their money. Lambs dashed to try to get into the creep, and they thwarted every attempt at predictable herd behavior. Bottle lambs followed us like dogs while confused general-population rams ran in circles, crying. It took a lot of yelling, shooing and regrouping to try to get all of the lambs out. Lambs knocked down temporary blocks and a few got out of the barn and loafing area completely.

Step 6: Technically, we won. Even though getting the lambs out took a solid half hour and left us all sweating and gasping for breath, we only carried five lambs to pasture bodily. Last year, the carried-lamb-count was 30. So that’s a win, I guess!

Step 7: Bonus Content – the exertion of going out onto pasture was just enough to send 1616, last seen actively breeding with Oliver on pregnancy-scanning day, into labor. In a half an hour, she had squeezed out adorable BFL/Border cross twins! She’s doing well and the lambs are healthy.

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Sometimes, Sheep are Jerks

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in the new barn.

The last two days have been very hectic in preparation for the sheep going into the barn for the winter.  You’d think, “We have a barn, so we’re good” but we had yet to complete the electricity, the end panels, the floor and a few other small details.  My parents came and helped tremendously.  They are a model of how to cooperate and plan a multi-task effort. Mom applied rabbit-fence to the large gaps on the bottom of the large cattle panels while Dad and Matt worked on installing the electricity and affixing the cattle panels to the barn walls.  I was even able to help a little despite my broken foot by moving some hay around for bedding and helping Mom.

With a little cleanup, today was the day to move the sheep into the barn.  We figured they’d be really pleased with the opportunity since they stood out in the sleet all last night.  But as Matt led the flock up the hill to their new winter quarters, two of the Border Leicesters decided that they’d rather be outside after all and led a few of their more gullible friends along as well.  Oh well, we’ll try again!  But the more we gathered the sheep and tried to get them in the barn, the more sheep began to refuse to cooperate.  With only two people, only one of whom could walk, we could get most of the sheep in but couldn’t close the gate behind them, allowing several to escape every time we tried to pen them.  We tried every configuration of gates and moving at different speeds and leading them in different directions to lure them, but finally we had to concede that we had 20 sheep in the barn and 16 on the lawn and there wasn’t going to be much we could do to make ground.

Matt was angry and frustrated and I was frozen and crabby.  I began to feed the lawn-sheep little bits of grain to intrigue them to stay where they were.  This was easier said than done, as the grain-lovers were all in the barn and the grain-skeptics in the yard were mostly avoiding me.  While impatience made our situation worse when we were trying to force the sheep into the barn, patience and the fine art of pretending not to pay attention to the sheep eating the grain I was providing allowed me to hold the sheep in one place.  Meanwhile, Matt gathered reams of Electronet fence and  hauled it up the hill again and again to enclose the sheep.  He is having some nerve pain, so schlepping fence around was about as comfortable for him as standing on one foot for two hours trying to be nonchalant about the timid sheep was for me. But within half an hour, he had set the fence up around us.  He was hot and exhausted, and I was frozen and had lost feeling in my toes.  But we got all of the sheep contained.

When we got inside, Matt asked me to prepare the mutton chops we had in the fridge.  He felt he needed to eat sheep after an afternoon like this.  I cooked the chops and they almost made up for how sore and exhausted we are.  A brandy and pear tart I also made made up the difference.

Tomorrow, we have a couple of friends joining us to move the rest of the sheep into the barn.   We should be able to do without moving the sheep outside of fencing.   Hopefully, it will be a smoother process than today was.

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Getting Together

After an escape and a few other instances of naughtiness, primarily instigated by The Doctor, I gave in.  Knowing a bit about sheep psychology, I made a guess: if I put the BFLs with the larger flock, they would be more inclined to stay put because the larger flock doesn’t pressure the fence.  After a few hours of intensive bum-sniffing and then a few days of not associating with each other, team Bluefaced and team more-or-less-Cormo have concluded that they can play nicely.  The Doctor has become something of a leader, though Peggy is still skeptical that this young upstart could have anything valuable to contribute to *her* flock.

While the Doctor has learned that being fenced in is okay, Little Moose and Fred have gleaned from their fellow sheep that Matt and I are not as vicious and horrible as they initially feared.  Little Moose doesn’t flee anymore, and Fred will even approach for a hand-sniff.  Petting is still forbidden at the moment, but time and some grain should help that.

Here are some pictures of our pasture paradise:

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It’s all in those big, soft eyes.  This is “Fred”

 

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Oh, Hello!  The Doctor prefers to be the center of attention.

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The Cormos are teaching the BFLs to demand attention, like they always do.  Todd Chavez nibbles Matt until he gets the skritches he needs.

We had a little rain over the past week, and the Bluefaced Leicesters are showing off their amazing wool.

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The Money Shot