Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How Evil Came to Clinch Mountain

Last winter a friend gave us three Tunis ewes. (Actually it turned out to be two ewes and a wether, but that’s a completely different story.) These were our first sheep, but we had been breeding and raising horses a few years now, so how hard could it be? It's not like we were planning on breeding them or showing them or doing much of anything with them.

The plan was simple. Give them some time to get settled into their pen then start using them for herding. Bessie, our 11 year old Rottie, and I had taken herding lessons about eight years ago and both she and I enjoyed it. We were both quite a bit older now and not nearly as spry, but I thought it would be the perfect way for us to get some exercise and share a little special one-on-one activity.

Over the next couple of weeks, the sheep explored their new territory while I spent the time reading about herding, brushing Bessie up on her commands, and getting to know our new arrivals. It wasn’t long before they had names:

The ewe with the large head and gorgeous, dark face became known as Big Face.

And Dolly was perfect for the sweet looking one. (It was later necessary to re-gender this to Paulie.)

The only problem was the third one, the one with the strange eyes and the narrow face. I tried lots of names, everything from Fluffy to Snitty, but nothing felt right. It was inconvenient having an animal without a name, but I could wait. It's been my experience that if you watch and listen carefully enough, sooner or later animals will tell you their names.

Finally the time came to start herding! I don't know who was more excited, me or Bessie. It was a little chaotic at first, but then Bessie settled down and started working like she should. She’d gather them up, I’ll call her off, they’d move away and I’d send her to gather them again. She was having the time of her life and so was I.

After gathering them for about the third or fourth time, I decided it was time to take it up a notch and have Bessie move the sheep from one end of the paddock to the other. She gathered them up as before, but when she went to move them, only Big Face and Dolly started over to the far fence. Instead of moving off with the others, the ewe with the strange eyes and the narrow face turned toward Bessie, stamped her foot and refused to move. Bessie backed off, and I sent her in again. The ewe bounced forward a few steps, and Bessie again backed off.

Come on, Bessie. You’re a Rottweiler for goodness sake! Move that ewe!

Bessie charged.

The ewe dropped her head and charged.


The next thing I knew, Bessie was down with the breath knocked out of her, and the ewe was backing up to have another go. Armed with nothing but panic and my flimsy plastic rattle-paddle, I ran between Bessie and the ewe. The next few seconds seemed like an eternity as the ewe and I stood our ground and glared at each other. Finally, with a shake of her head and a disdainful little snort, the ewe turned and trotted back to her friends.

The ewe with the strange eyes and narrow face now had a name. Evil she was and Evil she would remain.


Except for a badly bruised pride, Bessie was unhurt and more than willing to have another go, but I felt we had both had enough herding for the time being. The woman who gave Evil to us offered to swap her out for something better-behaved with more dog-respect, but I turned her down. In some strange way, it seemed that this was how it was meant to be.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Happy Jack

A couple of weeks ago, I got the latest and last--at least for now--addition to my little flock of lambs. He's a little four month old Southdown wether, and just as sweet as can be. He was a bit thin when he arrived as he was recovering from a bout of diarrhea due to having recently changed pastures.

He's settled in now and putting on weight. Unfortunately, his introduction to his new home wasn't all that pleasant. It was late when he arrived, so first thing the next morning, I marched him out of the sheep stall and straight into the wash stall. Three hours and a bottle of shampoo later, he had the cleanest rear of any of the sheep. All I can say is that he's a forgiving little fellow as he kept coming back to me to get a treat--I use little bits of grain for treats--and let me dry him a bit more.

Maa-Maat behaved toward him like the spoiled little brat she is. At first, any time he would get close to her, she'd come running and maat'ing to me as though she was afraid he may touch her. Over the last two weeks, she's relented and even lets him follow her around a bit--not much, but anything is an improvement over all that drama.

As for Merlin and Rachael, they aren't all that keen on him, either. The best that can be said is that they tolerate him. They don't seem to mind his eating beside them, but if he gets separated or lost, neither one of them will answer his cries. I usually go find him and show him where they are. The behavior carries over into their stall. Merlin, Rachael, and Maa-Maat all sleep cuddled up together, but every time I look in on them, Happy Jack is over in his corner just smiling to himself.

Personally, I think the world would be a far better place if everyone had a little Southdown. There's just something about that smile. My theory is that no matter how angry or upset or worried you may be, all you have to do is spend a few minutes with a Southdown and all your problems just melt away.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Maa-Maat and the Blackberry Patch

Sheep are not the most intelligent of animals. I love them to pieces, but they are just not very bright. A good example is the trouble Maa-Maat got herself into this week.

The three lambs had been out grazing around the barn for a couple of hours while I did chores in the barn. No problems at all. Everything was just as it should be, but then Maa-Maat started maat-ing very loudly. From the tone, I could tell something was wrong. Well, from the tone and the fact that Merlin and Rachael started screaming also.

When I got around to the side of the barn, I could see that Maa-Maat had managed to get herself caught in a blackberry patch on the side of a steep slope. She was in so deep that I could just barely see her head sticking out.

For any other animal, this wouldn't be such a problem. It may get a few scratches, but it would manage to push out and through the briars. For a sheep it's a bit different because 1) sheep have wool that gets caught up in the briars and 2) a sheep's brain is about the size of a very small, very dry peanut.

I managed to get part of the way down the slope and rattled a grain bucket to try to coax her out. She would struggle against the briars to come to me, then because she's a sheep with only a tiny little sheep brain, she'd get distracted by a berry and stop to eat. I'd rattle the bucket again, she'd struggle some more, then spot another berry and stop to eat. This went on for quite a while. Since I couldn't risk going any further down the slope without falling, I was pretty much at a loss as to what to do. Luckily the woman who was weedeating for us finished up and came by. Her balance was much better and she was able to scramble down the slope to Maa-Maat and help her find a way out of the briars.

It seemed that during this, Maa-Maat's thoughts went something like this: I'm trapped--Panic! Oh, that looks tasty. Help! Help! Wait, is that another blackberry? Yummy. PANIC! PANIC!

She's not unusual. From what I've seen, sheep have incredibly short attention spans. In this day and age when we are told to "live in the moment," sheep have gone all of us one better--They live in the second.

All in all, not a bad thing.....

As long as you stay away from the blackberry patch.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Maa-Maat and Friends

Maa-Maat is a little Tunis ewe. Her mother, Evil, was very sick when she was born and died shortly afterwards. Because of this Maa-Maat has been completely hand-reared. The picture was taken when she was only a few days old. She was born early and had very little wool, hence the sweater.

She's now about three months old and is doing fine. The only problem we have with her is that she is a little more than just slightly overweight. I've been doing some clicker training with her, and so far she knows to jump up on a bale of straw, kneel down and crawl a short distance, and jump through a hoop. Her "jump through a hoop" isn't all that great because...well...she's not all that great a jumper. Did I mention the weight problem?

In addition to Maa-Maat, we have two other lambs, Merlin and Rachael. Merlin is a little black Welsh mountain wether (castrated male) and Rachael is a Jacob ewe. In the mornings and evenings, the three of them line up at their stall door for me to put their collars on. Once they have their collars, they go out to graze or explore or whatever.

Although they don't come when called, they will come if I rattle a grain bucket. They also come running down the center aisle of the barn periodically just to check if I have any treats for them.