I knew I lost one little lamb about a month ago because she kept trying to die on me and finally disappeared into the brush so I would give up my feeble attempts to save her. I think I realized she would eventually do this. She had not become better with any of our ministering in the barn and, if a lamb can be depressed (hard to imagine when they are so darned cute), she was the poster child for it.
Then, just this week we lost 30 sheep, plus or minus, in one fell swoop. Not lost as in “died”, but lost as in “where the hell did they disappear to???” This was a dramatic turn of events and right in front of newly arrived guests. It was also enough to make me lose a very good night’s sleep.
I hummed the tune of ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ as I lay my head down on the pillow.
Scottie had a lot of lambs, lot of lambs, lot of lambs
Scottie had a lot of lambs whose pastures had turned brown
And everywhere that Scottie went, Scottie went, Scottie went
Everywhere that Scottie went the lambs could not be found
They wandered way back in the woods, in the woods, in the woods
They wandered way back in the woods a distance from the farm
The night grew black and she despaired, she despaired, she despaired
The night grew black and she despaired, a cougar’s done them harm…
I noticed we were missing half the herd during feeding. This is always an exciting first experience for new guests at our farm stay. We ring the bell, throw down bales of hay from the loft and divide it between mangers so that 60 odd ewes and their babies can have some dinner. There is a free standing manger in the middle of the shed requiring a cool underhand toss to land flakes of hay properly between the wire walls. Frisbee is good training, so is slow-pitch softball.
This evening I knew I was short a good many sheep. We bedded down the horses, the donkey, and the good sheep who had returned on schedule and went looking for the rest. I had several ideas of former hideouts. I am lucky this couple were in good shape as we hiked higher and higher into the hills. Boy, did they get the personalized tour from me! I took them as high as the logging road behind the property, all the while following fresh sheep poop. Or was it deer? Sometimes I find it hard to tell the difference.
We reached a “T” in the road. Would the sheep really have turned even farther away from the farm and headed up the hill? I didn’t think so. They hadn’t gone that way before. We headed down hill and back towards the barn with no sheep in sight either on the road or through the clear cuts. I started to think back to the afternoon when the dog had squeezed under my desk at the sound of rifle shots. Sure it was hunting season, but only bow and arrow at the moment. Had the gun shots spooked the sheep? Had a hunter mistaken one for a deer? Not the outcome I was looking for.
Once I had checked every hiding spot I knew and driven to my neighbor’s house because she has such great grass in her back pasture, I started to call the other folks who live up our road, about 8 residences in all. No, no one had seen any wayward sheep that evening. Of course it was now getting to dusk and the sheep would be bedded down. Farmer Jones suggested there was nothing to do until morning, and even then we might find they returned on their own. Hmmmpff, I wasn’t so sure. There were, after all, recent cougar sightings on our road, just to make things “interesting”!
It is at this point I always question my intelligence with sheep and livestock in general. If they had escaped before, why hadn’t I done more to prevent a wider range? Could it be because none of our property is fenced on the forest side? Could it be because we had created a perfect storm by ripping up both hay fields in one year? Could it be that once sheep get an idea in their mind it takes a mighty deterrent to make them forget it??
The next morning I went out early to the barn, hoping my pasture roaches had come home in the middle of the night, hungry and humbled. Not a sign. About an hour later my closest neighbor knocked on the door dressed for work. She had seen our sheep down the road about two miles, scattered through a recent clear cut. Oh, great, they were probably eating some of the fresh new seedlings!
Annie hopped on the ATV and came home with all thirty sheep trotting in front of her. She talked about almost missing them because they blended so well with the backdrop. Wouldn’t they have loved that – to stay free for another day?! At least I didn’t qualify for the worst shepherdess in the world that day. The ewes were back and it didn’t appear we had lost any.
They, on the other hand, lost their freedom from that day forward. We decided, until we seeded the barn field, we would leave all the livestock locked behind secure fencing. I figured there was grass at the edges of the fields, and we could toss down extra bales of hay to spread around for forage. The horses were caught up in the bargain, but it made things simpler this way.
Now, going through four bales of hay a day, even with the addition of five tons from my local farmer, is not a good thing for conserving winter feed and, with the cooler nights, the animals seem hungrier than ever. We have had a few rains so the grass is getting greener in the unfenced pastures, but I figure it will have to be plentiful (to their knees!) before our sheep decide to stay close to home. We are almost on gun hunting season so there are additional problems if the flock decides to break out and go wandering in the woods again. Of course, if I find out who the ring leader is, I may just have to whack her over the head with a rifle butt myself!
Photos:(top) sheep in our ‘dirt’ field with inviting green grass down by the creek but no fence to keep them in, (bottom) horses are grazing the edges of our ‘dirt’ field as best they can. Will open up pastures as soon as rains start.
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