Farmville and Wii are for sissies. We have the real farm and it’s killing me! I think teenagers should own farms based on their endless strength and endurance, although their addiction to texting and iPods puts them down the totem pole for concentration and forethought. I don’t feel old or slow until I try catching sheep. This is where a good sheep dog would come in handy. Our old dog, Patches, tries but, just like me, she’s a little old in the tooth for this type of game.
We’ve had a few weeks of sheep herding for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with getting rid of them in one way or another. This involves making sheep go places they don’t want to go. First we sold three lambs to a farm south of us who arranged a date with the butcher. Could we handle the delivery? She would pay. We decided we might as well send a couple more lambs in the truck since they would fit and our freezer was now empty of lamb.
Catching just a few lambs out of a group is actually harder than catching the entire flock at once. The boys were more easily cornered than the girls, though not sure why. The dog tried to help but what worked best was a 16′ long hog panel that Annie and I used to crowd the lambs into a corner and tie off on the fence with our trusty baling twine. Then we dove into the group and grabbed our target lambs, pushing and shoving them out the gate, dragging them across the lawn, and 1-2-3 hoisting them into the back of the small pickup truck.
We repeated this with the girls and almost gave up in frustration until one of them made a mistake. The rest followed into our trap. We selected our lambs and lifted them into the truck to join their brothers for a last joy ride. Sounds kind of awful, doesn’t it? The price of eating lamb. At least they had a happy-go-lucky 10 months on the farm.
The next week a buyer came down from Washington and bought the rest of our lambs. His business model was well thought out. He buys lambs and goats every winter in Oregon and Washington and rents them out for weed control. He has contracts with airports, municipalities, and power companies, all interested in using a more environmental way to control blackberries and invasive plants. I have heard this done for vineyards and Christmas tree farms wanting to go organic too. Graze the grass, fertilize as you go…and get paid for it. Not a bad plan.
At the end of a season, the lambs and kids that are now fattened up get sent to slaughter. The older sheep and goats, if they are good grazers, and not adept at leaving the premises, get to stay around for another year. The short story? I was pleased our lambs would have a little longer on this earth and maybe some even for the length of their natural life. At least, that’s what the guy said. Check out his site: www.goattrimmers.com
Getting the lambs coordinated to load in his truck, though, took some strategy, cajoling, and the old dog. If we had waited, we could have used the guy’s trained herding dog, but I wanted to have the lambs ready in the barn. We yelled. We shrieked. We waved our arms (this is starting to sound like some of my other blogs). We yelled at each other. The sheep looked at us as if we had lost our minds. Then they lost theirs and scampered into the stalls.
As if this wasn’t enough sheep duty for one time, we decided we had become deft(er) at herding. Why not just catch all the ewes and worm them while we smelled bad? Then we could cross sheep duties off the list for awhile. Luckily many of our girls are ruled by their stomachs and an open door into the barn is an open invitation. Selecting them out of the crowd for tube worming is the actual work-out, but Annie and I alternated back and forth until the group was finished.
The flock is now reduced and the hay is all but gone in the barn. Next job is to buy a couple tons of first and second cut from our neighbor, load it on a trailer, and pack it into our hayloft. For this, we will hire some of the teenage talent up the road. No use breaking our backs on dried grass tied up with string.
Photos: (top) guest’s daughter making herding look easy (I have used this photo before in another blog but it transforms the act of chasing sheep into something so idyllic I just couldn’t resist!), (bottom) this is how you drench worm a sheep.
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