Baptism By Fire

So just before we went to bed last night, I heard rumblings from the sheep quarters, but Frank didn’t hear anything, and I thought I was mistaken, so we just went to bed without checking. That probably was a bad idea. We are still very new to this farming thing, obviously.

At 6 this morning, I heard the chorus of “baaaa”s from the babies, which is early even for them, so got up to make coffee. When I opened up the window quilts in the kitchen, I looked out and saw Sue, Fiona and Kaytla, out around the electric fence, wandering around. I called down to Frank that the sheep were out, and that’s how we started the day.

I went for the grain barrel and scoop, and the three of them started following me, which was good. But as we made it over to the sheep shelters, all was not well. There was an opening between the two shelters, where the fence had been knocked down. The Shetlands were in both pens, three in one side, three in the other, and one of the girls was standing right near the openings. With the big mess there, the Icelandics got all flustered and quit following me, and the Shetlands that were in the pens all left. Great. 10 sheep out.

What I found out really quickly is that the Shetlands don’t know me, Frank, or the Red Scoop of Joy. They were terrified of us, unsure of where they were, and panicked. Our two girls were spooking as well, and Sue was trying to stay between them and the Shetland ram, Raven, who was very interested in them.

Frank started working on getting the fences put back together, and I started trying to herd sheep. I fairly quickly got Sue and Kaytla back in, this time on the left paddock and shelter, but who cares, I thought. Fiona wanted nothing to do with the Red Scoop, and didn’t trust me at all. I think I could have got her in if Frank hadn’t been in the pens working on the fences, because she dislikes him intensely. This good farmer/bad farmer thing we’ve been doing sometimes backfires. She kept over near the lambs, really wanting to get back into that pen and have nothing to do with either of the new shelters at all, actually. But every time I’d open the electric fence for her, she’d almost go in, and then panic. But she was at least staying near it, so I figured I’d start seeing what I could do about the Shetlands.

Yesterday was so easy with them, and we really haven’t had much to do with them at all. I know the boys by name: Raven the big bad ram; Leon, his side-kick wether; and Panic, the wee little ram. They are easy to spot with the impressive horns and all. The girls are just a mass of sheep to me still, not individuals, and they all mostly ran away from me, no matter what I did. They went off toward the swamp, in the woods, and Frank went off after them. They herd much better than the Icelandics, we noticed right away. But with them always going away from us, it was a bad thing, not a good thing.

Several times, we almost got them back into the right paddock, but we really needed one more person. They always went to the one spot where we didn’t have anyone, which was so damn frustrating. I kept putting up barriers, anything to block a path, while Frank kept getting behind them wherever they went in the woods and herding them back up towards me. I thought I had it basically set for another run, but then Frank showed up with them coming around in a direction that I didn’t expect, and everything fell apart, badly. Six of them went off up the road, into the woods, and Raven the Ram went off chasing Fiona, the only Icelandic we still had out.

I was really losing it, and went inside to call for help. We needed more than two people, and I was frustrated, cold and wet from the rain. When I was wondering who to call, because we really don’t know our neighbors very well to ask them to run around in the rain chasing spooked animals, I decided on Valerie. I knew she’d just love a call at 9 in the morning on Sunday, after she was probably up late on Saturday night, but oh well. Come help wrangle sheep. I got dressed, got a new hat, got gloves. The Shetlands and Frank were nowhere to be seen, except for Raven, off trying to woo Fiona, over near the babies. I had visions of them walking over Mack Hill.

When I went back outside, Frank had herded them back up to the house, and they kept going right past it, headed to the village now instead. Arg! I suggested he too get out of his robe and slippers, and put a hat on, told him I’d called Valerie. We had about a half hour until she was going to show up. I wondered about the electric fence. Perhaps we could use that in some way? He went down and got the truck, because I thought maybe we could put them in the back of the truck when we caught them down in the village? Who knows what I was thinking, but we first had to unload all of the wood we cut from the sawmill yesterday, then headed off toward town.

As we almost reached the end of the driveway (about a thousand feet down), we could see sheep off in the distance. Frank got out and headed into the woods, to see if he could come up behind them. Leon was out in front, and as soon as he saw the truck, though, they headed right towards me. I started backing up slowly, and then they all broke into a run, headed right to me. So I kept backing up, slowly. They kept stopping, then would break into a run towards me again, and we did this stop and start thing all the way back home. I wished I could have driven the truck right up to the shelter, but I’d blocked every way earlier when trying to herd them before. So I stopped cross-ways right in the front yard, blocking the way past the house at least, and they all started browsing in the garden. Fine. Eat away, I thought. Soon we’ll have two more people here and can catch you all.

When Frank made it back to the house, he and I started setting up the electric fences. We left the Shetlands to graze, and concentrated on putting one fence around Fiona and Raven. The Shetlands started going over near them too, so I thought we might actually get them all in one pass if we were careful enough. Actually, it almost worked. At one point, we had them all corralled, with Frank almost able to close in his side and I on the other. But then Shetlands panicked and were completely unafraid of the fence, which obviously wasn’t on, as we were handling it. But Fiona won’t go near it, and we’d been cocky. The Shetlands ran right through the parts that weren’t up high enough, and the parts that were, they jumped right over. Over and over they jumped, just like all those images I’ve seen of sheep jumping fences. I’d try to raise it to stop the rest, and they’d just jump higher.

Oh well. We just let them go, and concentrated on containing Raven and Fiona. He was so interested in her that he was ignoring all the herding Shetlands, plus all the girl lambs were there too, though behind the working electric fence. The babies, man. Would Not Shut Up. I was getting so sick of the constant BAAs from them. The Sheltands are very quiet, and even Sue’s grunts of upsetness were nothing compared to the lambs. They wanted to be fed, I think, but we had sheep out, so I wasn’t going to stop to feed them. We got Raven and Fiona behind electric fence, finally, and connected it to the ones around the babies. Now to figure out what the hell to do with the Shetlands.

Valerie showed up then, with Kevin. Two more people, yay. I explained to them what was up, and we headed off to find the Shetlands. They were back over by the hay pile, in the woods behind it. I told the kids which way to split up, and I headed over toward the shelters. The three of us actually were doing really well, but we still needed Frank to block off the path toward the swamp. Once all four of us were there, we got the whole herd into that right paddock. Whew. Ten minutes of four people compared to two hours with two people. What a difference two more people made.

It didn’t take long for all four of us to get Raven and Fiona back into their perspective paddocks either. There was a time when the four of us were all holding on to the fence, slowly making it smaller, and the two of them decided to rush to Valerie, but that made it all over. They got caught in the fence, Valerie held strong, I ran to reinforce her spot, and Frank and Kevin each tackled a sheep. With rope around their horns, they got walked over without much more angst. Finally. All the sheep were in.

I went and got hay for everyone, which finally shut up the lambs, and the silence was blissful. Frank went to work patching fence again, and Sue and Raven started ramming each other most impressively, making a really awful noise when they’d connect. They wouldn’t even stop with Frank in the pens, and we knew really quickly that this wasn’t going to work. That fence was not enough to keep those two rams apart. Sue kept smelling Fiona, who must have smelled a lot like Raven at that point, and was going nutso. But what to do? While we figured it out, Kevin and Frank got Sue out of the paddock and chained up under the deck, where he’d been for almost a month. He of course decided that he didn’t want to be there anymore, and we weren’t sure those 6x6s would hold him, so we chained him to a tree stump over by the sawmill instead, where he could see the lambs but no one else, really. Poor guy. He’s got two cuts, one on his head, one on his side, all from ramming Raven with the fence between them. (I still haven’t been able to check Raven out for damage.)

We offered to take the kids to breakfast while we figured out what to do, but Valerie really wanted to just try to go home back to sleep, poor kid. So I pushed food money on them, she took half, and they left. Frank and I tried to go to breakfast in town, found it closed, which sucked. We came back for the truck and went into Keene instead. He specifically wanted a mimosa, he said. We were going to either need stuff from Agway or Home Depot, thus the truck, but first, breakfast. All the sheep should be fine for a few hours.

Breakfast helped. Booze helped. I was really too upset to eat much, though. I kept trying to read the paper and relax, but that wasn’t working either. I kept getting the giggles at all of the Shetlands jumping the fence. Isn’t that supposed to be relaxing, counting sheep jump the fence? What were we going to do? How were we going to fix this?

We didn’t get much at Agway. I found a dog tie-out that we thought might be able to hold Sue, so he wouldn’t stay tangled up chained to a stump. We bought some over-the-edge water and mineral holders for the new sheds. Frank looked at all the fencing stuff, but though I kept showing him ties and stuff, he wasn’t ready to buy anything else. I found some hay holders that we could attach to the sheds, and convinced Frank they’d help us save on how much hay we are wasting, and they are working out well. Oh, we got some balm for Sue’s cuts. Kevin had suggest it, said it was magic farmer’s goop, but I’m not impressed. I think we should at least put some neosporin on Sue’s cuts, not just this lanolin vaseline stuff.

When we got home, we moved Sue, and the dog tie thing did hold him, though he tangled even that up in not too much time. We left him to graze on the side yard, and went to the back to fence in a third area. Our idea is that if we put Sue and Raven in paddocks with one between them, they can’t ram each other that way. We still need a third shelter, so Sue, Fiona and Katyla will be penned in without shelter, but oh well. We used up the fencing that we had left, which leaves them about 200 square feet. That’ll do for a little while. We’ve got to get them a shelter, and I think we’ve figured out where it can go, and we’ll still be able to bring the truck back around, which Frank needs.

So then. How to move Fiona and Kaytla to the new fenced in area with as little agony and pain as possible. They’d both had a bad day already, and even the grain scoop wasn’t doing much to convince them that we were good people to obey. My idea was that we use one of the electric fences to make a path from the paddock to the new fenced in area, and we’d just herd them in. It worked, actually, though it took three of four attempts, and needed both Frank and I inside the original one, coming at them from different directions. I had to tackle Fiona, but once I had her on the ground, I calmed her down, grabbed a horn, and she walked over pretty easily. We were only moving them about ten feet away, on the other side of the fence they were in. So that wasn’t too bad, probably ten minutes to move two sheep ten feet.

Getting Sue in was easy. He’d tangled his chain out in the lawn so that he could barely move, but he came along very easily. We forgot to put the hay bucket or water buckets in after we got it all buttoned down tight, but I figured out how to do it without needing to undo it all. They got fed, I put new hay in the Shetlands, and the damn babies were BAAAing so loudly still. I had figured I wanted them nice and hungry though, because we might as well move them from the electric fence to the middle paddock now, right? They follow me and the red scoop anywhere, so compared to moving Fiona and Kaytla, they should be easy.

And they were. Such good girls they were. They were hungry, and eager, and it took about a minute to move the five babies all at once into the new place, a hundred feet away. That’s the way I want it to be to move all the sheep. I’ve got to get the new guys to follow me like these babies do. Me and the scoop, man. That’s it. Having them in the shelter and paddock between Raven and Sue will hopefully work out: air space is our theory. They won’t be able to ram each other, at least, though they can still see each other. I hope the babies don’t find new places to get out of the fence line because they are so much smaller than Fiona and Kaytla, and I tried to check the fence lines carefully. I fed them, I gave everyone water, and Frank stapled all the ends of the fences down tight.

The silence was magical! Man. We were sitting there watching all the sheep eat, and even the Shetlands were coming up to check us out, and suddenly everything was peaceful. Everyone in their new home, all safe and sound, maybe we can actually sit down now.

The only pictures we have from today were taken by the webcam, which snaps every ten minutes from the window in Frank’s office. It’s hard to believe that’s all there are, but most of the action was in the woods, down the driveway, in the swamp, behind the house. We had no time or inclination to grab the real camera, which I guess is not that surprising.

12:10 (getting home again)The Webcam shots start here.

It’s not even 6:00 yet, and I’m already ready for bed. I really hope we don’t have more days like today. We really need these fences to hold. I kept thinking today that 343 unfenced acres is a bad, bad thing. Chasing sheep in 36 degree rain all day long sucks.

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