The sheep have all gotten a little wilder with our year away. I think it was just more than Valerie could handle to keep them all tame and handle-able, while doing everything else on the farm, plus working, plus college. I know they were spoiled as much as she could do, and treated well, but the progress I’d been making on tameness has definitely regressed. I go out and work with them every day, though. I want tame sheep. It’s the only way to be successful with a sheep dairy, I have myself convinced.
I’ve been making a deliberate effort every morning to establish a routine, to associate orderly eating, especially of grain. (Each pen gets one scoop, to split amongst all occupants.) I am trying for nice manners here. No rushing, no butting, no running away when I come into the pen. I really like the hay feeders because they enforce those principles. Everyone has space to eat calmly. I have a piece of split black plastic culvert material in Sue and Miguel’s pens, and I put the grain on that, very deliberately. They are starting to get the message, and the smarter ones are lining up next to it when I show up with the grain. A couple of them still come up to me, but we all calmly walk over to the feeder.
What inspired me was a picture of the girls that first fall we got them. All of these same ewes, (plus Selina and Baabs, born since) all lined up to eat, are the ones in with Miguel now. That’s the way it should be, and I’m sorry that those hay feeders eventually got pulled off from the wall as they got older and stronger. But we shall return to that orderly feeding, even at grain time. I’m determined.
Late morning, we heard a sheepie chorus, which is odd. Usually, we only get baaed at in the morning, when it’s time for their grain, thank you very much. Since we’ve put the hay feeders in, they don’t call us around 3 in the afternoon anymore, but we go out to check for water, anyway. They come over to see what we have, and walk away disgusted. Water. Baa. No grain? So we knew something was up when we heard them.
Sure enough, Miguel’s pen (7 sheep) had gotten out, and everyone was telling us about it. Kaytla, our leadersheep, was the loudest, and I’m sure that’s because it was Minx, her daughter, that led the escape. I think she was jealous. The llamas were humming loudly, and the chorus was pretty amazing. The sheep are out! The sheep are out! It seems we had both forgotten to tie the pallet closed that we are using for a gate. Oops.
By the time we suited up and went out (hey, it is 30Â° out there! No snow yesterday, sadly.), they were nowhere to be seen. So I headed out to the hay hoop house where the grain is stored in a metal trashcan, and started to make a racket. I banged the lid on the trashcan over and over, and called out to them. Frank spotted them down behind the house, where their pens had been two years ago. To be honest, there’s a bunch of grass stockpiled under the snow down there that I wouldn’t mind feeding to them, but not now.
I figured I better stop banging before they actually spotted me, or the next time they got out Minx will head them straight for the hoop house and knock over the can. As I walked over with the grain bucket and red-scoop-of-joy, sure enough, Minx was leading them all back to me. She was out in front, with Miguel close behind her. Those leadership genes are awesome, and she likes the grain. (understatement!) I wish I could have taken a picture of her leading the herd up the snowy slope, around the foundation hole that is so treacherous, but it’s hard to remember to grab the camera when rushing out to get them all back in.
Frank went back to get the camera at that point, and I tried to stall as much as I could. They were quick, though, so I had to use the momentum and excitement to lead them back. Three followed me in, and lined up near the black plastic feeder thingie, Minx, Miguel and June. Four of them panicked at the gate, and went around the pen. I decided to put the grain in and leave, and that the other girls would want to get to the grain, and I was right. I saw Selina smacking her lips in anticipation! I just got out of the way.
Frank came up and just got a shot of the last of them going back into the pens. He closed the gate after them, while I went around and gave all the good sheepies (and llamas) a bit of grain as well. I want to reinforce the tattling, not just reward the breakouts.
Summary: Grain training is good. I’m glad I’ve been feeding on those plastic things. I’m also very psyched that we really only hear from them when something is wrong, not when they are hungry. I like the hay feeders for that reason alone. I know everyone is okay this way, and can grow nice healthy lambs for me.
Also, wow were the llamas upset at having their sheep out. It really seems like that extra string of wire we put over the cattle panels really can keep them in, even when they don’t want to be there. That’s a first.