Thursday, July 2, 2009

Getting in touch with my Inner Shepherd

One thing I forgot to mention in the last post is that since bringing the sheep home, I'm sleeping in the truck next to their pen. Yep, last night was night #5. See, here's the thing. Sheep are food in most parts of the world, both for humans and animals. Since my guardian dog hasn't arrived yet, I'm responsible for making sure these things don't get eaten by something. Our biggest problem here is with coyotes and stray dogs. We also have occasional bobcats which will definitely kill a lamb if given the opportunity. Anyway, I've parked the truck so I can flip the lights on and see the entire sheep enclosure. They understand that I'm watching over them and they sleep next to the fence close to the truck. Thus far, we have had mostly uneventful nights, although I'm really getting about half of the amount of sleep I normally get. I head out there at around 9:30, just as it is getting dark, and come in the house at about 5:00 am, when things out there start waking up. I wake up at least once an hour, and of course anytime they make a noise or I hear something that might be an animal creeping around near the pen.

Sleeping in the front seat of the truck is not exactly the lap of luxury but it isn't all that bad either. In fact it has been pretty peaceful both temperature-wise and bug-wise so except for sleep deprivation, it's not so bad. It is firefly season so there are literally thousands and thousands of green blinking lights in every direction. Hard to describe.

Anyway, over the past five days, I've actually learned a lot about the behavior of sheep. They do not sleep straight through the night. They get up, graze for a while, meander over to the water bucket and get a drink, lie back down next to the fence, burp really loudly, and then commence to chew their cud, just like cows. Oh, and they head butt each other. Often. This cycle is repeated over and over through the night.

Well, up until last night that is...
I was in and out of sleep, and was awakened at about 1:00 am by the sound of something crashing around in the thick brush to the north of the enclosure, on the neighbor's property. I figured it was a deer since they use that area a lot, but to make sure, I yelled out "Move Along!" a couple of times. Then I hear "maaaaah-maaaaah" and I realize one of the sheep is on the other side of the freaking fence.


I get out of the truck, turn on the head lights, count four white sheep in the pen and realize it is Cocoa, the black lamb, Gone Missin'! Craptastic!!! I can hear him but I can't see him and now that the lights are on, he wants back in the pen but he can't find the hole where he made his escape. At this point he is continuously bleating, more frantically every second that ticks by, and I'm imagining every coyote and dog within a mile thinking dinner is just about ready. I walked back to the truck and got the wire-cutters out of Greg's tool belt in the back seat, took my flashlight and tried to coax him back into the pen by stretching and holding up the fence high enough for him to squeeze under it. No Dice! He WILL NOT go near the section where I've lifted it up and he is way too fast for me to try to grab him. As if that isn't enough to deal with, the other four sheep are now bleating back and forth with him at this point, louder and louder'; I guess trying to encourage him to come back inside the pen, and he's not smart enough to realize I'M HOLDING THE FENCE UP FOR HIM, so he head butts the fence several times and then dashes off down the fence line into the night. Okay, on some level I know this is funny but I can't seem to think about anything other than my little black sheep disappearing, and the horrible fate that awaits him if I can't get him back into the pen.

At this point the lights in the truck go off so it's almost pitch black except for my mini mag light which gives off about the same amount of light as a cigarette because the batteries are almost dead. Oh, and I've also ruined my night vision after turning on the truck headlights so I'm basically fumbling back to the truck like a blind person. I get there and start the engine and turn the lights back on so they'll stay on, wondering how I'm going to catch this sheep in the dead of night. When I turn around to assess the hole in the fence, I see that Cocoa is now back in the pen, casually eating grass like nothing has happened. I went up to the house and got a piece of scrap fence and covered the hole enough that he can't get out again, and then settled back in for the night. I'm pretty sure I put my hands in poison ivy when I was fixing the hole in the fence. It's all along the fenceline.
Lesson #1...Sheep are like mice, they can squeeze through a pinhole. I have some more work to do on my fence.

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