Free-Range Sheep

07/02/2010 at 2:51 pm 9 comments

Sorry for the long delay between posts.  I’ve been putting off writing about the latest escapades on the farm, hoping for a resolution.  And thankfully, that resolution finally came yesterday.  So, allow me to tell the tale in hindsight.

As you know if you follow the blog, I recently adopted a llama (Vigo) and a couple of Shetland ewes (Susie and Anna) to round out my little fiber flock.  Well, thanks to alot of rain, and a short in my fencing, Vigo decided to jump the fence one day a couple of weeks ago.  I’m not sure what prompted him, maybe it was coyotes, maybe it was just a mood, but he jumped, and the ewes followed, as ewes will.  They apparently hung out in the field for a while, until they got spooked, when they went tearing up the road.  This is about the time that I got a phone call at work.  It was a Friday afternoon, and I shut down my computer and rushed home. 

Vigo, Susie and Anna

Once home, there was a note saying that they had been seen about a half mile up the road, in a neighbor’s field.  I grabbed my crook, a bucket of grain, and Vigo’s lead and headed up there.  Now, at this point I had never been able to get the lead rope on Vigo since his haircut/pedicure/walk down to my house.  He had just barely begun to tolerate me petting himl, same with one of the sheep.  But, off I went to find my critters and bring them home. 

I found Vigo easily enough, grazing in the field at my neighbor’s house, just where they said he was.  I didn’t see the ewes, but figured if I got Vigo on his lead the sheep would come running.   I approached him in the field, and he started to run away.  Not a good sign….so instead of chasing him, I stopped, and just shook the grain bucket, and called to him quietly.  He eventually came over to me, and started eating grain out of the bucket in my hand.  He allowed me to clip on his lead, and just like that, he was caught, and ready to follow me wherever.  I must admit to being proud of this moment, neighbors and my husband looking on in amazement, as they hadn’t been able to get within 10 feet of him.  They were impressed.  I figured the rest would be easy, and boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong.  We spent the next 5 hours searching for the ewes, me with Vigo in tow, traipsing through the woods, fields, and lanes of the neighborhood, with no luck whatsoever.  At dusk, we gave up looking, I brought Vigo home, fed him and the goats and retired. 

That first night I hardly slept at all, I kept hearing the coyotes in the distance, and was sure that the ewes were done for.  I got up at 5am the next day, it was pouring rain, and went out again searching for the ewes.  I spent 2 hours walking the back trails, rewalking the trails from the night before, checking all the clearings that I know of.  I stopped at all the houses I came to and told everyone about the ewes, descriptions, names, and left my phone number in case they were seen.  I continued this searching a couple of times a day all weekend, and still had not a sighting or even a sign of where the girls had gone.  I was very dismayed, worried, and frustrated.  I continued to hear the coyotes at night, and was fearful for the ewes safety.  I put a listing in the lost and found section of the local paper, just in case we had scared them enough to run farther away than anticipated.

On Tuesday evening (day 5 of the saga), there was a phone message that the ewes had been seen at another neighbor’s house!  I was amazed to hear that they were still alive, and nearby.   I grabbed my bucket of grain and my crook, and took off.  I found my neighbor Don, leading them down the road, shaking a can of dog food.  They made a little detour when they saw me coming, but with a little cooperation from Tom and Peter, we got them back on track, heading down the road, on the way to the pasture.  We had them about 5 feet from the gate of the pasture when the spooked.  They ran as fast they could off into the woods, where we followed, but lost them pretty quickly.   Very dissapointing. 

Things continued in this fashion for about another week.   There would be no sign of them for a few days, then they’d show up at someone’s house, I’d get the call and try to round them up.  Sometimes I’d get them all the way home, and they’d spook just before the fence, sometimes they’d spook on the way and run off into the woods, sometimes they’d run right up to the fence, but not let me get close enough to let them in.  

About every other day, I’d hook Vigo up on his lead and take him out for a walk, hoping that we’d go by the sheep somehow, and they’d follow him back home.  While we never found the sheep this way, it was a great practice for Vigo and I, we got to know one another, and developed a nice routine, and he’s not much easier to handle, less skittish, more trusting of me.  So, that’s one bonus from this whole mess.

After a while, I started noticing a trend, or loop that the girls seemed to be making.  Instead of them wandering off to neighbors far and wide, they started to show up near the pasture for feeding times, early in the morning, and in the evening.  They’d be hanging out in the access road, right next to the catch pen I had set up.

Susie and Anna in "their spot" on the road between my fields

At this point I was less worried about the coyotes, as they had been out for 10 days or so by now, and had managed to avoid them, even though I had been hearing them almost nightly.  Every morning there they’d be, I’d try to lure them with some grain into the catch pen, with no luck.  In the evening, when I got home from work, there they’d be again.  And again, I’d try to lure them into the catch pen.  Once I got them both in with the help of my husband, Brad.  But before we could even feel satisfied, they realized it wasn’t electrified, and they went tumbling thru it, literally somersaulting thru the fence.  After that, they wouldn’t go anywhere near the catch pen, so i would try to lure them up to the big barn up by the house.  They’d get close, but always spook before we got there.  Very frustrating.

She doesn't look like Houdini at all, but I think they're related.

Then I put out a call on craigs list for help from someone with trained herding dogs.  I got a few responses, and a lovely lady named Carlene agreed to come last weekend with her dogs to see if we could round them up that way.  I was very excited, the sheep had continued to come back to “their spot” every night, so I ran out first thing that Saturday morning to spot them.  They were lounging there, so I didn’t disturb them, just sat up the way and kept an eye on them while waiting for Carlene to arrive.   I heard her car pull in up by the barn, and ran to greet her.  By the time we got back to my spot, the girls had vanished.  Of course.   We spent 3 hours with the dogs, combing the woods, the logging trails, the fields where they had been seen prior, and nothing.  Carlene had some other things to do that day, so she had to leave.  I’m pretty sure she thought I had made the whole thing up, we saw no signs of sheep anywhere, not even droppings, very odd.  Then, of course, later that day they were right back in their usual spot.

Anna - Defiant girl

 By now, I had decided that they were just too scared to know what to do.  I tried to just quietly talk to them, lure them to me, with the hopes of getting a rope on one of them.  But that didn’t work either.  I was able to lure Susie into the catch pen one last time, but Anna wouldn’t go anywhere near it.  I was trying to get Susie on a lead rope, but she would have none of it, and tumbled out of the catch pen again.  Now the girls were hanging out right next to the pasture fence, and the goats and Vigo.  I decided to take the catch pen down, since they were so frightened of it.  I wasn’t really sure what to do next.  I tried luring them back towards the barn, but they escaped away to “their spot” and laid down for the night.  I opted to leave them alone, and try again in the morning.

At this point, I was ready to give up.  I felt like I had tried everything, from large groups of people fanning thru the woods, to herding dogs, to quietly luring them with treats.  I tried lassoing them, I tried catching them with my crook and manhandling them.  I was tired of everyone asking me if the sheep had come home yet, and having to say no, day after day.  I was demoralized, demeaned, feeling like a total shepherd failure.   I think I even cried that night, out of sheer frustration.  I finally emailed their former owner and told her the whole sordid tale, embarassed and ashamed. 

The next morning (yesterday, in fact) when I went to do the morning feeding of the goats and Vigo, I was stunned and amazed to find Susie and Anna in the pasture, with the goats and Vigo, waiting for their grain.  What?!!   How?!! 

I pinched myself to be sure I was awake.  I was.  I fed the goats. I fed Vigo.  I fed the ewes.  They ran right up to me and ate as quick as they could from the dish right in my hand.  They let me pet them, even Anna, who had only just barely let me touch her before their big escape.  They let me check over their bodies and legs for scrapes, cuts, ticks etc.  I wanted to make sure that they didn’t have anything to get infected from their wanderings.   I told my husband they were back in, and thanked him for whatever he did to get them there.  He looked at me blankly, he didn’t put them in.  We don’t know how on earth they got back inside the pasture fence, but sure enough there they are.

I was worried all day at work that they’d be gone again by the time I got home, even though I had checked the fence carefully and it was fully charged.   I got home and they were still there, ran right up to see me and get some lovin’.  They appear to be getting to know the rest of the gang again.  They are giving the goats a wide berth at the moment, but they did that the first time around too, and by the 3rd day they were all buddies.  They love Vigo and continue to follow him around like lovesick puppies. 

Things seem to be back to normal.  I will now have some more free time to get back to working on the permanent perimeter fencing, that will hopefully prevent future breakouts.  I’m thrilled that I won’t have to spend the 4th of July weekend chasing sheep around.  Best of all, Iwas able to email Donna and let her know that the girls are home, safe and sound, at long last. 

Nobody told me that keeping sheep was anything like training for a marathon, but if your sheep get out, that’s just what it’s like.  Running and hiking for miles and miles, in all kinds of weather, no matter how tired you are.  I’m exhausted from the experience, but have learned alot.  Mostly, I’m relieved that it ended well, and I consider myself very fortunate, it would have been easy for it to go another way. 

Many thanks to all the friends and neighbors who helped out, by watching, by helping search, by luring them down the road, and by just being supportive in my hour (week, whatever) of need, especially Brad, who never signed up for any of this. 

Happy 4th of July everyone!

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Ewe who? Peaceful Pastures

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Adrianne  |  07/02/2010 at 3:06 pm

    Yay!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Get some good rest now, eh?

    Love!

    Reply
  • 2. Leslie  |  07/02/2010 at 10:19 pm

    God, what a great post! I’ve been following since the beginning and it’s been fun and sad and interesting to see you grow into being a shepherd. You write quite well and this post was pretty amusing despite its dire subject matter. Glad everyone is home safe and I’m wondering if you’ll ever figure out how.

    Reply
  • 3. Georgia  |  07/03/2010 at 1:26 pm

    Wow! You have convinced me that it is a good thing that I decided to stick with angora bunnies for a fiber flock. i would have been completely stressed out in your shoes. So glad to see that all ended well for you!

    Reply
  • 4. amy  |  07/06/2010 at 8:11 am

    Yay for a happy ending 🙂 Even if there’s no way to explain how they got back in.

    Reply
  • 5. Ann Thompson  |  07/06/2010 at 5:28 pm

    So glad it all worked out in the end. You write so well- a fun, informative, poignant story. Hope you lazed in a pond all weekend. Stay cool- if you can in this heat.

    Reply
  • 6. Molly Parrish  |  07/09/2010 at 9:32 am

    Harray for happy endings! Thank you for letting us experience this vicariously. I hope they never test the limits again.
    Love,
    Molly

    Reply
  • 7. Lynn  |  07/09/2010 at 2:24 pm

    Wow, You sure are a hard working farmer. Did you ever find out who caught the sheep, and put them back in?
    Love, Lynn

    Reply
  • 8. Zach  |  07/10/2010 at 4:23 am

    You sure do have a spirited but beautiful crew! Can’t wait to meet the newcomers at the end of the month. And yes, we’ll have plenty of Dahlia Dark in hand 😉

    Reply
  • 9. Jenn C.  |  10/29/2010 at 12:10 pm

    I listened in on your telling someone else this story at Rhinebeck, and I just wanted to drop by and tell you how much I enjoyed it, and how glad I was to hear that the sheep made it home safely. Did you even figure out how they got back in?

    Reply

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