Monday, April 30, 2012

Could You BE Any Stupider?

It was a beautiful spring day (finally).  The sky was an amazing shade of blue with huge puffy white clouds.  The grass was rippling in the breeze.  Yes, one of those days that made you glad to be alive…

The Boss decided it was time to put the sheep on “Raspberry Hill” to harvest the grass.  You see, it’s a symbiotic relationship…this farming thing.  We need the grass mowed and the sheep need to eat.  When it works, it is a thing of beauty.  We had just gotten a brand-new roll of electro-net for fencing, so paddock set up was going to be a breeze. (someday I will detail my love-hate relationship with electo-net…)

When I opened the gate, the sheep poured through.  They seemed overwhelmed…which good stuff to eat first?  (I suppose I should qualify here…”raspberry hill” hasn’t had a raspberry in quite a few years…but, the name stuck and we understand where the sheep are by the name…)  But, this…this is what Spring on the farm should look like.

All went well until…(you knew that was coming, didn’t you?) it was time to bring the sheep back to the barn.  Until the lambs are weaned, the sheep cannot simply STAY out in the paddocks. The lambs need access to the creep feeder at all times.  Access to the creep feeder means access to the barnyard.  Access to the barnyard means keeping the alley open.  Keeping the alley opened means that the sheep go back and forth past the precious hoophouse crops many times during the day.  That makes the Boss REALLY nervous! For now, we are playing “musical paddocks” in the afternoon and limiting the access to the back paddocks.  This should not, and I repeat…should NOT be a big deal.

But…we are dealing with sheep.  The lambs in particular are somewhat deficient in their reasoning capabilities…

This particular paddock has a little section that comes down toward the hoophouses where the grass is lush and beautiful and it would be a horrible shame to waste it.The ewes know the drill, so we were certain they would go through the gate and not the net. But, the Boss worried that the lambs would flip out and come through the net in search of a shortcut to the barn. I shared his concern and made my plans.  I crept down to the barn, hoping that my silence would allow me to put out the feed, walk out to the paddock and lead the flock to the barn. This was not to be.  Apparently, one of the ewes possesses a super-hero kind of power….she knows when I am going to the barn (before I do) AND she can hear a grain of corn/oats fall into the bucket.  I have yet to ascertain which one possesses these amazing abilities. However, she alerted all the others and chaos ensued.  As I dumped the feed in the feeders, the flock came thundering, screaming down the alley…

…except for the “gang of stupidity”…

The “gang of stupidity” consists of 3 to 8 lambs who invariably go the wrong way, get lost, get stuck, and/or make my shepherding duties a general pain in the …

Their leader is Habeebibeebi...…who has developed this horrific voice that could possibly wake the dead.  When she is frightened, she screams, not bleats, not baas….screams. The sound indicates that she is being throttled, ripped limb from limb AND fleeing attack from Sasquatch all at the same time.  I have gone running out into the darkness numerous times to find her just standing there, looking for her mother and screaming.  ARGH!

There they were, running around in circles, screaming out what little bits of brains they may possess. I admit it…I swore under my breath as I dashed out the barn door.  I really didn’t need them tearing down the fence the Boss had just put up, or eating all those crops we have growing in the hoophouses and gardens.  Even more, I REAALLLLLY didn’t want to chase lambs all over the farm.

I took the feed bucket along, hoping against hope that they would follow it.  I was working against the clock here; as soon as those ewes finished the grain…they were going to be off to those green pastures…

I used the bucket to push down the electro-net, so I could hop over since I hadn’t turned off the “juice”.  I banged the bucket, called “sheep” and waited…they looked at me.

I tried again…this time they exchanged glances as if to say “I dunno…whatcha think SHE wants?”

Since leading them was not going to work, I quickly decided I would have to herd them.  Herding prey animals is all about working the angles.  If you push (approach) from the right angle, the flock will head in a certain direction.  If you push harder, they will move faster.  Working by yourself can make this tricky, but I have done it countless times, and with the woven wire fence running along one side of the paddock…it should be a breeze.  Push them up along the fence, they’ll see the gate opening, go through and run to the barn. Right?

Wrong.  When I went to push, I set the bucket down in the middle of the paddock.  My intent was to keep them from running beyond me into the upper portion of the paddock and around all the edges.  We would end up doing a ring-around-the-rosie thing.  They headed up the hill…saw the bucket and panicked. Ordinarily they are all trying to get the tasty tidbits from the bucket, but I suppose it looked strange in this environment.  They ran back to their little corner.  I could see the ewes finishing up and beginning to head back out…

“oh, come on guys….”  I began the push again. (after moving the bucket).  The angle was right, the lambs moved up the fenceline…they found the gate…they ran through…HOORA…

Wait a minute!  WHAT is this wether lamb still doing in the paddock?

Somehow, he missed the cue…there he was, back in the corner, screaming with all his might.  He tried to go after his buddies and hit the woven wire.  BOING!  BAAA!  He tried again.

After the third BOING! BAA! sequence,  he turned the other way toward the electro-net.  This was exactly what the Boss had been trying to avoid.  The lamb nosed the net “BAAA-AAA!” That shock on the nose hurt!  He ran the other direction…finally heading up the hill.

By this point, time was getting short…here come the ewes…

YAY!   He ran through the gate.  I stopped to latch it. No point in going through THAT again.  When I looked up, he hadn’t turned left to join the other sheep.  No..he turned right and headed for the far point of the farm, BAAAA-ing all the way.

It was then I found myself on the high point of the farm, saying in my best “Chandler Bing” voice (remember the show “Friends”?) “Could you BE any stupider?”  before trudging after him, feed bucket in hand. He made it to the far corner…

This was getting ridiculous!  I got him turned toward the barn, but all his screaming alerted the ram to sheep in his general vicinity, and he began running around and hollering as well.  The lamb saw another sheep and attempted to go through the wire that way.  There are 4 or 5 electrified strands separating the paddocks out back.  The ram and lamb had a number of paddocks between them, but apparently sheep can’t count and have little or no depth perception or sense of distance.  Lamb hit the electric strand, shocked his nose (again) and ran a little further down the fenceline before trying again. (mentally, I am seeing myself making the M’brook  “news” once again…)

Finally, he made the turn!  As he entered the alley from one direction…the ewes were coming from the other direction.  Now I had to hurry! With all of them following, I made my way to the barn…locked the back gate and turned them out front.

There was much complaining among the flock, but they seemed to settle down fairly quickly, the excitement of the afternoon a forgotten thing.

Until, of course, the following afternoon when the “gang of stupidity” once again found themselves separated from everyone else.  This time the herding worked and they went to the barn as a cohesive group.

But, by day three on this venture…they were STILL getting separated…causing me to do the “Chandler Bing” thing to the whole flock.

                             Seriously…..could you BE any stupider? 

 …only to realize I was indeed talking out loud to the sheep.

                                                             Hmm, perhaps I should re-direct the question!

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