Friday, June 24, 2011

A Female of Substance!


On to another of our sheepies. This is O.B. “O.B.”, otherwise known as “Old Biddy” [at least, it’s the family-friendly name we quickly came up with after calling her a less polite name a few times!].

O.B. is a couple of years younger than Carmel, whose age we now estimate at 10+ (after doing more research). So figure that O.B. is approximately 8 or so. She is one of the two “Grand Dames” of our small herd.

O.B. is a purebred Black-bellied Barbados sheep. She is a hair sheep, so most folks think she’s a goat. She grows very little wool, & scrubs it off against the fences each spring. She’s more of an “easy keeper” because she doesn’t knock down the fences like Carmel or “Baaaah” at us constantly when we’re out working in the yard [to Carmel, “Baaah” means “Feed me!”].

On the other hand, altho Carmel is reasonably tame & will come up to be petted & eat corn from our hands, O.B. is FAR less cooperative. In fact, you could probably describe her as stubborn [very!], which is what caused the “R-rated” version of her name in the first place!

O.B. regularly challenges our dogs when they are in the herding ring. Tonka, who was never much of a herder to begin with, assists me in “graining the sheep” (i.e., giving them corn) by holding them off of the feeder while I fill it. Even with his brain damage, he can perform this simple task, & it gives him something that is just HIS to do with “Mom”. O.B. constantly challenges Tonka & tries to head-butt him. Fortunately, Tonka is also assertive with her, & puts his head right thru the fence to bark & nip at her. She knows not to get too close to those sharp, white teeth!

O.B. is not one of those sheep that you would put out with an inexperienced dog. Sheeps’ hooves are very sharp, & I have heard some pretty bad stories. Mariah’s littermate Dooley was badly injured when he was attacked by several butt-headed sheep who cut him up quite seriously before another dog could be brought to move them off of him. Dooley required a ton of vet care afterward, & never herded sheep again!

So we use one of our experienced dogs on O.B., kick her butt a few times [we call these our “Come to Jesus” meetings around here!] & then let the less experienced pups work her once she’s been reminded of her role in the universe (prey, not predator). Grudgingly, she will submit, but I know she plots rebellion in her heart!

Which brings up the topic of managing sheep like O.B., & the use of stock whips & stock sticks. Most stock sticks are about 5 feet long & made of fiberglass. They are usually white, with a black tip & a black handle. Contrary to popular belief, the handler DOES NOT whack the contrary sheep with this! Rather, this stick is used to guide the working dog as they move the sheep.

A stock whip, on the other hand, is a very flexible whip of approximately 6 feet, with a long piece of knotted nylon string at the tip. This is usually not used on the stubborn sheep either! However, sheep move VERY quickly when they hear the unique & distinct whistle of that piece of nylon string when the handler whips the ground near the sheep, indicating that the sheep are to move NOW! Occasionally, in order to protect a dog or handler, this tool is used to swat the back of a sheep, but NEVER to “whip” them. I have also used the tip to tap on a sheep’s nose when they are trying to force their way into the feeder before I have finished filling it, endangering my hands [being bit by a sheep is no picnic!].

Over the years, as the composition of our small herd has changed, O.B. has become somewhat ostracized. I’m not sure why this has happened, but it is clear to my eyes when I watch the sheep together in their pasture. Since sheep are herd animals, they always remain somewhat close together. So O.B. still remains close to the rest of the herd, but it is very clear that she is on the fringe of the group. We watch to ensure that she is getting proper access to food & water as well as access to the shelter in case of a storm. As someone who lived on the fringe myself during my teen years, I empathize with O.B., so I do what I can to make things as good as possible for her. Even in the animal world, cliques occur in sheep, pecking orders in chickens, etc. I can’t change that, but I can still care for O.B. as much as she will allow.


No comments:

Post a Comment