Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Let's Shake It Up A Bit

Just to add some variety, let's introduce you to some of the sheep. This is Carmel, our dominant ewe. She is an older ewe (6+), & she rules her small herd with an iron hoof! Our herd is small when compared to many hobby farms. But, in our case, we got the sheep for our herding dogs, rather than for fleece, milk, or mutton.

That's why Carmel looks sorta like a goat, rather than a sheep. She is a hair sheep (vs a fleece sheep), specifically, a Katahdin-Dorper cross. Hair sheep don't overheat as quickly as fleece sheep when a dog is herding them. So, when training new dogs, it pays to have "dog-broke" hair sheep. Normally, our sheep live a life of luxury, but occasionally they're called on to "pay their way" by being herded around the round pen by experienced or novice herding dogs.

As you can see in the shot, Carmel is looking pretty raggedy right now, because even a hair sheep can put on some fleece in the winter. But it comes out quickly in the spring, because Miss Carmel has a nasty habit of rubbing it off on our fences, & sometimes taking down a fence post in the process!

One of the more annoying things about sheep is that they don't pose very well for pictures. In Carmel's case, she is more interesting in eating than posing for the camera. I guess I need to become a more ingenious photographer, if I ever hope to get a decent head shot. I either get shots with her head down, or when she's running straight at me to get corn.

Truth be told, having a 100+ lb sheep running straight at you can be pretty daunting! Sorta like looking dead in the eye of a miniature freight train! Carmel has been known to climb up our gate with her front feet & stare straight into the windshield of a visiting vehicle! I guess that's one way to let visitors know we have sheep! Dogs can be trained, but our Carmel is an independent sort, & where she leads, the other sheep follow, which can create problems.

Like the time that Carmel breached the fence & led the small flock straight out into the swamp! Previously, we lost a couple of sheep in the swamp (LONG story), & they were never seen again. Although we searched for weeks, we never found them, & we suspect local coyotes had a great banquet of them. So when Carmel led our flock into the "deadly swamp", we were pretty darned agitated about it!

My sis, Miss Type A, took her Aussie Tucker out into the swamp with her as she attempted to herd them back into the fenced pasture. But Miss Carmel wasn't havin' none of that! She wanted to explore! Most likely, she was searching for a handsome ram, since it was "that time of the year".

After trying for over 2 hours to get them back into the pasture, with my sister & Tucker limp with exhaustion, I suddenly found inspiration! I quickly went on-line & downloaded a sound file of a herd of sheep from down in New Zealand. Then, I aimed my computer speakers out the window & played that sound file full blast out into the swamp!

Leave it to Carmel to follow the sound of a ram!! Our herd is composed solely of ewes, so she was really missin' some romance! Once they heard that baaaaaaa-ing, those silly sheep came running back into the pasture so fast that we were almost trampled! Then we were running full tilt to close all of the miscellaneous gates that had been standing open, so that they wouldn't run right back OUT again, searching for the mysterious ram!

Having sheep is ALWAYS an adventure! If it isn't about a ram, it's about FOOD! And they always want the grass on the OTHER side of the fence, so they'll knock down a fencepost or push through a weak spot in the fence to get to it. Or they want the flowers in the planting strip, so they knock down the fence & gobble them all up. Or they want the corn in the corn barrel, so they chew through the bungee cord holding it closed, & gorge themselves on corn.

For a city kid, I've learned a lot from my sheep. I love having them around, because there is something so peaceful about them. I enjoy the simple labor of giving them hay or corn or water or treats. I love the simplicity of their lives, especially compared to my complicated one. In the evenings, my favorite time of day, I love to walk out to see my "girls". Most of them will come within reach & allow me to scratch their heads or eye ridges.

So I might complain about Carmel, but I really treasure her. She is quite tame, & has been known to come right into the dog yard & up onto the porch looking for treats. One time, she tried to climb into my sister's SUV. She might be a character, but she's OUR character, & a valued & indispensable resident here at Waggin' Tails Station!

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