Sugar Camp Farm: Sheep-herding
Is it just me or did anyone else just realize that "shepherd" almost exactly breaks down into "sheep herd(er)"?
Don't worry — I just checked Wikipedia (which knows all, right?) and it confirmed that shepherd is, in fact, an amalgam (looked that up too — it means a mixture or a blend) of sheep herder! I knew I was kind of onto something.
Anyhow... THE SHEEP.
I went to visit and help Jesse and Lizzie out on the farm yesterday because it was the big day where the baby boys would be separated from their mamas. Kind of sad... but it does prevent them from getting a little too excited and impregnating the other females.
Backing up a little: giving water to the sheep was actually my first solo job on the farm. It was also the first time I drove the "gator" by myself, in the same day I was taught how to drive the gator. Moving fast, I know.
My task was to load five of the big 5-gallon bottles of water on the gator. Then drive over to the sheep and take all those gallons and dispense them into their drinking tub.
It was a SUCCESS! Even to this day. No one died from dehydration. The sheep all survived. I worked out some muscles. And I remembered to turn the electric fence current off and then on when I left. Didn't even shock myself.
The sheep are funny to observe. They mostly just graze and eat the grass. Maybe lay in the shade when it gets a little hot. And they don't much care about me. I think when I first pulled up in the gator they thought I was Jesse and they all came a little closer to me than normal, maybe hoping they were going to get a whole new area to graze in. And then when they realized I just had the water and wasn't going to do much else for them, they turned away from me. I mean literally. Makes you kind of feel like the kid rejected at the lunch table. But they're still cool.
A lot of what Jesse does in taking care of the animals is making sure they have fresh areas to graze, meaning taking down fencing and putting new boundaries up for the sheep and other animals to go into. It's actually difficult to do — you have to methodologically plan out where they'll be going and then restructure the area. And if the ground is too hard, sometimes using a drill is necessary to stake the fence in. I never seemed to get it completely right, as hard as I pushed down on the stake with my foot.
And now, back to yesterday (which was Back to the Future Day...now it's Back to the Past Day, as in #tbt. I feel like there's a connection here. Or I'm just tired): separating the baby boy lambs from the mom's was not something I think anyone was looking forward to. But I prepared myself for a lot of bahh-ing and a little more urgency than other farm tasks.
Lizzie gave me a de-brief of the events that were going to take place: open the fencing, let the sheep through, act like football defense combined with a yoga-like zen energy so you don't move too fast and freak them out, but guard and herd them into the appropriate area.
Then, once they're in their small enclosure, Lizzie took stats on their numbers. i took pictures. And finally, it was time.
The anticipation exceeded the actual reality. Luckily. Everything ended up going very smoothly. I didn't even need to tackle anyone.
Each of the nine boys were caught by Jesse and Lizzie. That part was kind of comical and a little stressful to watch. It's the hardest part since, as I mentioned, they really don't want much to do with you. Any time you get close, they go as far to the opposite side as possible. So trying to catch and carry one was an interesting episode of the sheep all trying to run away in one direction with little area to run away to.
Once the lamb was captured though, it would immediately stop struggling or trying to escape. I don't know if that's the best survival tactic for sheep, but it worked well for our purposes. The male lambs were gathered and released into a separate area of the barn. And then we released all the females back into a new grazing area, before releasing the males into their personal grazing area — separate from the females.
With this method, they could still see their mom's so the weaning wasn't as desperate as it could be. Jesse was telling me of some more extreme consequences where a lamb might literally starve itself to death because of the anxiety from being completely separated.
Fortunately, that was not the case with these little ones. They just started grazing and minding their own business. And ignoring me again.
Just all in a day's work.