Saturday, December 15, 2007

Fools Rush In

Today was one of those (many) days in which I wish I was a a more seasoned shepherd, or at least a shepherd with a little more time, farm gear and common sense. A shepherd with a clue.

It all started reasonably enough. Here in New England, we are expecting a big storm-- oodles of snow they say, just oodles!-- and this on top of the foot already down! Sheesh. Dan and I figured we better take advantage of the lull in the weather. He went to the dump (one of those small-town necessities that I find actually really like and appreciate. (I'll have to explain that one sometime, eh?) and then he "snowblew" (Now THAT is one awesome new verb!) the driveway. This on top of my Friday morning 4 AM shoveling and his Thursday night shoveling. Like I said: we got A LOT of snow this week.) Then he made several runs down the hill to buy hay. All we have to cart hay bales is a minivan, so this process involves removing all the seats in the minivan, sliding down the snowy hills to the hay farm, loading up, barely skidding back up the hills to Maggie's Farm, dropping all the hay bales in the driveway (As attempting the steep driveway down to the barn is utterly foolhardy), putting three bales at a time on the kids' sled (As the ATV is in the shop) and sliding them down the hill until done, and then heading back down to the hay farm for more, etc etc. While all this fun was going on, I thought I'd take the kids into town to stock up on a few groceries (in case we get snowed in longer than Sunday and also because we've been HOME TOGETHER, mostly inside, for the last 5 or so days and I needed-- really NEEDED-- to get OUT!) The plan was for Dan and I to meet up around evening chores and figure out the best way to secure the sheep for the storm and batten down whatever hatches needed battening.

Well, The kids and I took longer than expected and a friend stopped by and, long story slightly shorter, Dan and I ended up down at the barn around 8 PM (kid bedtime, in our household) puzzling over our latest shepherding conundrum. You know that old puzzle about a farmer trying to get across a river with a bag of grain, chicken and fox, but he can only take two items at a time? Well, we felt just like that guy. We didn't want to leave Franklin (See "Don't Need a Wether, Man") and James with only a semi-three sided shelter for the upcoming blizzard (The picture above is of Franklin and James, before the last 3 snow/ice falls). But we knew from past experience, that little James, our smallest ram lamb, would get clobbered if we opened the door into the barn and allowed James, Franklin, Charlie Bucket and Daisy to freely mingle. Also, although we were pretty sure Daisy had already been bred, we weren't sure how Franklin and Charlie would get along. Also, there was no chance in hell we'd catch Franklin in the dark with a foot of snow on the ground. As I said, he's one wiley, wiley dude.

So, thought we, let's just see what happens if we put them all together. What harm could THAT be? Well, it was a jungle out there. The new group milled about excitedly for a few seconds. Charlie and James (half-brothers and old chums) seemed to be alright, but Franklin, as we'd suspected, went ballistic, banging everybody around. I don't think he realizes he can't, um, that he has no, um. Well, you know. Experienced shepherds, out in the barn at their kids' bedtime starting at a fractious little flock of sheep that somehow had to share a shelter through the humongoid blizzard bearing down on them might know just what to do but we didn't. We had no clue. Dan was of the "Oh, they'll work it out just fine. Let's leave them be" persuasion and I was of the "They're going to kill each other! We must do something at once!" persuasion. We hemmed and hawed and wondered if maybe one of our handy dandy sheep books might provide some guidance (Right!) Oh, and also, rookie Icelandic sheepdog, Luka, went a little nutso herself watching the sheep conk heads and Maggie, an old veteran (at least when it comes to the inaction of her humans), pounced on Luka whenever she got too forward. Which made the whole thing just that much wilder. (Sheepdogs just HAVE to control things. If left to their own devices, Maggie and Luka could probably have gotten the mess untangled all by themselves.)
Finally, Dan and I decided that we ought to do something, at least about James, who was obviously the weakest, and most vulnerable, link. Unlike Franklin, he was easy to catch. Dan just reached into the mess-o-milling-sheep and yanked him out. Then he carried James to the empty stall in the barn. So, now James is alone but safe (We reasoned that "alone" however miserable for a sheep was better than injured or dead) Then, we mulled over Franklin and Charlie Bucket for a while. Franklin is bigger, and he seems to turn into the sheep equivalent of "The Incredible Hulk" when in the vicinity of a juicy ewe, but there was really no way to get him out of the group without a few hours worth of sliding around in the snow and even then, it was not likely. So we had to leave them to work it out on their own.

But that's not all: We checked on James before we went back to the house. He looked a little forlorn, and so I gave him some extra hay and a handful of grain. Now, let me preface this by saying, James has never in his life had a handful of grain all to himself and grain is the sheep equivalent of candy here on Maggie's Farm, and so little James in scarfing his grain pellets, managed to choke himself but good. He was bucking and staggering around in his stall and drooling gobs of grain and spit out of his nostrils, and I was sure he was going to drop dead right there. Dan was already out the door and halfway up the hill by then. I called him back and we stared at the poor little guy who was now standing very still, breathing in shallow little pulls and dripping green-brown slime out of more than a few orifaces. "We have to do something!" I said. "I remember hearing about this. What was it Ally did when this happened to her? We have to do something!"

Dan said. "Oh, he'll be alright. He's breathing." See a pattern here?
If we were more experienced shepherds, if we could remember the details... something about a tube, a temperature... maybe we wouldn't stand there in the barn (twice in one night!) trying to buy a clue. Thankfully, James solved this one for himself, burping up a big glob of slime, sneezing and then going back to his happy pile of grain all fine and dandy. (That's sheep for ya.)

Dan and I trudged up the hill. We opened the door. It was just too quiet in the house. Where were the children? Micah was reading her Calvin and Hobbes comic book, Anna called from the bathroom, and there was little Joe, hiding behind a chair. "It's so peaceful in here!" I said. (Really, the hiding behind the chair thing should have tipped me off) In reply Joe said. "I'm sorry, Mama." That's when I noticed the spilled soup all over the floor, two bowls of it. No biggie. But it could have been worse, much worse.

This is one of the toughest things about newbie shepherding (and newbie mothering) there is never a perfect solution. There are solutions sure, but all of them involve sacrifices and risks. I go down to the barn and hope I've taught the kids well enough to manage for a few minutes. I leave the sheep to their own devices (too much perhaps?) and hope they'll muddle through. Maybe a few years from now, Dan and I will cease to be surprised by all these complications. Somebody chokes on some grain and we'll be right there with the sheep (or human) heimlich. A wether forgets he's a wether and we'll just... we'll just... Well. We'll know what to do by then, won't we?


Leigh said...

I found your blog via the homwsteading webloggers ring awhile back and have really been enjoying it ever since. Especially since my DH (also a "Dan") and I are wannabes in hopes of closing a deal on some land soon. I especially appreciate the down to earth posts about your hands-on learning experiences. Hopefully we'll be following in similar footsteps soon.

Christy said...

I really enjoyed this post. I feel like I'm learning so much from you in preparation of when I get my sheep.