Friday, November 14, 2008

mad sheep

I have a problem. My three sheep are wonderful animals, but I don't think I can keep them. See, the point of having the sheep is two fold. They are here to train me, and for me to train a dog on. I put all my eggs in one basket when I took on my flock. I just had to hope they'd let me learn animal husbandry and livestock handling, and let my future sheepdog train with them. guess what? My sheep hate dogs.

They aren't dog broke. Dog broke means they know how to move and act around a working sheepdog. But Sal, Marvin, and Maude aren't about to be herded. They stomp, charge and headbutt when Sarah is around. When I have tried to work her on the sheep they have either scattered in a panic or tried to stomp her down, which only didn't happen because I would smack them on the head with the training stick (lightly, don't go thinking I beat sheep now) But my admonishing didn't matter. They just won't stand for a dog in their pen.

And that was really driven home Tuesday morning when Marvin nearly killed Sarah. Sarah was with me in the pen around morning feeding time and Marvin charged her in a space so tight she barely avoided getting hurt. Had I not stepped in and broken up the encounter I think I might have a dead dog (Marvin never touched her, and Sarah didn't seem to mind dodging a large Wether, so at least she wasn't spooked). But I was angry at myself for letting that happen. My own stupid off-leash fear had her too close to me on a leather lead. Had I the sense to have a stock dog free to move as she needed off leash, this wouldn't have happened. But Sarah being too close during food time made them livid.

So that was it. I need to get sheep who know dogs aren't monsters. The usual anwser is to just add dog broke sheep to the mix, but I don't have the shed space or resources to keep adding to the flock. I need to replace them with sheep that can be worked. But that weighs heavy on me, because I don't just give-up on animals if there is any chance to mend the issue. But in this case it could get dangerous for me and Sarah if I don't exchange them. I'll have to talk to the farmer I got them from and see if she wants them back, or if she wants me to sell them to a spinner's flock. It just stinks for all of us. The best solution would be to get a great sheepdog in here far better trained (and more confident) than Sarah and have him "break" the sheep. But no handler will offer their dog to be possibly hurt just so I can herd in my backyard.

Most likely the sheep will stay this winter and in the spring I'll either have them sold as pets to a spinner, or make room for two more who are broke and Sarah can herd. But since the second option requires construction, money, and fences, I will mostly likely just trade them out and in the meantime kepp getting us to lessons with workable sheep. Man, this is my first laying hens all over again...

Photo of Maude by Sara Stell


Blogger Tom Open said...

I am curious as to what if any impact the current flock will have on Sarah. If Sarah is around sheep that she can't do her thing with, will this harm Sarah's effectiveness on other sheep in the future?

Just a thought. I know nothing about sheep or sheep dogs, yet.

November 14, 2008 at 8:35 AM  
Blogger Mama Pea said...

Jenna, don't get down on yourself or discouraged. This, too, like so much of life is just part of the learning curve. You have the intelligence to quickly assess a situation and good common sense to make wise decisions. You're still more ahead of the game by having gotten your three Mad Sheep than you would be without them. Now you just need to refine and tweak the situation in order to move on.

Keep letting us know what's happening . . . you're doin' good!

November 14, 2008 at 8:49 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Tom, first off, I am curious how you found this blog and what your story is since I don't think you were on the "come in, sit down" intro post. You seem neat.

and to your question, yes, the sheep will be impossible to train sarah on. If I keep training her with them she'll get nervous and scared around sheep at a time she needs to gain confidence. You dig?

thanks MamaPea! I hope you get your package soon!

November 14, 2008 at 9:07 AM  
Blogger Chicken Mama said...


Don't beat yourself up that you're "giving up" on them. Giving up on them would be opening the gate and walking away . . . . Your sheep, even tho they may not be "perfect" are taken care of far better than the "average flock", I'm thinking!

And, with time - if you do keep them over the winter - Sarah & the sheep may adjust to each other. You have to give it time: it's only been a couple of weeks.

November 14, 2008 at 10:19 AM  
Blogger Tom Open said...

Hi Jenna,

I found you via Mother Earth News a few weeks back when I read an article of yours. Great stuff there and here. You are a couple years ahead on what I would like to be doing. I sort of made your blog part of my homework so to speak. I missed the "intro post" so I hope I am not crashing the party here.

Thanks again for letting us know how the real life is. I hope to get knee deep in it in real soon.

On Sarah and the training, the son digs.

November 14, 2008 at 12:53 PM  
Blogger EJ said...

This is why we don't attempt to herd our sheep with our german shepherd dog- I don't know how to, the dog isn't trained and neither are the sheep. Plus our sheep are Icelandic which means they scatter rather than clump together as some breeds. In fact, its the only thing I have against this lovely breed of sheep.

Trying with new sheep sounds like a good idea. It's all a learning experience!

November 14, 2008 at 3:34 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

I'm rooting for you with the herding training, Jenna! Sorry to hear about this little roadblock, but I know you 'll figure out how to push past it. There is nothing as breathtaking as seeing a dog herd....kudos to you for endeavoring to be her able partner in the dance!

November 14, 2008 at 6:19 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

sorry to hear this :(

like you I don't like the concept of "giving up" on animals but if you aren't finding building positive associations workable and you can't find dogs that will teach the sheep a little respect you are in a tough place

hoepfully everybody will settle - Sarah hasn't been with you that long but if not don't feel badly about adapting the farm to your needs

I think thats something us displaced city folks forget - farmers have had to do it forever in order to survive - sometimes a pragmatic approach might seemed hard nosed from the outside but it's actually about sustainability in the end run

November 15, 2008 at 10:17 AM  

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