Wednesday, April 13, 2011

the wolf and the lamb

I came home to not a single escaped sheep today.

I came home to four.

A ewe and three lambs were pacing along outside the fence when I got back. Now I was certain there was a hole in the fence. A ewe could jump over the combination of sagging fences and piled up winter hay, but not the small lambs. Even at their best jump it's not enough to clear three feet yet. So I went into Farmcon Level Blue mode: tricky but stable.

Step one: don't panic.
Step two: control the animals not outside the fence.
Step three: figure out how to get the cause of step one into step two.

I dumped a pile of hay inside the fence for the other sheep and then went inside to fetch my long crook. When I came back outside the ewe and her twins were back in the fray, eating with the others. Just one lamb remained bleating outside. A short exploration of the fence showed me a small hole that all three scrambled through. I used some green baling twine for a Jackson patch job and decided it was time to play a round of lamb-catch.

The road to catching lambs is littered with the corpses of failure. You can't hunt them like a wolf. You can't sneak up on them in open ground and catch them with your staff. At this age they're just too fast, too agile, and too damn smart. The little ram just circled the entire pasture line, both of us making loops that meant nothing. Finally, I gathered my wits and decided to open up a section of fence and chase him towards it, hoping he'd see the inside of the sheep pen as an "escape" from me. After two laps, it worked. I got a workout and a small victory. The ram lamb got to see the suburbs.

I have learned that 90% of shepherding is about letting the sheep think they are outsmarting you. It is a path of least resistance to gain maximum results in this game.


Blogger doglady said...

Sounds like you know how to outsmart the sheep. By next year at this time, Gibson will be able to successfully move the errant sheep into the pasture. Now I know why I don't have sheep.

April 13, 2011 at 8:22 PM  
Blogger kippy said...

This technique also works with dogs(speaking from experience).

April 13, 2011 at 8:24 PM  
Blogger LHall said...

And with children.

April 13, 2011 at 8:59 PM  
Blogger Paula said...

And with husbands.

April 13, 2011 at 10:36 PM  
Blogger Jenny Glen said...

If they escape again, look for places they could go under the fence. It will be a place you never thought they could go through until one day you catch them.
FYI - get a cheap crook for catching lambs. It's the only way. Don't buy one of those fancy ones with the rambs horns, those are only for trialing. Either a plain cherry wood one or a metal one. They make some for catching their back leg too but I've never tried them so I can't speak for how easy they are to use.

April 13, 2011 at 10:53 PM  
Blogger CJ said...

I don't raise sheep anymore, but I've chased just about every animal there is and as I'm sure you know, the key is stay on their front shoulder, run when they run, walk when they walk and make sure there is something they seek in front of them - shelter, food, mom, whatever.

April 13, 2011 at 11:18 PM  
Blogger Tracy said...

I've chased plenty of sheep and what works best for me, is to try and think like a sheep. Don't look them in the eye and stay calm they usually go where I want them to... eventually.

April 14, 2011 at 2:16 AM  
Blogger katiegirl said...

I have a different approach. Chasing rarely works. Make a small pen (or attach a gate somewhere) that you can close them into. Once you get sheep worked up and running, their instincts take over and it gets too stressful for them and you. The key to catching sheep is penning them up because you can't outrun a sheep. Learning point of balance and flight zone is key here! :-)

April 14, 2011 at 8:13 AM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

hours and hours of lunging horses/ponies as a child prepared me for herding various types of animals as an adult.

similar to a herding dog the posture of ones shoulders, head, feet, hands etc. can direct the movement of animals with minimal ground covered (sometimes just a pivot) and limited stress for all. its so interesting to see how animals react to simple slow gentle yet confident body movements.

have you looked on Craigs List for individuals selling smaller guage galvanized fencing and/or t-posts recently? as the ground thaws and its easier to work with it might be a great time to set up another field that is lamb/sheep proof and as a bonus start rotational grazing on your property.

might save you time, a garden(!), and even a lamb in the long run. wish i lived closer i love installing fences! permanent wood fencing is probably currently cost prohibitive but keep an eye out for used posts and boards, they're around.

April 14, 2011 at 10:07 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

This is why I love goats. Their natural inclination is to come TOWARD you (especially the little ones). Their uncontrollable urge to socialize is always their undoing. :) Oh, and grain helps.

April 14, 2011 at 10:35 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Works on cattle and calves too. :)

April 14, 2011 at 12:33 PM  
Blogger Janet said...

Unless you outsmart them, the loose animal always wins! Glad it turned out well for everyone concerned. I'm glad too to hear that your farm and your writing supported itself and the ruck this month. I feel good that my up front purchase through CSA helped this along - so much better to do your own financing than to let a bank get their hot little hands onh your future!

April 14, 2011 at 4:56 PM  
Blogger Dancing shepherdess said...

But, grasshopper, ask yourself: Why do the feel the need to leave?

April 14, 2011 at 5:25 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

You are SO right about letting the sheep think they are outsmarting you. They never do something just because you want them to. I love to watch my sheep when they think they have escaped me.

April 16, 2011 at 10:22 PM  

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