Although Christmas is over for many of us, for my sheep, it has just begun. As soon as the holiday is over, many Christmas trees are pulled from their stands and hauled out of the houses they once graced — and many of them eventually find their way to our farm as treats for our sheep! Honestly, our sheep like nothing better to eat than a good, fresh Christmas tree!
Our first tree delivery came this past Saturday, when a good friend rang our doorbell. When I opened the front door, I saw a lovely Frasier fir gracing the front steps! I was all smiles, knowing just how excited our sheep would be. My most difficult task was trying to figure out which group would get this lovely offering: the high-nutrition ewes who carry a large percentage of our lambs, the low-nutrition ewes (where the bulk of our flock currently resides), the ram lambs who are the future of our flock genetics, or the adult ram flock that worked so hard to produce our 2016 lambs. Hmmm. It was a difficult decision.
In the end, I hauled the tree over to the high-nutrition ewes in the Sheep Barn, deciding that they, more than any of our other sheep, needed all the nutrients they could get. Besides, I knew that all of our other sheep would eventually get trees of their own. As I hauled this tree into the barn (where I attached it to the side panels with bungee cords), the ewes watched my every move, swarming the tree as I dropped it into place. Even the youngest girls nibbled at branches, somehow knowing that these evergreen boughs provided nutrition that they could not get in any other way.
At first I set the tree into the pen standing upright against the panels — the obvious choice — but then I realized that this provided very little room for the group of ewes to access the tree. It also left much of the tree standing out of reach above their heads. After a few minutes, I decided to hang the tree horizontally from the pen’s exterior panels, suspending it with the bungees about a foot off the ground. This provided over ten feet of access for the sheep (six feet of length and about four feet on the ends) and could accommodate nearly the entire high-nutrition group. I don’t like laying the tree on the ground in the pen because the underside becomes contaminated with manure and the sheep will then avoid eating those branches. By the time I left, the tree was half eaten, and it would be only a matter of hours before all of the small branches were devoured and the bark stripped. The first trees delivered to the flock are always greedily consumed, leaving little more than the stripped trunk by the next day.
The next couple of trees will go to the rest of the ewes, and then we will make sure the rams each get a tree too. None of the flock will go without — there will be enough trees to go around, and more. By the end of the season, the trees will become drier (and less flavorful) and the flock will become tired of this novel treat. A month from now, the swarms of sheep around the trees will be gone and it will take days for them to finish a single tree. For now, however, the flock is excited. The trees are fresh, and there is nothing better to do with their time than munch on evergreen branches while surrounded by friends and relatives. What a holiday treat!