I’ve written many times about the individuality of our sheep; how every sheep has its own personality and way of interacting with the world. There are likely no two sheep so different than Hannah and Noble – two of the Romney ewes in our flock.
Of the two, Hannah is the oldest, having been born as the second daughter of Zoe (our previous flock matriarch) delivered on our farm in 2008. She was born in the midst of the soremouth outbreak of that year, and became one of a large number of lambs who we ended up keeping for our own flock in the ‘H’ year. We brought in a total of eight ewe lambs that year, as we not only increased our flock size, but also replaced girls who had lost bags because of mastitis secondary to soremouth. Because of these circumstances, I spent a lot of time in the barn that year, feeding bottles to the many lambs whose mothers could no longer feed them. As a result, the lambs from 2008 were a particularly friendly group, generally recognizing me as a good thing in flock life. All of the Romneys still in our flock from 2008 year were sired by the same ram – a big, white Romney we called Foreman – and his daughters are not hard to pick out by sight. They all have a particular look that hints at common genetics.
On the other hand, Noble was born last year to Livia, a ewe I had purchased in 2012 as a lamb and sold to another breeder this past summer. During her time here, Livia settled in well, but like many of the girls we buy from other flocks, she never really let her guard down around me. As a result, Noble was a ‘wild thing’ as a lamb last year. I’m sure this behavior was a combination of both genetics and environment, since her mother came from a flock where they do not select for temperament – and they spend little time among the sheep except with their herding dogs while training. If we had to change Noble’s coat or trim her hooves last summer, we knew in advance that the project would take a while. With Coda, my best dog, and Rick and I all working towards the same goal, it still took a lot of time to catch this girl. Even getting a photo of her face last fall was a challenge; I finally had to compromise and use a profile photo after spending hours trying to get a picture from the front. Yes, Noble wanted nothing to do with me or any other person, no matter the bribe!
Yet, it is interesting how these things can shift with time – or not! Hannah is and always has been very stand-offish. Although I have regularly come to visit the flock with treats in my hands and pockets over the years, Hannah (now at the becoming-elderly age of seven) still refuses to come close enough to eat out of my hands. Instead, she stands back, calling to me to throw a cracker her way. This is a very inefficient way to get graham crackers, since once the bit of cracker falls to the ground, every ewe around me can gobble it up before Hannah finds where it landed. Yet, this is her way: she is too nervous to get close enough for me to feed her directly. When we need to catch Hannah for any reason, we have to plan plenty of time – plus a dog and maybe an extra person or two. Trying to catch Hannah is a challenge, and we have come to know and plan around this fact. She is sweet, but untrusting – and all of my efforts to change that fact have withered and died.
Noble, on the other hand, has every reason to be suspicious of me. Her mother never really settled in to trust me, so she learned early that I was not a friend. There were few bottles in her year of birth, so my comings and goings in the barn didn’t connect to her in any particular way. Yet, Noble has become a good friend of mine over the past six months – almost too good a friend, in fact. She not only comes close to nibble cracker bits from my fingers, but also inspects my pockets once I tell her there is no more. She feels perfectly comfortable playing with the zipper of my jacket or entertaining herself with the phone in my back pocket. I dare not wear shoes that lace up because Noble finds them entertaining, not only untying them, but chewing on them until they give way and fall off. The challenging lamb of last year has bloomed into the close yearling friend who acts more like a bottle girl than the daughter of a purchased ewe – she is perfectly comfortable around humans of all kinds!
The difference between Hannah and Noble is profound – and I honestly can’t tell you why they are so different. All of our other ‘H’ girls are very friendly – as I expected Hannah to be. Zoe used to bring her to me every time I visited the barn when she was a lamb. Yet, I remember Hannah hanging back, hiding behind Zoe; even then, there was little trust. Noble, on the other hand, was a very suspicious lamb – actually making my memories of Hannah as a babe seem sweet and close. Yet Noble has come around quickly as a yearling. Instead of having to chase her for a photo this fall, I had the opposite problem – I had to hold her at arm’s length to get a photo of her face rather than only her eye, or her nose!
Yes, each of our ewes and rams has her/his own personality and way of interacting with the world. Although I can mold and shape them to some degree with human interaction, like us, their fundamental way of being is pretty well set in place – I can smooth the edges, but cannot put in place something that isn’t there. And that means that we currently have 75 different beings who make up our flock – and I have come to know each and every one of them!