This past Monday morning, I had just finished my morning chores and was settling down at the kitchen computer to work when I heard one of the flock calling to me from outside. Now, the fact that I could hear it so clearly was a bit surprising, since the nearest sheep were the ewes in the South Pasture about 1/8 mile from the house. I decided to ignore whoever was calling — I knew they had plenty of water and grazing, so whatever it was could wait — and I went back to work.
It wasn’t long, however, before I could no longer ignore the calling ewe. Grace came up the front stairs, onto the front porch, and looked into the window right at my elbow, calling to get my attention — as if I could miss a big colored ewe staring at me from inches away! Grace, our wandering ewe, had once again gotten out of the field and into the roadway ditch to graze, and now wanted me to open the gates so she could return to her friends in the field. She knew that if I saw her out, I would help her return.
Grace has been doing this for quite some time. On Wednesday, April 29th, I wrote about her first 2015 foray from this same pasture — but she had been letting herself out already last year. If anything, she got better at it over the winter. This getting out and grazing in the roadside ditch or the alfalfa field across the street has become Grace’s norm. If she is in a group grazing along that roadway, she leaves. If she hears my ATV engine start up, she goes back in. If I sneak up on her and catch her out, she will follow me back, waiting for me to open each gate to allow her back into her group. As much as I hate it, it has become the new norm. And honestly, although I DO hate it, I also have a great deal of respect for Gracie. She’s a survivor who knows how to feed herself and her babies with the best feed available, regardless of where she is.
But it puts me in a difficult position. I cannot keep breaking up my day to move Grace back to her group. On the other hand, I can’t just let her wander the roadways — the neighbors won’t let me, even if I could convince myself that she would be okay out there. Every time someone sees her out, they come knocking at my door. Each time I go through the same routine: I start up my ATV and she goes back in. I turn it off and she goes back out to the roadway. It is simply a study in frustration with no end in sight.
All of this swirled through my head on Monday morning as I worked on my computer with Gracie calling through the window. At first, I tried to ignore her, hoping she would simply go back into the group herself. Grace is nothing if not persistent, however. She stood there with her nose against the window, staring and calling. I could get nothing done since it took all of my focus to not turn and look at her.I needed to take action: I had to find a way to keep her from getting out! And that’s when the plan came to me.
I went outside and started talking to Grace, the sign that I was ready to return her to the flock. She hopped off the wooden porch, prancing with joy and celebrating the fact that she won this round — I had stopped ignoring her, and I was taking her back to the field! I walked and Grace followed, and as is my routine, I talked to her. If she gets distracted by a delicious-looking plant, I get her back on track with my voice. Often, she will answer, and then I stop talking to hear what she has to say. In this way, we walk along together, talking back and forth about where we’ve been, where we’re going, and what else the day has in store for us. Recently, we’ve had a lot of talks.
When we arrived at the Martin Creek Road gate, which enters the Fire Circle Pasture, she expected me to open the gate on the right that would lead to the ewe flock in the South Pasture, but I had other plans. She paused for a moment, obviously wondering why her flock stood so near, yet I was going the other way. She only missed a beat, though, and then turned to follow — since I was still talking, the trip was obviously not over yet. We walked together like this across the ridge of the Fire Circle Pasture parallel to the roadway. Soon we reached my goal: the lamb flock grazing in the Timber.
I’d decided to move Grace into the lamb group. They have the best grazing, since they are always the first into a field. Once the lambs leave a pasture, it’s grazed down and scattered with fresh manure — two things that Grace tries to avoid. Because her lambs had been weaned about a month before and her bag was no longer evident, there was no risk that the lambs would go back to nursing. The only risk was that Edison, who is also grazing with the lambs, would breed Grace and we would have out-of-season lambs. However, that risk is currently very small. Romneys are seasonal breeders that don’t usually cycle until about September; and even if he did breed her, the lambs would still be purebred (and we would know the sire). I opened the gate and Grace ran in, happy to join the lambs in their lush pasture.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure that putting Grace in with the lambs would work. Would she still find her way out of that field too? Would she call and call, trying to get my attention to move her back to the ewes? I had no way to know without trying it. Now after nearly a week, I can say that this move has been a huge success! Grace is happy staying with the lambs in the Timber and is no longer trying to leave through the perimeter fencing. I no longer have neighbors stopping in at all hours to tell me I have a sheep in the road, and I can work undisturbed at my computer. This move has been a win-win for both Grace and me. Finally!