Good fences make good neighbors

Although this proverb appears in a poem by Robert Frost titled “Mending Wall,” some version of this same sentiment seems to appear across many cultures and languages — and it’s perfect in describing the goings-on of today’s blog! During this time of year — breeding season at Peeper Hollow Farm — it is never more true: good fences do make good neighbors! At least I’m sure our ram Noa thinks so!

When I decide each year which field holds which breeding group, I’m very careful about how I divide the groups. Although it’s okay for rams of the same breed to share a common fenceline, I try very hard to minimize those types of shared boundaries. The more fencing they share, the greater the chance that one boy will find a way through to the other guy’s ewes — and that just isn’t the way my planned breeding program works! Each guy has a list of girls, and those are the only girls I want him breeding, so I am careful.

I also try to allow the ram lambs to get out of sight of an adult ram in an adjoining pasture. There is nothing so intimidating to a young guy as having the big, old, experienced ram standing on the other side of the fence, flirting with the young guy’s gal as the poor ram lamb tries to figure out exactly what he is supposed to be doing. I try to put our ram lambs into fields that are either big and rolling (like the South Pasture) or spread out with lots of nooks and crannies (like the Pond Pasture). Either of these allow the space and time the young guy needs to figure out his job and how to perform it!

The problem is that we have only a limited number of pastures and quite a few breeding groups. We automatically have two groups, one for each breed. But because many of our breeding stock sales depend on having a ram or ram lamb available who is not related to the ewe lambs, we automatically have two groups of each breed — making at least four breeding groups. In addition, I’m often working on particular traits in separate groups. That brings our grand total this year to six groups at Peeper Hollow and one at my friend Jacob’s farm. We have a lot of groups!

With running so many groups, we inevitably have to bend some of the rules about breeding groups sharing fencelines. It all worked out the first couple of weeks, but when the East Pasture ran out of grazing for one of the Romney groups, they ended up being moved into the Pond Pasture where Martin (the ram of the group) could both intimidate one Romney group with a ram lamb (Outlaw’s group in the South Pasture) AND harass the Romeldale ewes in Noa’s group (in the West Pasture). It was not good, but our grazing is so limited that we had no alternative.

And that brings us to the proverb. Late yesterday afternoon, I was checking for marking crayons in each of the groups when I noticed an extra sheep in the West Pasture with Noa’s group. Even worse, upon closer inspection, it became obvious that Martin, a white Romney who should have been in the Pond Pasture with his girls, was chasing Ilaina within Noa’s group. Oh, and Noa was trying to kill Martin. It was the sort of scene you might expect in the parking lot of a bar if they had all been humans instead of sheep!

Although Martin was not pleased to return to his group, Rick and I insisted he check on his Romney ewes, who waited patiently in the Pond Pasture. I continued on my way, checking the rest of the groups for markings. As I finished my rounds, I came to Martin’s group in the Pond Pasture. That’s when I realized that Martin was nowhere to be found! I checked the entire field, but he was gone, even though all of his girls were patiently standing there grazing!

A quick check of the entire field disclosed the problem: either Noa or Martin had broken through the very hefty board fence that they shared. (It consists of  2×6″ rough-hewn boards nailed to six-inch-diameter posts every ten feet or so. The first board is six inches above the ground, and the rest are spaced every six inches to the top of the four-foot post.) Martin had interpreted the gaping hole as an invitation to wander in and see what action he could find — and that happened to be Ilaina!

Needless to say, Rick and I again put Martin back with his own girls — and this time we repaired the broken fence,too. We also put Martin’s group into the paddock, where they are now eating hay and have even better fencing between them and Noa’s group. There is nothing so important to good breeding neighbors as a good strong fence!

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