Our oldest Romney Grace is ten years old this year, having been born in the spring of 2007 here on our farm. Over that decade, we’ve shared both good times and bad, coming to know each other well. I consider Grace a good friend, even though at times I also find her to be maddening – in a way that only a good friend can be.
Several years ago, Grace discovered that although our interior fences are electrified, our perimeter fence is not. She took this as an invitation to go see what the world outside our fences had to offer, and in the process, she discovered a true bounty. Not only were the roadside ditches filled with a wide variety of untouched forage and no manure, but crossing the dirt road to our south took her straight into a huge alfalfa field that our neighbor harvests for his dairy cattle. Surely, I’m sure Grace thought, he wouldn’t begrudge her a sheep’s ration of lovely tender alfalfa! After all, her share is much smaller than any one cow’s! As a result, every time we put our ewes into any of our pastures along the south roadway, Grace almost immediately makes herself at home on the roadside and then in the alfalfa field.
Of course, Grace is a smart sheep, and she knows that it is dangerous to be away from the flock once dusk comes. Besides that, once she is finished grazing and ready to ruminate in the shade, she misses spending that time with her friends in the flock. Although Grace can enter the pasture in the way she left it – through the wire fencing – she doesn’t like to return in this way. Over the years, I have tried to figure out why, and all that I can come up with is that the wires scrape along her legs and belly as she passes through. The incentive to get out is great enough that she is willing to put up with this – and knows that this is her only way out. On the other hand, she has much less incentive to get back in – and she knows that I want her in more than she wants to go back, so if she lets me know she wants to return, I will oblige her and take her there.
As soon as she is ready to go back home, she carefully follows the road (always walking on the right hand side, for some reason – does she think she is a vehicle?) to the eastern corner of our property, where she turns to the north and follows that road to our driveway. Standing across the street from our driveway, she will carefully watch and listen for approaching traffic from any direction, only moving across the street and onto the driveway if she hears and sees nothing that might be dangerous to a wandering sheep. Grace then follows the driveway to the house, walks up the stairs to our front porch and bangs on the front door with her hooves to let me know she wants to go back to her flock. As soon as I come to the door, she is already leading the way to the gate through which we must pass to take her back “home.” This same routine can happen three or four times a day, and honestly, I haven’t found a safe way to keep Grace from wandering; she needs to be free enough to get away from a dog or coyote, and that leaves her free enough to wander the neighborhood.
Last year, we solved this problem by taking Grace to visit some of her former flockmates who were by then living at Brodeur Family Farms about nine miles to the northeast. Josh and Emilly had bought a starter flock of both Romneys and Romeldales. They were gracious enough to offer to take her in last year, and although I don’t understand why, Grace was willing to stop her wandering ways while there. She happily stayed within their fields until she returned and we divided our flocks into breeding groups. We did make sure at that point to put her into a group that didn’t have road access, however!
You might remember that we didn’t put our ewes out onto pasture this summer until after July 1, so Grace stayed in with all of the rest until that point. Unfortunately, her old wandering ways picked up right where they left off as soon as we began rotating our ewes through our pastures again. I put up with it for a while, opening my door to visiting neighbors by saying, “Yes, I know that our sheep Grace is out again – we can’t help it!” In actuality, I could help it. Last week, we finally gave in and once again loaded Grace up for her annual holiday at Brodeur Family Farms.
I had to smile as she entered the field that day. Josh and Emilly made sure that their flock was in the front pasture to make unloading Grace and getting her into the flock easier. As soon as she saw the sheep, she was ready to join their flock – and it was obvious that the adults all remembered Grace. As she walked in among the group, they all came to greet her, sniffing and rubbing against her – hardly believing their good friend was back!
Once again, Grace will stay there until mid-September when we divide our flock into breeding groups – and Grace’s group will surely be in one of the interior fields with no road access! Until then, Grace is off on her annual summer holiday, visiting old friends at Brodeur Family Farms – thanks to Josh and Emilly!