Our ewes and their lambs are currently grazing the South Pasture, which has a long stretch of road on the southern border. When I turned them into that field on Monday, there was plenty of grazing for this week, before bringing them into the barn on Friday to wean a good number of our lambs. It seemed the perfect match of sheep and available pasture!
Unfortunately, Grace does not agree. Oh, she was happy enough on Monday and through the early hours of Tuesday, but by Tuesday afternoon, Grace had decided that the grass was greener in the roadside ditch. Of course, with such lush grazing in the South Pasture, there were quite a number of “plops” of manure scattered across the field. There was still plenty of good grazing, but Grace is a bit finicky and obviously wanted something better for herself and her twins — so she went looking.
Unfortunately, Grace was quite successful; not only did she leave the plops and the picked-over pasture behind, but she eventually happened across the road, where she found a pristine alfalfa field just at the height of nutrition! And, as if it couldn’t get better, the gate to the field — nearly straight across from our own pasture — was wide open! I’m sure she probably could not believe her luck: a fresh alfalfa field with no manure and an open gate. It was like they had issued a private invitation to Grace and her babes, Omega and Ovid, to come and eat. This was the way to live it up!
Needless to say, I, as the shepherdess, was not amused. Sheep — particularly with thirty-pound lambs in tow — do not do well crossing streets. They do not look both ways. They do not wait for cars to pass. This scheme of Grace’s is really bad news. Not only can they be hit by vehicles, but eating straight alfalfa can cause bloat and death. No, this would not do, not at all!
So, Tuesday afternoon I took out the four-wheeler and chased them back into the pasture. At five, I went again — but this time, they refused to go in. I brought out the dog and he chased them back in. Then at seven, I went out with the dog and we chased them back in again. And again at dusk. This was getting on my nerves!
When I was doing chores this morning and saw that they were again in the alfalfa field, I decided I had to do something about Grace’s new habit. I finished my chores and chased them back home. This time, however, I parked my four-wheeler on the side of the road west of the pasture and waited to see exactly where and how the threesome were getting out; knowing this would allow me to plan a way to keep them in. So I sat and waited. And waited some more.
The roadside was sunny and warm, and I had work I could do on my cellphone. I thought this might be a nice way to do it, as I waited to find out how Grace was escaping. She kept coming to the fence and looking along the roadside. Seeing me sitting there, she would lock eyes with me, then turn and walk back into the pasture. After an hour and a half, I was out of work to do sitting there with my phone on the ATV. This was getting me nowhere. I started up the four-wheeler and ran the length of our acreage along the road, made a U-turn and parked facing the other way. Now, I was down-wind. Perhaps that would help. Perhaps Grace wouldn’t notice me and I would finally get the information I sought.
I sat on that side of the road for another hour. Grace and I locked eyes another half dozen times, but she made no move to escape. She and her babies were the perfect sheep, staying in the field that the shepherd had allotted. It was making me crazy! I knew that as soon as I left — as soon as my ATV was parked in front of the barn where we often leave it — Grace would make her move. So I sat there even longer, trying to out-wait her.
In the end, I finally gave up. After nearly four hours of sitting roadside, getting sunburned and eating the dust of the cars passing by, I started up the ATV and made my way home. I pulled in front of the barn and turned off the engine, raising my sight to the pastures to the south where the ewes graze with their lambs. And then I saw her: Grace was already slowly making her way across the road towards the alfalfa field, followed by her two babies.
My shearer tells me that old sheep seldom forget those tactics that have worked and that they use the winter to perfect their technique — turning it over in their minds to figure out how to do whatever it is faster or better or more efficiently. Grace realized last fall that she could get out along the road to our south, and obviously she spent the winter perfecting her technique. Unfortunately, I think I’m a bit behind — but I am determined to keep them safe, so I will figure out a way to keep them in. Stay tuned!