A couple of months ago, Rick and I made a trip to Montana to pick up a group of Romneys at a farm that was leaving the sheep business. The majority of the sheep we transported back to Iowa came from our bloodlines combined with those from Tawanda Farms, a combination that results in some terrific sheep. Most of our transports were dispersed to other shepherds in Iowa and Wisconsin, but three ewes came into our flock. In a recent blog (Sept. 16th, 2016), I discussed how well Lily, the oldest ewe, was settling in. She was willing to come forward for bits of graham cracker then, and she has continued to surprise me ever since!
Like most new ewes, these three girls created a new flock-within-a-flock, hanging out with their old buddies and only joining the larger group under duress — such as when the dog moved them together. My new friendship with Lily started slowly at first. I would stand in the “sheep huddle” in the middle of the ewes, handing out bits of graham crackers as I talked to the group, conversing here and there in my usual way. I began to notice that although all three of the new girls hung back from the group, Lily seemed curious about what was happening with the other ewes who seemed eager to be in my presence. She watched me carefully as I fed out crackers, scratched chins, and rubbed tops of heads. When a ewe would leave the group after receiving my attention, Lily would sniff her where I had touched, as if wondering what I had done to her. Nia and Obella had no such interest — nor did they want anything to do with any of the other sheep. They were still an island unto themselves, but there was obvious progress with Lily.
A few days after Lily took her first bit of graham cracker from my fingertips, we separated the ewes into breeding groups. All three of the new girls joined O’Connor in the South Pasture. I knew that the three were still tightly bonded to each other and that none of them had really made any friends in the flock. I try very hard to manage all my sheep in a way that respects their ways of being in the world, and I believed that the three girls would be less stressed if they stayed together. In addition, less stressed ewes have a better chance of breeding.
Once the breeding groups were in place, I walked through each day to check on markings. As those early breeding days turned to weeks, I began to notice something a bit peculiar: Lily was not so much acclimating to the new flock as she was acclimating to her new shepherdess. Lily, it seemed, was learning to trust me. Over the past three weeks, Lily and I have become surprisingly good friends.
One day last week, I had finished feeding out my graham crackers and was leaving O’Connor’s group, when I turned to notice that Lily was following me — even though the rest of the sheep were making their way to the shade shelter. I waited for her to catch up, and she came right to me, sniffing my outstretched hand. I slowly moved to rub her wooly head, and she surprisingly leaned into me, enjoying the contact. I turned to walk the rest of the way to the gate, and Lily followed, keeping me company all the way across the field and out of sight of the now-resting flock. This was honestly a bit strange — not only did she trust me, but she was willing to leave all of the sheep behind to be with me!
Lily has now become my constant companion whenever I’m in the South Pasture. She greets me at the gate as I enter and walks with me wherever I go. Sometimes I have crackers for her and sometimes not, but she doesn’t seem to care either way. Somehow this girl has decided that I’m a friend and has chosen to trust. Even better, that has forced Nia and Obella to think again about their lack of trust in their new home. They look quizzically at the two of us each day as we stroll through the South Pasture, attending to my chores. They just can’t seem to figure out why their friend has left them behind to spend time with me! Maybe someday they will feel the same, but until then, I sure am happy that Lily is a new friend and is settling in well!