Our ewes and lambs have been out on pasture for almost a week now — in both good weather and bad — so even the lambs are pretty familiar with how to find water, how to get back to the barn, and how to use the bridge across the wetlands portion of the Pond Pasture where they now reside. I still keep a close eye on the many lambs that play out there to make sure they don’t get lost, but the risk is decreasing every day.
On Monday of this week, I wrote about Peter, a Romney lamb born to Hannah. Peter is a bit different from our typical Romney lambs, being the result of a very close breeding (mother to son). He’s not only a bit unusual in looks, but he has also dealt with some obvious mental deficits as he found his place in the flock. He seems to have overcome most of these and can now find his mother among the larger ewe flock, knows his way to the barn, and generally seems like a fairly normal ram lamb other than his coloring.
This morning, however, Peter got himself into a bit of trouble — although his problem is not uncommon among the lambs and seems to happen to at least a few times each year. As I made my way down near the pond to feed the flock their daily grain ration, I noticed that one little lamb had gotten itself under the fence between the Pond Pasture, where the flock excitedly waited, and the South Pasture, which lay empty as it awaited its first grazing cycle.
I realized that the lamb would likely not be able to figure out how to rejoin the flock on its own. The flock was coming together off the northeast corner of the South Pasture, yet the only way for the lamb to get to the flock was by scooting under the gate — which was in the southeast corner of the South Pasture. That meant that to join the flock, the lamb had to run away from the flock to get to the gate. This is always a problem with our young lambs. It takes a very long time for them to understand our fencing and the layout of the gates to know that they must go away from the flock to actually get back to them.
I left the bucket of grain outside the Pond Pasture and began the hike to “save” the lamb — with, of course, the rest of the flock following behind. Their curiosity overwhelmed their hunger, and they came along to see what was up. Was I opening a new pasture ? Was I leading them on an adventure?
As I neared the corner where the lamb ran back and forth, panicking about how to rejoin the flock when separated from them by an electrically charged fence, I realized that this was no ordinary lamb — it was Peter! I’ve always said that thankfully it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be a sheep, and Peter is the perfect example of that. He may not be particularly smart (it took him a very long time to learn to stand and nurse for survival!), but he now knows enough to go forwards and backwards, to find his mother for milk, and to find the water, hay, and grain in the barn. He has learned the layout of the pasture and that grass is good to eat. There really isn’t much more that he needs to know — except perhaps that he shouldn’t go under fences and end up separated from the flock!
As I entered the South Pasture, Peter panicked further: he was now enclosed with what looked to be a predator, and the rest of the flock was not there to shift the focus away from this little lamb! For about ten minutes, Peter and I played tag: he ran along the fenceline and I gave chase, trying to get close enough to grab his little coat. Finally, as he became tired of the “game” — and long after I had tired of it! — I finally got in close enough to get hold of a handful of fabric and lift him into my arms. I couldn’t simply carry him out, however. Doing so would be much easier for me physically, but he would learn nothing. I held him with his feet just skimming the ground so that he could see the way out from his own perspective as I walked back towards the gate.
When we arrived at the red gate where the flock now congregated and I set Peter on his feet, he excitedly wriggled under the gate and into the waiting flock. He immediately ran to meet his mother, who had been calling for him, and after a quick check to make sure he was in the right place, he latched onto her teat for a bit of milk and stress relief.
Whether Peter actually learned how to get from the South Pasture to the Pond Pasture is anyone’s guess, but he won’t be the last lamb to have to learn this important lesson this year. I will likely have many more walks along the fenceline, holding a lamb just skimming the ground, teaching the way back to the calling flock.