Our weather broke over the weekend, and the normally hot, humid August days were replaced with cooler dry air and the nice northerly breeze of fall. After the heat of the summer, a high in the 70s is a welcome reprieve for both sheep and shepherd. As a result, I spent quite a bit of time out among the flock today. Our sheep tend to become a bit wilder over the summer as they spend long days at pasture with only my occasional quick visits to check that all is well. As fall begins to near and breeding is just around the corner, I begin to make my trips more frequently and for longer periods, looking over the ewe flock and making sure all are ready to begin another breeding year. And the girls are happy to have me, whether I bring graham crackers or not!
Unlike my visits to the ewes, I don’t visit the rams unless there is a specific need. They are currently in a field that I can see from the front rooms of the house, so I don’t normally walk among them when a look out the window is so simple. Although our rams are all generally well-behaved, there is no reason to take a risk and “test the system.” At this time of year, they begin to get the urge to mate and bring on the next generation. And in order to determine a pecking order (as sheep do in the wild), they will challenge each other by ramming again and again until the loser walks away (or not, if the hit comes at the wrong angle; I’ve lost lovely rams to these types of incidents). As long as they don’t try it with me, I’m willing to overlook their eagerness to establish their breeding order, knowing full well that in the end, they will get the girls that I give them rather than following any hierarchy they might have established!
Yet I could see from my vantage point at the house that one of the ram lambs had lost his coat this morning and needed a replacement, so I went in among the boys after I finished with the ewes. I did not take graham crackers since it creates too much enthusiasm, which tends to bring on the unwanted ramming behavior. I have found that the best time to bring out the graham crackers among the rams is upon my exit from the field; as usual, I stood on the other side of the fence and handed a few pieces of cracker through to any of the rams who stayed around to get them.
As I left the field on my four-wheeler, I noticed that our Pond Pasture had become host to a flock of Canada geese — a welcome sight for a few reasons. First, they’re beautiful and I love to watch them! Second, their stopover at our farm means that they are already on the move south — and that tells me fall is indeed on its way! I love fall, not only for the bright leaf colors but also because of the cooler temps while I work. I think anyone who works outside will agree that hard physical work is worse when it feels like 110 degrees! Finally, the geese are a big help in our fields, gobbling up snails that harbor the internal parasites of sheep and also the eggs that the adult parasites shed in the manure. More visiting geese means fewer parasites lying in wait in our fields, so I always do what I can to welcome the geese stopping here on their way north in the spring or south in the fall.
Encouraging them to stay means leaving them alone to swim and graze for as long as they want to stay — and that can be tricky with our pasture rotations. The geese generally stay in the Pond Pasture during their stopover — and that’s the next pasture in our current rotation. In order to avoid chasing the geese away, I won’t be moving the sheep until the geese leave. We also use one of the pastures to run the dogs each day, and we’ve switched to the East Pasture in order to leave the geese in peace around the pond.
Sometimes the geese arrive while the sheep are already grazing in that pasture — and it has always been interesting to watch the interaction. The sheep don’t much trust the geese, and the geese return the opinion. I’ve seen sheep chasing geese away from the sheep flock and geese chasing sheep away from their own flockmates. Both groups looked so determined to exert their authority that we have tried to keep them apart when at all possible.
Yes, these temporary guests are a bit of an inconvenience, but they help out enough with our parasite situation that I’m happy to make them feel welcome — anytime!