Our lambs went out onto the Timber Pasture – their very first pasture – with their mothers about a week and a half ago. Regular readers may recall that the move out was frustrating and anything but smooth because the lambs had no idea what was happening. The ewes ran for the pasture, leaving most of the lambs within the familiarity of the barn. Those lambs were afraid to leave lest they never see their mothers again – they returned to the familiar, determined to wait it out. Eventually, we got them all out there with the flock, but it was not easy. During these past days out on the pasture, the lambs have learned to graze with the flock, finding the tastiest leaves and leaving the poisonous ones alone.
This morning, it was time for the next move, from the Timber Pasture to the Pond Pasture. We chose the Pond Pasture because of its biodiversity; of all of our pastures, it is the most unlike the previous timber. Their first pasture was mostly shaded and hillside, so the plants there were those that do well in that environment. The Pond Pasture is low and marshy, and essentially full sun throughout. This pasture will introduce another wide variety of plants that will be new to them, and which we hope our lambs will add to their mental grazing library. With two such varied pastures, they should go into weaning Memorial Day weekend prepared to graze on their own as independent flock members.
The problem for me, however, was how to get the whole group into the Pond Pasture from the timber. The best route was straight through the Rock Pasture and through the small 4′ gate in the southeast corner that opens to the Pond Pasture. Moving only the ewes would have been easy; after many previous moves, they are trained to come when they hear the clang of a gate since I always rattle the chain of the gate that they must move through. When they hear me calling and rattling the chain, they run towards the sound knowing that fresh grazing awaits them there.
Unfortunately, the lambs have no such historical knowledge. For most of them, their one previous move meant being chased by people until those people collapsed, and then being caught, lifted into a trailer, caught again, and released into the Timber Pasture. I was very much hoping this move would not be a repeat performance. As I told Rick last night, “I hope for the best and plan for the worst.” The trailer was ready to go, but I was praying we would not need it.
I knew that the success of this move depended on gathering all of the ewes and their lambs at the exit gate before beginning any movement through the Rock Pasture. Having the flock tightly bunched from the start meant that the lambs would immediately understand that there was a flock move afoot – and hopefully, they would move with the adults as they exited the field. Rick walked up the ridge to the rear while I called all the sheep to the lower gate. From the ridge, he could see whether there were any lambs left on the hillside, hidden behind stumps or trees. When he gave me the signal that they were all down with the group I had gathered at the gate, I opened it up and called them into the Rock Pasture, walking forward towards the next gate in the southeast corner.
Once they were released by the opening of the gate, the ewes flowed through as I expected. Thankfully, most of the lambs, too, came into the Rock Pasture with their mothers – and those that had second thoughts turned to see Rick and our working dog Coda coming up the rear. Although our lambs still have little experience with our working dogs, his stealthy walk behind the flock obviously transmitted the idea that they were far safer going forward than back. Seeing this, the confused lambs turned towards the Rock Pasture and came through the gate to join the rest of the flock. Taking nothing for granted, we closed that gate, trapping the entire flock in the Rock Pasture.
The ewes were eager to graze in this new area, since the growth is so tall that even on my long legs it reaches at least to my knees – and in some places, to my hips. I was afraid to lose our momentum, however, and so ran ahead towards the small open gate beyond which lay our destination. I called to the flock as I ran, “Here girls! Come on, Girls! Let’s go!” Over and over, I called them and they came – albeit slowly – knowing that as long as I called, something even better awaited them at the end of the move.
When I reached the small gate, the front of the flock was with me. The ewes and the forefront of the lambs jumped over the puddle in front of the gate and ran into the new field, happy to have arrived where they knew they could graze undisturbed by the shepherds or the dog – but the rest of the sheep were not so convinced. Those still in the Rock pasture saw nothing but good grazing around themselves and I could see them wondering why they had to move further – but I insisted. Rick and Coda once again came up the rear, and when the llamas decided to move forward to avoid any possible conflict by staying, the rest of the flock followed through the small gate.
Literally within minutes, the flock was moved. Besides better grazing, this field allows the lambs to enter the shelter of the barn for their creep feed, giving them better protection from the many storms that populate our ten-day weather forecast. The field is thick and lush, and it has the added fun of a wooden bridge, which generations of lambs before them have enjoyed as a plaything at dusk, drumming their hooves on the wooden planks as the sun set. Yes, it is a great field that follows a relatively easy move – and the next move will be even easier: into the adjoining barn for weaning. The hardest moves are now behind us!