After their final vaccinations this past Saturday, the lambs were released into the last new pasture of our normal rotation: the Timber. Someday soon (I hope), this pasture will be split into the North Timber and the South Timber, but right now it is one large field with a wide variety of grazing and browse enjoyed by all of our flock. The sheep can lie on the hillside in the shade of mature trees, strip bark from the few remaining young trees, or run and play on or around the tree stumps. It’s definitely the favorite pasture in our field rotation — and always the last, since it is so distant from the barns and my direct supervision.
With all of the rain this spring, the Timber has filled in well. When the lambs came running through the gate on Saturday, they disappeared into the lush growth that was, in many cases, taller than they were. Although I always love knowing that the flock has more grazing than they can likely clear, such tall grass also has its pitfalls.
No longer can I stand at one end of the field and look across the pasture to determine whether any of the lambs need help. Now that they are swallowed by the grass, I must walk the field each morning and night, looking for illness, injury, and accidents. I must look into every corner, under every bush, and behind every stump. Sick lambs like to crawl away, separating themselves from the flock, and it is up to me to find them before things get really bad.
Thankfully, I have a few tricks of my own. I always fill the field’s creep house with grain, so that when the lambs come up with the ewes, they have grain of their own to encourage them to linger. As the crowd mills around the creep feed and the salt/mineral block, I look them over, each and every one. Is there anything amiss? Did I hear a cough? I watch for the slightest sign that all is not as it should be.
In the end, I must wander the field looking for any lamb who has not joined the festivities at the top of the hill. Sometimes they are simply fast asleep after hours of bouncing and playing with friends — but most lambs who don’t join the flock at the feeders are left behind because of a more dire situation. I try to record at least the eartag of every lamb I find, so that if I can’t catch them immediately, I can find them later. Too many things can go wrong if I don’t check them out thoroughly.
On most days I find nothing out of the ordinary, and the lambs all come with the flock to join the party at the crest of the hill. As I head out to walk the field, many of the lambs and some ewes follow behind. They know exactly what I am doing and where I will go, and they think that a walk with their shepherdess sounds like fun. The ewes plod along, and the lambs often gambol behind, running and playing as we go. We usually make the loop around the field without finding any sick or injured sheep — thankfully! There is nothing as bad as walking a field while looking for illness or death. It is a heart-wrenching walk when I think why I am there, wandering. Instead, I try to focus on the joy trailing behind me — the sheep walking and playing with their flock, all led by their trusted shepherdess. It has been this way for millennia, and I can feel that I am one with the many before me. It saddens me to think that this way of life might be lost someday.
Those of us in the lead return to the same place we left only minutes before, but by the time we return, the rest of the flock has left the top of the hill to join us in our walk, straggling behind in a long, broken line that creates a loop around the field. As the gate closes behind me, I can hear chewing – over one hundred ovine mouths, ripping and chewing, creating a grazing orchestra that crescendos in the Timber as I turn to head home. Yes, they love the Timber pasture — and I love the sound of the eating flock behind me. There is something so satisfying in the sound that I often stop and listen to them rip and chew only feet away.
Yes, it’s obvious why I do what I do. Not many people are as happy as I am to hear the perfect sound of sheep grazing a field in unison.