Thundering hooves

I was on my way out to the barn on Sunday evening, knowing from our barn monitor that Nisan was in the midst of delivering her twins. Such an occurrence puts a bit of urgency in my stride, since I never know whether this will be one of those times when the ewe or her lambs might need assistance. As I stepped into the nearly moonless night, I switched on my headlamp to illuminate the already well-worn path and headed out towards the Lambing Barn.

Yet as I walked, my ears picked up the fairly loud sound of hooves hitting a hard surface. In the previous few hours, our cold spring temperatures had once again frozen the ground, so I assumed that explained the sound coming from around the Storage Barn where the unbred ewes were housed. I refocused my attention and continued walking.

The sound, however, did not stop. As I walked, I continued to hear bursts of pounding hooves, interspersed by short interludes of stillness in the night. I again paused, wondering what could be disturbing this fairly large group of ewes — nearly half of our flock. Since this was around the time that our herding dogs take their last trip outside before bed, and I suddenly wondered whether our oldest dog, Lisa — who no longer herds because of age and temperament — might be helping herself to a bit of herding practice at the expense of the flock. All our dogs know that unsupervised herding is a serious violation of our rules, but Lisa is becoming forgetful and a bit headstrong with her advancing age. Thinking it best if I looked into the matter, I changed my path and headed up towards the board fence separating the back yard from the paddock along the Storage Barn. All the while I heard the continued pounding of hooves alternating with short periods of relative stillness.

As I approached the fence, my headlamp reflected red, blue and green in the eyes of my sheep, huddled at one end of the paddock. I scanned the area, looking for a similar reflection off of the eyes of one of my dogs — or another predator. It was the only explanation I could think of for the constant running from side to side within this relatively small area.

Then suddenly the entire group of ewes took off once again, creating the now-familiar sound of pounding hooves against the frozen ground. As I watched, the ewes excitedly ran together to the other side of the paddock, where they paused for a moment with nowhere left to go. There, the youngest ewes began to hop and gambol in place, as we often see with newborn lambs in the isolated world of their lambing jugs. Many of the older girls joined in the jubilation as the excitement spread. Seconds later they were off again, running to the other end of the paddock once more, repeating the popcorn-like jumping and gamboling in place.

I laughed aloud as I watched them repeatedly run from one side to the other, pausing to celebrate before taking off, with nowhere specific to go, the entire point of the exercise being the process rather than the goal. Suddenly remembering Nisan and her coming lambs, I turned back to the work awaiting me in the Lambing Barn, but this time with more of a spring in my step. The joy I had just witnessed was contagious. Not only had it spread throughout the ewe flock at the Storage Barn but into my heart, too, as I watched them play as a group this cold night.

Fleece Sale Update: Our Winter Shearing fleeces will be posted to our Notification List tomorrow afternoon, March 2. I hope to get the notice out by late afternoon — between 4 and 5 p.m. CST — but this will very much depend on whether I have a ewe in labor at the time. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the ewes cooperate with my plans! Thanks so much for your interest!

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