I find a lot of sheep behavior to be very interesting. One of the things I always love to experience is the tendency of sheep to follow. I know that many of you are likely wondering “Follow who or what?” — and that is kind of the point. Sheep just generally like to follow, whether it is another sheep, the shepherd, or even an interesting animal that has found its way into the field (like all of our lambs following and chasing the local fox a couple of months ago!).
We dissolved our breeding groups this past Saturday. As a result, our ewes are now finishing the grazing year, eating down the grass in each pasture one field at a time. They are still getting grain each day too. Since moving grain troughs from field to field is a time consuming activity, I walk the ewes into the lower paddock near the barns each morning to get their grain, then return them to the grazing field for the day. Because of their desire to follow, there is no need to bribe them with a bucket of grain or to have them chased by a herding dog. I simply walk and call, and the flock follows in a long, lumpy line across the fields as we go.
Now, I will admit that it isn’t like they don’t have an incentive at the end of our stroll; I use the same call whenever I call them to food, so they know good things await. I let them bunch up at the pasture gate before I open it to ensure that each sheep has gotten the message: we are about to move, and it’s going to mean food! As we approach the paddock, they know that there are troughs of grain awaiting them. I don’t allow the first girls immediate access to the grain, which allows the slowest of the flock to catch up to the front of the line. Once all of the sheep have arrived and are waiting, I open the gate to allow them their choice of place at the troughs. They pour through the gate like water through a funnel, spreading out at feeders on the other side.
Only minutes later, after they have finished their meal, it is time to make our way back out to the pasture. There is water at both ends of our journey, and I wait until it seems that most of the sheep have finished the grain and helped themselves to water. At that point, I begin the walk back, calling them as I go — and they turn to follow me, each at her own pace. The incentive for this portion of our morning trek is the lush vegetation of the Fire Circle and Rock Pastures, opened to grazing only days ago and still full of the many plants that they so enjoy. I watch carefully to make sure that every last lamb has gotten the message that we are again on the move, and we head out to their grazing grounds.
When we arrive, the sheep swarm in, passing me on either side and looking for a good spot. I spend some time among the flock, giving out chin scratches and nose rubs to good friends as they go by. Once the flock begins to graze or cud in earnest, I turn to leave, closing the gate behind me in preparation for the next day’s feeding. This is one of my favorite times of year: we have not yet reached the heavy work period of hay and grain feeding during late gestation, nor the sleepless nights of lambing. It is a time to take easy walks with the flock and enjoy their company among crunching leaves and bright fall colors. It doesn’t get much better than this!
Shearing update: We will email our customers a list of ram fleeces from our June shearing and the recent market lamb fleeces from our October shearing on Thursday, November 2 (most likely in the late afternoon).