Training the community

On Monday I wrote about our Romney ewe Grace and the fact that she sneaks out of the pasture to make her way to better grazing — our lawn and our yard plantings. This great escape has been going on for many years, and it has become a part of our routine. I know that when the ewes graze along our southern border near the roadway, Grace will be out and about, trying to improve her edible options.

The problem is not so much Grace, however, as feedback from the community around us. Although Grace is quite careful and generally stays in the ditches and out of the roadway, those who travel our roads see only a sheep who is no longer within a fence — and that is obviously a bad thing. When our sheep graze those southernmost fields, I get a lot of people knocking at our door to let me know that “you have a sheep out.” Little do they know that there isn’t much I can do about it!

Last Thursday I had spent almost the entire day outside, cleaning up the barn and generally preparing our farm for the summer season. With Rick out of town, I had plenty to do and was pushing to get it done. I had kept an eye on Grace and put her back into her pasture at least ten or twelve times that day. I went into the house just before dusk — sore and tired — and then prepared dinner and settled in with a mindless TV show. Within ten minutes, the doorbell rang — and I knew why as soon as I came to the door. I didn’t recognize the person standing there, and when I opened the door, I said resignedly, “I know. I have a sheep out.”

Sure enough, the woman had been on her way to soccer when she spied Grace along the roadway, nibbling as she walked. The woman had at first tried to get Grace into the field by following her with her car, but then stopped her vehicle, got out, and tried to shoo Grace through the fence. Of course Grace would have none of it.

Grace has learned that helpful passersby often stop to shoo her back into the field, and although at first she allowed herself to be returned in this way, she soon learned that if she feigned the inability to understand what they wanted, most would give up and go away. She just wanted to do her own thing. But the woman on my porch was very concerned about my sheep and that she might get hit by a car. To her mind, the sheep needed to go back in.

To reassure her, I walked out onto our porch and called to Grace at the far roadside. “Grace, get back in there where you belong!” The entire flock immediately began to run to me, and Grace quickly hopped between the wires of the fence and joined the ewes as they approached the nearest fenceline to the house. “You see,” I explained to the woman, “it isn’t that she can’t get back on her own. It’s that she doesn’t want to!” The relieved woman said her good-byes and continued on her way. Thankfully, since Grace never leaves the flock near dark, I knew she was (finally) in for the night.

The next morning I was out in the Timber checking on the lambs when my phone rang — Rick was calling from his week-long business trip in Washington, DC. A call from him at this time of day was unusual, and I was concerned that this meant he would not be back for the holiday weekend. I promptly answered the phone. I could hear the chuckle in his voice as he said to me, “The operator at my office in Cedar Rapids just called me here in DC to tell me that one of our sheep is out. Would you like to go and call Grace back in since I can’t?” Seriously?! Now even his operator at the office is in on Grace’s well-being?!

It turns out that someone had driven by our farm and seen Grace along the roadside, making her way to our yard. Knowing where Rick works in town, they called in and were connected with his office. The office staff said he was out of town on business, then took the message and passed it along to Rick in DC. This is seriously getting out of hand!

Thankfully, as of this past weekend, Grace has been moved in with the lambs in an internal field with no road frontage. At least for the time being, I won’t have to worry about constantly being told “your sheep is out!”

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  • Erika says:

    Grace sounds like such a character! I love sheep with interesting personalities. However, there is a down side to livestock getting loose and a dangerous precedent may be set in VT.
    A man is being charged with involuntary manslaughter after his cow got loose, was hit by a car, and the driver died.

    • Dee says:

      Yikes! Good to know. Thankfully, Grace does stick to the roadside – and we do keep trying to find ways to keep her in. Hopefully this summer’s plans for her will keep her happier with the grazing on this side of the fence!

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