Sunday, August 16, 2009

Chasing Sheep in City Clothes

My heels were already sore from wearing nice shoes into town to match my nice outfit for a meeting. Running down the graveled dirt road in them did nothing to improve the feel or my attitude towards the four black sheep I was chasing. I had left my car turned off in the middle of the road because herding sheep as I backed up was not working that well; there was no way to turn around; and I was absent a sheep dog.

Why had we thought it such a good idea to tear up not only the hay field but most of our other grazing pasture as well this summer? Oh, yeah, the lack of good grasses and an over abundance of moss. However, now it didn't seem as if economies of scale were doing us any good. The sheep were disappearing into the woods looking for forage, and this inevitably (for the bad sheep at least) meant some of them were finding their way into the low summer creek bed, where we also lacked a fence for obvious winter flooding reasons, and hence onto Honey Grove road.

Our neighbors had taken to driving down our driveway to let us know the sheep were out. Some of them had even tried to chase the sheep back onto the property, but this was problematic, as I mentioned above, because herding with a car doesn't work that well either in reverse or driving forward. Annie and I (mostly Annie) had taken to jumping on the ATV to round up the surly lot, although I also tried the technique of ringing Pavlov's dinner bell and clapping my hands loudly. This worked best to get the horses back to the barn at a trot.

Today it was hot and dusty. The girls looked at me as if I had lost my mind when I started to back the car. A few dove off the gravel road and down the steep bank through tripping blackberries and loose rock. I got out to follow them and, as I took a step to the edge, realized I might tumble and end up in the barbed wire fence, or at least astride a woolly sheep.

It was a bit of a stand-off until I got a large stick from the side of the road. "Get out of the ditch you silly ewes!" "Move! I said, move !! Pshhh, pshhh, pshhh (I have a sound I make that actually produces movement from the sheep when they feel I mean it)." I whacked the surrounding flora for emphasis. The sheep decided to follow their sisters back up onto the road. Finally! I gave the last one a thwap with the stick anyway, just to make a point. She didn't feel a thing and I felt a hint of justice...and just a twinge of revenge.

The sheep now trotted in the direction of their escape route, down a side road and through the opening to our neighbor's property that had once been secured with a fence. It seems Joe had decided to do some work and the fence was a hindrance to his ingress and egress. Sheep just love that kind of decision-making by humans.

It was hard to follow now. The blackberries and nettles were waist high and a traipse into the overgrown field was just asking for trouble, not to mention an increasingly dark mood on my part. I heaved my stick at the fleeing sheep, hoping they were feeling badly enough to join the rest of the flock. I needed to construct some type of a physical barricade, even if this wasn't our land. I checked for branches and small downed trees to make a temporary pole fence and tried to jam what I could across the rather large opening. Good enough!

Thankfully, no cars had come bombing down the road while I was parked in the middle of it. Dirt makes it hard to control a stop and explaining why I had left my lovely new car to the vagaries of a country road, and residents known to drive a little too fast down it, just didn't add up to good sense on my part. Besides, I didn't really want to explain why our sheep were all over the neighborhood. I had already been warned about the cougar sighting twice. What kind of a shepherdess was I anyway to let my flock wander hither and yon?

Once back at the house, I took off my city clothes and my city shoes and re-dressed in jeans and Crocs. Yeah, that felt good. Tonight I would need to start graining the sheep so that coming to the bell seemed like a good thing to do. At this rate, I would also need to pull in some hay from my neighbor farmer's second cut because I wasn't going to have enough to get us through the winter.

Of course we could always cull some sheep to bring down the numbers and get rid of the laggards. I wondered if any of the escape artists today were on the list we had compiled earlier in the summer, but about which I had done nothing to date. I would have to take a better look tonight when they had their heads buried in the manger. "Come here my pretties," said the wicked witch of the West. (I hope this doesn't seem too callous, but bad sheep are a problem and they always lead others astray with them...Where have we heard that before. Hmmm.)

PS Oh, yeah, and just to be clear about the title of this blog - the sheep were not the ones wearing city clothes!

Photo: This woolly hair sheep at the front is a "cull". Her hair doesn't shed out the way it is supposed to and she produces midget lambs that she then deserts. Too bad since she has a cute face. Seems like the rest of the sheep are wondering if they are on the list too.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

White Devil Turkeys...that's what the reporter called them

Our turkeys are getting a lot of coverage this summer. First it was their dinosaur-like qualities, increasing as they grow larger. Next it was the saving of Rose, the only turkey hatchling to make it past one day old. Now our turkeys have landed themselves in a reporter's blog...because they bit him on the butt when he was out here writing a story about our farm stay experience. I believe he calls the perpetrators our "white devil turkeys". Hmmm, not a great marketing tool, but I do see what he means.

The guy was actually pretty cool about the attack. He had mentioned that he needed to get all the farm yard terms correct or he would be considered the city reporter who doesn't know how to cover a rural story. I believe I introduced him to the word "manger" in describing the hay feeder for the sheep and horses. I wonder if it rung a bell about the baby Jesus? The reporter didn't need a term for getting bit on the butt by the turkeys, but here again, there was that rural pressure to take it all in stride, so he never yelled out when it happened. Seems the reporter may have suffered a nip on the leg as well.

The turkeys are making it hard for little kids to enter the chicken yard without several distraction tactics to keep them safe. We have the "gentle foot maneuver", not a swift kick, to push the birds away. All you do is stand on one leg and use the other to move the closest bird aside. We have the "toss the mulberries and watch the turkeys gobble them up" move which works for everyone and kids find to be great fun. "One for me and one for them" also works but I usually warn parents about the staining ability of mulberries...permanent purple.

We have the: "Don't point your finger at the birds or you will get it nipped like a worm" admonition; "Try to pet a turkey and it will actually run away with a squeak" technique; "Don't worry about the turkeys on the lawn. They will fly back at their leisure" suggestion. Of course, the best solution for the kids who never figure how to dominate this crowd is to hide behind mom or dad, or just plain run away. I do hope we aren't sending any kids home with a turkey phobia!

I have included a link here to the reporter's blog which I hope stays live because it is pretty funny. . It was nice that he came out to do the story and I don't want him thinking we didn't appreciate his fortitude and bravery to take on not only the turkeys, but the donkey with the new bad habit of putting his nose between your legs and bringing it up with a jerk when he feels you are not paying enough attention to him. Beware the donkey!

At least our visiting family had nothing but nice things to say about their stay here and the shot the photographer ran with for the lead story had the most idyllic Madonna mother leaning over the manger with her son feeding the sheep. So what is with all the biblical references? I have no idea. Our guest just looked like a Raphael painting.

And the White Devil Turkeys? They are still running the show. They love little girls in pink pants and sweaters the best as they show off their feathers and strut around the chicken yard. Three-year-old's work best based on their size and eye level contact and we are specializing in those this summer (kids, not birds). As much as they can be slightly alarming in a group, there is no maliciousness, only curiosity. I suspect that Thanksgiving will once again be bitter sweet when we have to send them off. If they just didn't taste so darn good!

Photo: (top) Curious "devil" turkey wants to bite the camera lens, (bottom) Turkeys at the mulberry tree.

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

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