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.

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