Sheep Wrangling and What it Taught Me About the Kindness of Strangers

Scene: Preita wakes up before everyone as usual and shuffles out to the kitchen to make coffee as per her regular routine.  As she’s waiting for the coffee to brew she makes her Mr’s lunch and feeds the cats.  When the coffee is done she pours a generous cup and adds her favorite coffee creamer.  After a few sips she slips on her work boots and heads outside.  It’s cool and slightly dewy and the best part of the whole day.  The bugs aren’t awake, the animals are silent, the world is good.  Turns on the hose, grabs a scoop of grain and heads out to the pasture.  Preita has the exact same routine every single day, she might be a little obsessive about it, she might be what you would unfriendly call a “control freak” but we are all friends here so we shove aside that term.  Usually from the first gate Preita can see her Icelandic sheep in the small night paddock next to the barn.  It’s smaller than the rest and has a huge blackberry bush and is closest to the house which is why it was chosen for their sleeping area.  Odd thing is, when Preita looks over there isn’t a sheep to be seen.  Not a single one.  “Odd,” she thinks, “maybe they are sleeping under the blackberry bush.  A quick check and no, they are not. 

The sheep are gone.

Homesteading/hobby farming has taught me a lot this last year. (God it hasn’t even been a year).  Sometimes I’m really good at remembering the lessens and sometimes I’m not.  Today I was.  Today I heaved a great sigh and went back into the house where I found the Mr in the bathroom getting ready for work.  “Mr,” I said, “the sheep are out somewhere.  I need you to put on jeans and good shoes and help me look.”  I don’t remember if he said anything back because I was already out the door.  Oddly though, I was not in a panic.  I tend to go straight to fight or flight mode and frankly it’s usually “I”M GOING TO RIP SOMEONE”S HEAD OFF” which honestly, isn’t usually appropriate.  I blame my genes, I am mostly Scandinavian after all, and I believe it must be built in somewhere in the DNA.

Equipped with the Mr and an odd sense of acceptance we headed out to the first pasture right off the paddock.  Surely they must be right here.  Whenever the goats escape (oh and they do, whenever they get the chance, and soon, one day I will not be outsmarted by goats I promise), they just head to the nearest patch of yummy bush or grass and hang out.  Sometimes if I am not quick enough on the uptake they come around to the front door and stare in the living room windows to show me, yes, they are indeed out of their pasture.  I like my goats, they are mostly like puppies.  They are interested in me in a way that the sheep never will be.  The goats are all “HEY! It’s YOU! I love when it’s YOU!  Come let me nibble on you.”  Then they run around like silly floppy eared beasts and make me giggle.  The sheep are like cats.  They are all “Oh, you’re here huh?  Do you have something for me?  NO! DON’T TRY TO TOUCH ME!!!!!!!! *FLEE*”  I need a goat with a fleece like a romney then all will be good in the land of Preita.

Anywho, we searched that first pasture and didn’t find  single sheep.  We searched the pasture on the other side of the driveway and though we found some droppings also did not find a single sheep.  Now I’m starting to get a little upset.  The Mr went off to work while I searched for clues.  He said he locked them in the small paddock and watched them eat their hay but maybe, *just maybe* he thought he did.  So to double-check I went out to the big back pasture and had a look.  At this point I looked back and had to smile.  I believe that there are times when the universe gives you a chance to look around and chill out, to realize that there are a million things worse in the world that could happen than missing sheep.  Behind me walking through the pasture was my 3 goats, my 8 turkeys, and my 3 geese.  The goats were dancing and prancing along as goats do, the turkeys were a little more frantic and ran after me in full display, and the geese waddled after trying to figure out what everyone was doing.  I had my own parade!  Granted, it looked insane and as I passed my neighbor at the far edge of my pasture as he was mowing his lawn he did stop and stare, but honestly, it’s kind of my life these days.  Did I mention that I’m sort of a BIG DEAL in the land of turkeys, goats, and geese?  Well I am and that might mean something to someone.

 

After the walk through the pasture I lead my chirping, gobbling, honking, bahing circus back into the barnyard and decided it was time to be honest.  I grabbed my phone and called the police (no not 911 just the local “this is not an emergency police”), the sheriff’s office, and the local animal control.  My hope was that someone would look out their window and realize that they saw sheep in their pasture, and they did not in fact, own sheep and would call animal control.  I figured this is what I would do if I saw an animal that wasn’t mine in my pasture.

And, lo in behold, I was right. Erina called me after being given my number by the sheriff’s dispatch and said (in a very russian accent) “Sheep?”.  Why yes, Erina, I am missing sheep and I would love to know where they got to!  After some quick directions I realized she was the next street over.  Now people, this is the country so my sheep were actually about three miles away from my house taking the most direct route.  Apparently they were headed north and nothing was stopping them.  Maybe they heard that grunge was back and that people were once again donned in wool flannels, maybe they thought they would join the scene, I mean they already have ear tags so that’s pretty hard-core right?  Anyway, the Mr came home from work, changed from his suite to his jeans and we were off to Erina’s with a hope and a prayer.  I thought this would be tough but fairly quick.

I was right about it being tough, but it was not quick.  See, my experience with sheep is in controlled fenced settings with proper fence.  Erina had horses (BEAUTIFUL DAZLING SMART horses), horses do not need the same sort of fencing sheep do.  We were doomed from the start and I knew it.  The ladies were pressed against her amazing expensive barn lounging in the shade panting.  Erina explained that they had gone into the horse paddocks only to be chased quite severely.  They were wide-eyed and in no mood to be coaxed.  I moved toward them keeping my eyes on the ground and my grain bucket extended, the Mr followed with the hay.  The sheep bolted.  This was the start of our ride.

I tell you dear readers, I am a rather large woman as some of you have seen from my pictures, I am not the ‘running sort’ but I ran.  I ran and I ran and I ran and I ran FAST.  I had with me a long push broom to extend my reach and it helped a little. (I am now going to get two shepherds crooks asap).  I was able to trip a lamb and jump on top of it so the Mr could cart it off to the suburban.  (What a trailer? Silly people, trailer, what will you think of next?)  Then the sheep were off.  Down the little one lane road Erina lives off and down to the busy county road.  I was terrified but also had the thought “if they stay in the ditch I’ll just walk them home”.  But alas, it was not that simple.  Maybe if they were large Suffolk or Columbia who have been breed to be domestic and docile they might but I have Icelandic sheep, primitive, wild, smart sheep.  I was fucked from the start. 

This is where I learned that there is goodness in people that I have not seen in an age.  The sheep ran across the busy two lane road, then back again.  I was sure a car would hit one if not all remaining sheep until a woman in a large horse trailer slowed down looked us up and down then threw on her emergency lights and stopped.  Then, as if that wasn’t enough, she got out of the car and directed traffic.  Another man got out of his car and did the same with the other direction.  If I wasn’t running around in some strangers back yard with a push broom and a sense of crazed desperation I would have cried, instead I threw myself on another lamb and the Mr got another before one of our older ewes found the escape route and booked back to Erinas!  From there we chased and ran down her street through the front and back yards of 4 more people.  If they were home people were usually more amused than upset about seeing sheep in their backyard which I was thankful for. 

In the backyard of a dairy Erina threw herself on a yearling and brought it to the ground!  I was so impressed!  Here was this complete stranger going to bat for me!  Not only that but she had talked to her neighbor and now I had two more people helping me create a human fence!  We followed the remaining sheep into another person’s property who “Thank the GODS!” had goat fencing on two sides.  We pushed them into a corner and bagged two more.  Mama’s acquired we had one lamb left, a yearling, a spry little brat who gave us quite a run.  It was obvious he wanted SO BAD to be with the others but not bad enough to let us near.  After he was chased by two more horses (on another property) wandered back down the road to Betty’s house and was chased by her horse and her husband on a riding mower (HA!) we chased it across the street to a house that had chain link fencing on two sides.

I knew we had this lamb, I knew it in the bottom of my deepest heart.  This lamb was OURS.  The Mr and I took a deep breath, found our most zen centered place and advanced on this sheep keeping our eyes low and our paces deliberate.  We were a hairbreadth away when the sheep darted back down the fence line and back toward the road.  I heard an “OOOFFF!” and a “I GOT HER!” from the Mr and I ran to investigate.  Here was the Mr, a man of some largity himself face first on the grass with a sheep beneath his chest.  I secured the yearling so he could get up and asked, “Did you just dive on her?” (frankly, I don’t care how he got her.  By the end I was picturing ninja style throwing nets, tazers, and quick sand).  “No,” he said, “she jumped in the air and hit me in the shoulder!”

Picture this.  My yearling lamb is maybe 50 pounds tops.  My husband is 6’5″ and played football (and lacrosse) in both high school and college.  He’s a large man.  He’d just glatiatored this sheep to the ground and managed to hold on.  This lamb got serious air.  I was so impressed and so hot and so sweaty and so DYING but I did not forget my nature.  Here is Betty, the Mr with the last caught lamb, and Erina.  This picture cracks me up, it makes me smile and reminds me there are still damn fine people in this world, they just usually don’t live in the city.

I love that the Mr is smiling (because I could have sworn he would be scowling) I love that Betty and Erina were so HAPPY to take this picture they actually backed up next to the Mr and the sheep and smiled.  It cracks me up.  Here are two examples of what is needed in the world.  Selflessness and a helping hand.  With out these two ladies I might have given up.  I might have just walked away crying but they saved me from myself.  They didn’t quit and I wasn’t going to either.  Sheep wrangling in the open is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, it hurt, it was hot, it was frustrating, and I never want to do it this way again. 

It was amazing to have people go out of their way for us like that.  People who don’t know us and don’t have a stake in what we do here.  They did it because they are good caring people.  After all the sheep were loaded into their newly secured paddock with plenty of water I drove back to Erina’s house and Betty’s and brought them both home-made blackberry jam and my card with a promise, any time they ever needed my help like they just gave me all they had to do was call.  

I’m exhausted and already sore but am so thankful to everyone.  In a couple hours (as if my day hadn’t been eventful enough) my 5 pygora goats are coming!

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10 thoughts on “Sheep Wrangling and What it Taught Me About the Kindness of Strangers

  1. Oh my gosh! Your story made me laugh and brought tears to my eyes. The fact that you paused for a moment at the end and got a photo REALLY takes the cake.

    I’ve been reading your blog for about a month after Monika of Smoking Hot Needles linked to you. Knitting, animals, and farm life are always of interest to me and you have quite a way with words. 🙂

  2. That is such an awesome story. Although I laughed when you followed it up by “I’m getting more animals”. You never cease to amaze me….and I would have given anything to be an observer this afternoon. 😉

  3. Well, I have tears in my eyes! Hurrah for helpful people! It’s a GREAT story; I love the smiles in the photo, and I’m sure you’re laughing about it already.

  4. I love it. I am was laughing so hard… but with sympathy. I had to round up a 120lb black lab at 3AM in the rain when I was 15 AFTER she had been rolling in someone’s rotten trash. She really did NOT want to go home, and I wasn’t too keen on making her go home– it wreaked! It wasn’t at all funny at the time, but thinking about it now I can see why my dad was laughing so much.

    I am glad you had some friendly people to help you out!

  5. I have NEVER laughed so hard!!!!! Espeacially when there was NOONE in my house to laugh with! Good for you for not giving up and being so lucky to have wonderful people in your area! Hopefully this is not the new routine!!!!

  6. Oooohhh Preita…… pygora! Ok, that’s it. I’m coming up for a visit.

    and seeeeeee, there are people who are REAL in this world. Looks like you found two of ’em – if not in your own backyard, at least in someone else’s!!

    Hurry up and take those herding lessons.

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