Normal people get a farm and then animals. We are NOT normal people. We decided to start farming without having barns and fencing and places to store feed, and instead we are building fencing and shelters as the animals are arriving. For the sake of your blood pressure and day to day stress levels I would definitely recommend everyone to do it the “right” way and not our way. I can also warmly recommend that you NOT place your animals and shelters down a steep hill. Unless of course you really like to get in shape and love running up and down every time you forget something!
On the Saturday morning our sheep were arriving from Alabama, I was working like a mad-woman putting up the temporary electric net fence to supplement the permanent fencing while Scott was laying his last hand on the “Shig-shack,” which is what he renamed the the pig shed since they were going to share it with the sheep for a few months. My original time schedule which was tight already had been further accelerated because Heather, from whom I bought my sheep, was traveling North to NY and kindly had offered to put my two Cotswold sheep in her trailer. I naturally said a quick yes as it saved me a 26 hour round trip. I happily announced to my husband that I didn’t have to drive back and forth to Alabama to collect our sheep. He looked a little puzzled and quietly asked where we were going to house the sheep. His next question was “why only two?” Usually I am the one who jumps in with both feet. To have a husband who is actually every bit as crazy as me in this regard is refreshing! We had made a projection of how many sheep we could have on our acres taking into account future lambs etc. and the magic start number was 4. I was wondering if I was overdoing it with the chickens and pigs and now sheep, all within a month and thought it wise to only get two. It didn’t take me long before I quickly texted Heather, and the 2 ewes were now 4!
Heather arrived in her big truck and even longer trailer and after the usual hellos she was wondering where the sheep were going. I pointed down the hill and told her I had halters for them. Her response was priceless, a mix between a laugh and a snort while trying to not do either. In a flash I realized that these sheep were NOT pets, and they were certainly not halter trained, but I was used to alpacas, llamas and horses, so really, how hard could it be? We got halters on two of them and took them off the trailer. These sheep weigh about 150-200 lbs. and look like big fluffy clouds. They did however not act like fluffy, docile sheep. Cotswolds are often called the gentle giants. Gentle? Within 30 seconds, one of the sheep had gotten out of the halter in Heather’s hand but since sheep like to stick together she just followed the one still being led by me. At that point Heather thought it would save us some time just letting the other two out of the trailer so they, too, could peacefully follow the one being led.
Lesson learned: NEVER assume that sheep will do what you think they will do.
The other two decided NOT to join us and ran up on the lawn instead. The sheep that was following me quickly decided that being with TWO sheep was far safer than following just one. Now we had three sheep loose on our lawn. My mom and dad who were here visiting were looking at it all with an increasingly panicked look on their faces. “My” sheep was now in full “I’m NOT staying here all alone” mode, and was doing a very believable impression of a bronc, jumping up, down and sideways while I was hanging on for dear life. Gentle? Ha! Heather mentioned getting a food bucket so Scott approached me saying he would take the “wanna-be-a-rodeo-horse-sheep” while I ran to get the food bucket. I quickly instructed him in how to hold the halter- it was a slip knot-type-halter. I turned to go but paused to take a quick picture while Scott said, “don’t worry honey, I got this”. Famous last words. 3 seconds later we had FOUR sheep on the lose, now setting off towards our neighbor’s backyard. They admittedly have a much nicer and greener lawn.
Food bucket in hand I now followed Scott, Heather, my daughter and our 4 sheep who kept going further and further away. If you chase sheep, they don’t come back to you. I dialed my son’s number and quickly asked him to come out and help us. Within minutes our sheep had decided to get out on our thankfully very quiet country road and were heading towards the village. Luckily, a truck driver saw them coming, and turned his vehicle sideways to block them so Scott could slip in behind them and drive them back towards home. As the sheep came back into view, we heard Scott yelling to block the road so they couldn’t pass our house. Mom, dad and I were positioned, and the sheep took one look at us and darted around us back onto the lawn. We slowly approached them, and they decided that it was time to start grazing in our back yard. I bee-lined in to the garage, brought out my second electric fence/net and together we slowly put the fence up around the sheep where they were. Phew. Caught.
Heather recommended that we let them settle down for a while to not stress them too much, so we left them to work on the lawn and waved good bye to Heather who probably was very happy to get on her way.
After 3 hours of enjoying our greenest grass, the sheep seemed nice and calm; time to get the sheep down to their pasture. Scott thought for sure that if we lead the two dominant ladies, the others would follow. I’m not quite sure why I listened, Scott is NOT well acquainted with livestock of any kind. We haltered the two, and lo and behold, the others followed. Mom and dad were at the top of the drive way, to prevent any mishaps, and my daughter had stationed herself strategically at the line to our neighbor’s green lawn.
By now the sheep in halters had had it. They were even worse than before, and in the midst of leading them a man stopped to ask if he and his daughter could get permission to hunt on our land. LOL- I felt like telling him that if he could help get the sheep into their pasture we’d talk, but my husband kindly said no and to excuse us as as we had our hands full. No sooner did the guy leave and whoops- Scott lost his sheep again. My dad bravely tried to throw himself after the runaway- who naturally was on her way into our neighbor’s again- but it was almost comically slow since he’s 84 years old and a LOT slower than a determined sheep.
My poor sheep was alone again, seeing her friends disappear in the distance, a true horror if you are a sheep. She jumped, she bucked, she gave up and played dead. I was seriously wondering if she had a stroke since she just lay there breathing heavily with her eyes closed. I’m not exactly sure how long it took for the rest of my family to turn around the 3 runaway sheep, who had headed back onto the road towards the village. I was sitting with my possum-playing sheep at the bottom of the hill. Gus (son) and Scott came back and together we managed to pull/push her into the pasture.
This is when I learned that a very nice man trying to help got out of his truck but forgot to put it in park with the result that it drove itself off the road down a hill taking down several smaller trees before being stopped by a large tree. The truck owner managed to drive around the hill and back up on the road after a while, and other than losing the side mirrors, he seemed to be ok which was a miracle in itself. Still, we felt horrible since it really was the fault of our sheep. Once turned around, the three runaways simply walked right into our garage where they stood looking for something to eat.
When Scott again mentioned taking two sheep down and having one follow, Gus and I wisely said no. Not that it did us much good. In spite of wearing not just one, but TWO halters, this Sheepoudini was able to get out and run away, for the third time. Ever had the feeling that no matter what you do it won’t work? I had it. Scott and Gus were on her tail, got her cornered briefly and as she started taking off for the road again, Scott cut her off and tackled her. Gently. Scott waited with her while Gus resolutely drove up the John Deere (lawn tractor, not real tractor). It did have a dump cart attached and at this point I figured it must be less stressful for the poor sheep – and us – to simply put her in the cart. On the cart she played dead for most of the time. Who knew all sheep knew that game? Not until she was laying on the ground with the halter off did she open her eyes and then she simply stood up and walked over to her friend and started grazing. We decided to repeat this process with sheep number 3 and 4. It wasn’t pretty, but took less than 5 minutes per sheep.
7 hours after they arrived, and minutes before the dark, the last sheep was FINALLY in the pasture. They checked out their new home, and seemed quite happy to get their grain, hay and water.
I was a mess. My rib was severely bruised, I had twisted my ankle, ripped a nail and had several bruises on my legs including a set of hoof prints on my forearm. My step counter recorded 17,000+ steps and 64 flights of stairs (counting the elevation of our hill). I was exhausted but I was happy. My sheep were home and all else could wait until morning.