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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Shepherding in the Season of Mud

Walk into the main room of our barn and you sink up to your ankles in muck. A quicksand mixture of manure and mud threatens to suck the Wellies off your feet if you aren’t careful. I don’t know if it is the incredible rainfall we have had this summer, or the addition of two rather large cows that has made the barn floor so unbelievably mucky, but it has never been this wet before. Personally, I’m looking at the cows…
The mud has turned the lambs’ wool brown and I can’t find the lamb with the black “sock” anymore. They all have black socks now. A friend visiting from the city was most disappointed the other day to see that none of our sheep are white. I had to show her photos to prove that they once were white as Simpson’s clouds.
When one of our girls was just a wee thing, she asked her Dad, “does the wool on the sheep shrink when it gets wet, just like my sweater did?” You would think it did, the way they tear off across the pasture, in search of shelter from the rain, as the first drops fall. They seem to have a baa-rometer that tells them when it’s time to head for the hay. (Sorry; that was a bad one).
The self-filling water trough is also in the barn. Surrounded by muck. It’s so pitiful, watching the lambs trying to pick their way through the slime for a sip of water.
The cows are so heavy; they sink in up to their armpits. For the most part, they have been putting off drinking water for as long as they can. They have become resourceful too, stealing the water from Chelsea the sheepdog’s bucket when she is dozing in the sand around the corner.
The Farmer took stock of the situation and decided that we will need another load of gravel outside the barn so he can get his tractor in to scoop out the poop. But in the meantime, the ground is too soft for the gravel truck after all that rain. We have to resort to temporary measures.
First, he set up two more self-watering troughs outside the barn. One of them is for Betty and Ginger (the cows), which have now been locked in the front field so that they don’t keep going in the mucky barn. They have access to shelter, where the turkey coop is located. They just have to put up with a bit of gobbling in stereo when the sun rises in the morning. They just “moo” back at the turkeys, as if they are telling them to shut up.
Last week, we realized it was time to give the sheep their needles again. The lady at Rooney’s said it has been a bad season for parasites, but our sheep haven’t had any, so we are crediting the monthly regime of Ivomec anti-worm medicine for that success.
As the barn is so disgustingly wet and gross, we decided to herd the sheep back into the place of their birth – the lambing pens. The Farmer just opened the door and in they went, followed by a curious Donkey who didn’t want to be left out of anything. He found himself locked in a pen with several ewes while we sorted and needled the rest of the sheep, one group at a time.
Donkey just stood there and sniffed the feeding troughs and the floor and tested the pen gate with his teeth. Pretended he meant to be locked in with the sheep. But after a few minutes, when he realized the sheep were being needled and released one by one to the pasture, he started to worry, I’m sure. He shifted his weight back and forth on his legs, snorted hay dust out of his nose, and cocked his ears several times. While he was doing this, I was manning the gate to his pen. I was using it as a barricade between the freshly stuck lambs that were fussing and loudly complaining about the sting of their injections, and the ewes on the other side. I kept opening and closing his gate to freedom, while he carefully inched closer to me. Finally he was just inside the gate, with his velvet nose on my hand. I took a moment to give him some attention, picking the cobwebs out of his eyelashes. Then the Farmer told me to stand back, and let him out. He did not go quietly out of that lambing pen. He skipped and kicked his feet up, bashing the wall of the pen and the door on his way out. What a fuss. He’s such a Drama King.
All of us on the farm are looking forward to the ground drying up so we can get some hay into the barn before winter.

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