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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Steve's Day Out

We had had our new Suffolk ram Steve for one week. It was time to set him free amongst the ladies. But first we had to collect all the lambs that would soon be going to market.

I got called in to work Sunday afternoon but – wonder of wonders – the farm work waited for me until I returned. After Sunday dinner (and several glasses of full-bodied red wine), the Farmer and I headed to the barn where our flock was barricaded. Our intention was to sort sheep.

The ewes had to somehow be separated from the flock and ushered out the door, while the lambs were retained inside the barn. This proved to be no easy task. The ewes were not going willingly into that dark night. The Farmer decided to start pulling them by the hind leg, backwards. He started with the largest ewes, stalking them as they munched hay, then grabbing at the knobby little sticks that held up their girth. Once, twice and three times he was tossed into the hay by the biggest ewes. I couldn’t help laughing. The sheep were taking advantage of his exhaustion and slight impairment. I decided to help.

I found that if you grabbed both hind legs at the same time, the sheep would simply run backwards to help you out, sort of in a reverse wheelbarrow game. It worked quite effectively, until I started laughing and got myself off balance. Then I too got tossed into the dirt. Finally all the ewes were outside and the lambs were happily trapped in the barn, with a fresh load of hay and water. We went out to see Steve. I shooed the ram into the alley between the pens and helped the Farmer to hold him there.

While we held Steve up against the gate with our legs, the Farmer fastened a fresh blue cube of chalk to the ram’s halter.

“I can never remember how these things go on,” he muttered as he struggled to connect the clasps around Steve’s barrel chest. For the next ten minutes we held Steve tight as we tried different buckling combinations with the halter. Finally we got it on him in a fashion that would not soon be undone. Steve groaned. And grunted. And belched. He was growing impatient of this game already.

We opened the gate and pushed him out into the neighbouring room, only to discover that the last round bale of hay I opened had unrolled and hung down in front of us, blocking our path. Together we pushed Steve out through the curtain of hay and toward the open barn door. Outside, it was dark. There wasn’t a yard lamp or moonlight to brighten his path. He didn’t know what was out there. I could tell he was scared.

Why we decided to turn Steve out at night, I don’t know. In hindsight, it wasn’t the greatest idea. For the next hour, Steve tried to cozy up to the ewes who were outside the barn. They liked the smell of him but they weren’t too sure about his unique black face or his jingling collar bell. He was still running around after them when we stumbled back to the house to bed. It was 10pm.

The next morning, Steve was nowhere to be found. He had obviously tried to get back into the shelter of the barn, because the gate to the lambs’ pen was open and all of our captives had been set free. Before and after work the Farmer searched for the lost ram, listening for the jingling of his collar bell. We couldn’t imagine Steve would head for the bushes, as sheep are afraid of the dark unknown of wooded areas. We assumed he was in the cornfield or down in the meadow, but we couldn’t find him. Finally the Farmer called our neighbour, who also had sheep. Sure enough, for the past day, he had been hosting Steve.

Now our Suffolk ram is back in the barn where he wants to be, and he has some new roommates. The Farmer put some ewes in there with him, and hopefully they will become better acquainted with each other. After a while those ewes will switch places with another lot, until the whole flock has visited with Steve.

Hopefully by the time we let him out again, he will have grown so fond of his ladies that he will not want to leave.

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