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Monday, February 27, 2012

Hidin' on the big bad wolf

In my half-asleep state the other night I thought I heard Chelsea the sheepdog barking in the barnyard but I wasn't completely lucid so I just went back to sleep. Some time later, at about 3 in the morning, Cody started barking, this time directly under my window. That got me up.


I lifted the blind and looked out the window. Cody's nose was pointing north, toward the back field. I quickly tiptoed to the other room to get a better look.

A full moon glowed down on the pasture. And there were three huge coyotes, truckin' across the field on a diagonal, toward the barnyard - and my sheep.

I pushed the window open, clapped my hands loudly and shouted at the coyotes. They turned and shot out of sight. In my panic I had scared them back into hiding - and probably woke everyone in the house.

Actually the Farmer was still asleep, on his good ear. My sneaking back into bed woke him. I told him about Wile E. Coyote and friends. "Why didn't you wake me?!" He said, as he swung his legs out of bed and pulled on his jeans.

I decided to accompany him, to be his lookout. We dressed warmly, almost too warmly for the night.

We didn't turn any lights on as we collected what we needed for the hunt.

The light would tip the coyotes off but we didn't need it anyway, the moon was so bright.

The Farmer had seen coyote tracks in the barnyard recently, so we had been leaving the horse and donkey out all night to scare them away.

On this night, however, the sheep were all sleeping around the feeders on their bed of hay and the bigger animals were nowhere in sight.

Just then we heard the clop clop of hooves on ice. The horse and donkey emerged from the barn, where they had no doubt bullied the sheep for the best sheltered sleeping spots. This is how my sheep get broken ankles, the horse crowds into their space and steps on them by accident. I brought this to the Farmer's attention. "Some watchdogs they are," he commented.

We did see the pack of coyotes again that night, but they were moving too quickly behind the trees for a good shot. The Farmer swears that in that light, if I had only woken him when I first saw the pack, he would have hit at least one.

We decided to open up the interior room of the barn, most recently vacated by the calf and cow, for the sheep to use.

They could go in there for shelter and safety, and the short door meant the horse and donkey could not follow.

The next night, sheep were safely and happily holed up in the barn, and the horse and donkey were guarding the door. In the morning, one of the fattest of the sheep was firmly stuck in the hay feeder.

They get stuck often, and don't have the strength, energy or coordination to get themselves back out.

The Farmer tried tying a rope around her and pulling, but she just lay there like a lump, firmly stuck.

I climbed into the feeder, wiggled under her hind end and pushed up until he could pull her out.

This, I thought, is how farmers have heart attacks.

On the way back to the house the Farmer told me that he had seen a sheep with blood around her neck.

She had obviously gone a few rounds with the coyote before he was interrupted by the donkey and she wriggled loose.

Those coyotes are four-legged, mangy vampires. They always go for the neck.

We can't be out there all the time, keeping our animals from harm.

Hopefully they will have the sense to head for shelter when night falls or when the horse and donkey spot a coyote. I've seen them standing stock still, my two sentries, staring off into the distance. The sheep were staring in the same direction, so they must have been communicating danger to each other.

I followed their gaze, without moving a muscle, and watched the quiet field for more than a minute before I suddenly saw what they were watching.

A lone coyote stepped down from his perch on the stone fence and loped back across the field to his den.

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