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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cows Can Learn To Share

Whoever wrote that Farmer’s Almanac entry for this summer was wrong, so far. I thought we were supposed to have a wet summer? It has been so dry that in the two months the sheep have been out on the pasture, they have devoured ten acres. Nature has not replenished the food supply, so we have to move the sheep. Today the Farmer opened the half-door through the barn to the cows’ side of the property.

I went out to watch the proceedings. As it was near mid-day, the cattle were napping in the cool of the barn. The sheep were doing the same, on their side of the barn. Within a few minutes of opening the half-door in the middle, the sheep had made their discovery.

The loud ‘baas’ of the first few sheep announcing the new access to pasture woke the cattle from their slumber. Betty must have been thinking, ‘what the…?’ as she watched several dozen sheep file past her, into her pasture.

The general consensus among those who work with farm animals is that cattle are sensitive animals. They think, worry about the future, hold a grudge, learn from their experiences and exhibit distinct personalities. When something happens to interrupt their otherwise bucolic existence, such as a coming or going of other animals, I watch closely to see how they will react.

It isn’t that the cows don’t like the sheep. But they do have a hierarchy amongst them in the herd, which relates to who goes first, who eats first, and where they are positioned for sleep. Throwing forty ewes and sixty-odd lambs into the mix just complicates everything.

The cattle don’t like sheep in their sleeping area, but at twenty-five acres there should be enough for everyone to share. Territory only becomes a problem when the sheep get confused and can’t find their way back to their usual sleeping quarters, in the inner sanctum of the barn, blocked from horse, donkey or cow. If they get mixed up and attempt to sleep in the cattle area instead, there’s going to be a problem.

I hope the sheep stay out of the way of the cows, because I don’t want anyone else getting a broken leg. We already have one little lamb, happily on the mend, whose leg had to be splinted after he was stepped on by the horse. Which brings me to another consideration. The horse and donkey have not been given access to the cattle pasture - just the sheep. Donkey is at this very moment standing in the open door of the barn, looking over a cross bar that has been placed there to keep him on his own side. I know what he is thinking. With a little help from his huge friend Misty, they will be on the same side as everyone else in no time.

We made it through the Spring without a single coyote kill. This is a big deal. Every year we lose half a dozen lambs or more to the wild dogs. This year we have seen no evidence of a single kill. On the other hand, we can’t find Spot. He was one of the lambs that we left a full male, for his size and strength, in the hope that he might one day be our ram. He was named for the huge brown spot on his left hip. We haven’t seen him in a few weeks. It may be time to do another walkabout the property. I’m pretty sure he didn’t just outgrow his markings.

I hope the cows protect my sheep as well as the horse and donkey have done.

Tonight, as night is falling, I hear the sheep bawling because they can’t remember how they got over to the cows’ side of the property and they want to return to the other side. Half of them made it through, and half of them stayed on the other side. They are now consulting through the fence.

I hope it rains a bit more in July, so we can move the sheep back over to the house side of the barnyard, on new grass. I worry about them when I can’t see them throughout the day. And I don’t like them stressing out my cows.

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