Sheep 101… This is the plan for my day. I am going to Marcia’s to help crutch, wig, and trim the hooves of 10 beautiful Romney sheep, or at least they will be more beautiful when we’re done with them. While downing my morning coffee, I picked up an issue of “Sheep!” magazine. Woo Hoo! my lucky day, an article on sheep-handling! I read the article, committing it to memory as if there would be a test later. One statement jumped out at me… “A few people are all it takes to move a few hundred sheep, if done correctly”. Hmmmm…. I donned my sloggers and headed off to Rainshadow Farm. The Good Shepherdess, Marcia, outlined “The Plan” to the three of us – 10 sheep in the upper pasture need to be moved down the road to the barn. Easy-peasy. Rick and Sharon have sheep, so this herding thing is not totally new to them. I, on the other hand, am in total “sandbox” here, so I am paying very close attention to the Good Shepherdess. Rick has brought his very own shepherd’s crook (he’s done this before), Sharon is in charge of the grain bucket, and I have been given a riding crop, which I am told, will make the sheep think my arms are longer than they actually are. I also learned that sheep have some depth perception and other vision issues so the riding-crop-looking-like-an-arm-extension probably made sense.
Off we go, heads held high in the morning sunshine, we walked boldly up the road toward the pasture while Marcia unveiled more of “The Plan” to us, apparently we need to separate the sheep from the goats, who are also in the same pasture. Really, how hard can this be, we are 4 people moving 10 sheep, approximately 2 blocks down a one-lane road with no traffic. Back to the mantra… “A few people are all it takes to move a few hundred sheep, if done correctly”. Then, our Good Shepherdess pointed out the potential obstacles that could derail “The Plan”, i.e., neighbor’s lawn of lush green never-been-grazed-upon grass, complete with a bumper crop of golden yellow dandelions waving in the morning breeze (are sheep color blind?), a roadside pond (yikes!), and a neighbor’s big brown barking dog (predator). I also learned that sheep are prey animals and we, humans, along with barking dogs, are considered predators to them. They can recognize who is the predator by the location and shape of the eyes…. hmmmmm, I wondered if I would appear more friendly to them with a wide-eyed sort of deer-in-the-headlights expression, which was conveniently coming naturally to me at the moment. So, out the gate and down the road we go, Sharon, the pied-piper of sheep, leading the way with the bucket of grain, sing-songing to the sheep and enticing them to follow her. Marcia, Rick and myself bringing up the rear and keeping the flock together… in theory. (Fortunately, since I was in the rear, the whole eye-contact predator look thingy was a non-issue.) A few minor detours and YES, we’re inside the gate and outside the barn. Oh, another thing I learned from the aforementioned article (and from Marcia) is that sheep don’t want to go where they can’t see, like into a dark barn, which is exactly where we were asking them to go. This part of “The Plan” proved to be more difficult than getting the sheep down the road.
Finally, into the barn they all went and we’re ready for the games to begin. Sharon and I were in charge of catching and delivering the sheep, one-by-wooly-one, to Marcia, who was standing at the ready, trimmers and shears in hand. Rick, our appointeed scribe, measured the de-worming dosage for each, scribbled out notes and ear-tag numbers as Marcia worked on the sheep. It was amazing to watch her, flip the sheep onto their rear-ends and begin working away, and explaining, mostly to me, what she was doing, removing the nasty wool from their rear-ends. It was hard to hear over the baaaa-baaaaa-ing of the sheep, and the buzz-buzzing of the shears… so in her outside voice Marcia said “it’s called crutching, like crotch, it’s a british term, like pistle or penis.” Okay…. I’ll file that away somewhere. Marcia also pointed out that a few of the sheep were wool-blind (too much wool on their faces blocking their vision), so wigging is the term for the hair cut at the other end. All kinds of new information! A few hours later and we were done, 10 whole sheep. Later, as we walked into the local “Grub Hut” for burgers and fries, we were high-fiving and strutting around like we’d done a hundred or more. Yes!! Go Team!!!! Driving home I had a deep and renewed appreciation for sheep (in the pasture) and fleece (in my spinning basket)!