First, the bluebirds are back! Every year for the past six, a flock of Western Bluebirds have visited the farm. They may have been coming for longer, but six years ago one of my cats brought me a sample bird and I realized they were here. I saw them again yesterday. It was a flock of about ten. They were busy cleaning up where I’d tossed scratch for the chickens. When they realized I was watching them, they flew through the chain link fence that surrounds the orchard.
Ah-HAH! That’s why my chicken food has been disappearing so rapidly. The little beggars have been helping themselves. Well, anything that keeps those flashes of blue and red on the farm. Now on to Peanut.
As you may remember Peanut has gone from sweet little lambikin to full-on, head-butting ram. Although he’s not nearly as aggressive as Cinco was–that is, if you’re me–he is pretty much challenging everyone else. Thank heavens that at almost a year old he’s only about half the size of Cinco, if you don’t count his side rolls of fat. I put his pudginess up to the fact he didn’t get enough colostrum. But being obese means he doesn’t get much steam up before he hits you.
Since Cinco’s move from field to freezer, Peanut has become the ‘ram-of-the-flock.’ This means that Tiny, as the matriarch-ewe, goes first, followed by her two new boys, followed by Peanut’s sister Mari, then Peanut brings up the rear. This works very well almost all of the time because, being obese and all, Peanut can’t keep up with those more fit. This morning, it all went wrong for him.
I’ve recently run netted fencing between my exterior fence and Oak Creek, enclosing my prettiest piece of former cow pasture. It’s full of Johnson grass, blackberries, saplings, and nutsedge, as well as a thick layer of tasty dried leaves–sheep potato chips. As tasty as that is for my flock, the sheep really don’t like being out there. It’s strange and I’m certain it smells of predators. Thus to get them there I need to resort to treats. This morning that treat was chicken food. After the chickens, turkeys, and bluebirds are finished going through their pans of food, what remains is basically dust. But sheep have lips and they like tasty dust. So after opening the gate to their new pasture and throwing in a token bit of alfalfa, I took the chicken food pan, which all the sheep recognize from their frequent attempts to break into the turkey coop, to the base of the barren hillside where they’ve been reluctantly staying.
They were instantly at the gateway, ready to eat. There was much jostling as I opened the gate, which is made of my favorite building material (handy panels). Tiny pushed her way out onto the bridge followed by one of her new boys. As near as I can reconstruct, Peanut wasn’t willing to take last place when chicken food dust was involved. Thus he pushed past Mari and did his best to push past boy #2 as that ram lamb started through the narrow gap between the two panels and onto the bridge.
I heard the splash but didn’t dare stop. I needed Tiny to be in the pasture. If she balks, they all balk. I made it past the gate, put down the pan of food dust, and turned back toward the bridge over the ditch just as Boy #2 entered the pasture. Behind the handy panels, Mari was crying. Somehow, in their jostling Peanut and his brother had managed to push the two panels closed behind them. Peanut was nowhere to be seen, although I did hear more splashing. That’s when I realized Peanut had fallen in the ditch and was swimming.
First, although I can’t speak for other flocks, I’m positive that none of my sheep like getting their feet wet. Second, the ditch is deeper than Peanut is tall in that area. Certain that my former pet and now unwanted ram was drowning, I raced back to the bridge. Just as I got close, Peanut reached the bank on the wrong side–my neighbor’s side–of the bridge. Up he went, right through the thick stand of Western Poison Ivy until he reached the thick stand of nutsedge at the path that cuts along the hill right there. Although dripping wet, his feet were buried in nutsedge and Peanut was looking pretty pleased with himself. He had survived his swim and was being rewarded by fresh, green grass.
I, on the other hand, was gritting my teeth. I need a Border Collie. Sheep are not known for their compliance, especially when you have to remove them from food they like.
I left him where he was and got Mari into the pasture with her mom and siblings. Then, up the hillside I went to the new gate that my neighbor so nicely installed. It’s a vestibule with gates at either end. I opened both gates and called to Peanut. He ignored me. Not wanting to walk all the way back to the barn for more treats, I cajoled then tried to push him in the direction of the gate. He lowered his head in threat. He was staying and that was that.
Just then and much to my surprise rescue showed up. Moosie came up to join us. He wanted to know what we were doing and why Peanut gets to go to the neighbor’s property when he can’t.
As far as Peanut is concerned, Moosie, who cleaned him just after birth, is his people.Fortunately for me, Moosie does respond to commands. I let him walk past Peanut, then called him back. Just like that, instinct clicked on and Peanut followed his flock. Good dog, Moosie!
Once back on home soil and still dripping wet from his unexpected swim in the ditch, Peanut then realized where his real flock was and ran to join them. I closed the gate on him with a sigh of relief, then I ran for the house. While poison ivy doesn’t affect a wool-coated sheep, it does affect me and I had touched Peanut. I could already feel the burn on my arms and hands. I hit the bathroom, pulled out my precious cake of Burt’s Bees Poison Ivy soap, and washed. Ah, immediate relief. I love that stuff.
I wonder how long it will be before I can touch Peanut again.