Thursday, March 13, 2014

One of those Days...

Folks who read my Flying Mule Farm facebook posts (at might get the impression that lambing season consists of six weeks of bucolic bliss - of problem-free births, gamboling lambs, green grass and sunshine.  And while I do enjoy this time of year immensely, lambing season does offer its share of challenges.  Like any profession, shepherding offers good days and bad.  Yesterday was the latter.

My day started with the realization that the 3+ acre paddock I'd built on a steep hillside the day before only contained about 36 hours worth of grass for our 150 ewes.  Because of the terrain, the 12-net paddock had taken me about 4 hours to build.  I rearranged yesterday's schedule so that I could move the sheep onto fresh feed in the afternoon - and hopefully have time to go to a drought meeting and my daughter's high school soccer match.

Moving the paddock went fairly smoothly.  I started at 3 p.m., and by 5:15 I was ready to move the sheep the 200 yards to their new home.  Between the old paddock and the new one I'd built, we'd need to cross a small seasonal creek (less than 12 inches wide) and a blacktop road.

Ewes with new lambs are difficult to move - they want to stay put, and they want to fight the dogs.  Lambs that are 2+ weeks old can also be difficult - they have no fear of the dogs, and they don't understand that moving means going to fresh feed (the ewes, by contrast, know when I'm setting up fence that they get to go somewhere good).

About two-thirds of the sheep crossed the creek and the road and went right into their new paddock.  Another group stayed back with their lambs, but the dogs and I worked them across the creek and into the new field easily enough.  All we had left was approximately 20 lambs (without their mothers).  By now it was about 6:15.

These lambs would work their way down to the small creek and decide it looked like the Grand Canyon.  They'd then double back and run to the old paddock - back up the hill.  The dogs and I must have gathered and pushed them to the creek a dozen times.  We tried bringing a few ewes back to them so they'd get the idea that the creek was cross-able - no luck there, either.  Finally, as it grew dark, I called my friend Roger to help me.  He arrived with a flashlight, and at 8:25, we finally caught the last delinquent lamb and put her in the new paddock.  By then, all I had left to do was fill water troughs, feed the guard dog and hook up the electric fence.  I rolled into the driveway at home at about 9:10 - 14 hours after I'd left for the day.  Whew!

This morning, I'm happy to report, we were back in the land of bucolic bliss - all the lambs were mothered up, and we had a new set of twins born overnight.  Days like yesterday make me even more grateful for days like today!

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