More Departures

sheep in summer

Last Saturday afternoon, even while I was anxiously awaiting the pick-up of my heifer Phoenix, I had a call from the woman who had bought five of my crossbred Clun Forest x Romney sheep in September and was now due to fetch them. She said she was on her way, but — she had not been able to arrange to borrow a trailer, after all. We would just have to put them in the back of her truck with a cap. She thought she would be at the farm around nightfall.

Oh my goodness. My heart sank. These ewes each weighed as much as I do and were much, much more athletic. After a summer out on pasture they were also very wild. This woman was a couple of years older than I am. Even if we could carry each one out of the barn, how would we keep two to four frantic sheep in a truck while struggling to push in another? I anticipated an epic.

My endurance for epics was then at a low ebb.

“I’m sure it will be fine,” the woman assured me cheerfully, adding that she was bringing a friend to help.

After Phoenix was safely loaded and gone I raced home and telephoned Alex, the high school boy who helps me occasionally after school. Would he be willing to come down for an hour and be a sheep wrestler?

He would.

For all my anxiety, loading proceeded almost like clockwork. The woman brought not one but two men friends. Counting Alex, we were five adults to five ewes — a comfortable equation.

Using my crook, I hooked each ewe by a hind leg and dragged her out of the sheep stall while Alex manned the gate, opening and closing it behind me. Then, together, Alex and Man #1 carried the ewe down the barn aisle to the barn doors, which the new owner slid open.  Man #2 lifted the hatch on the truck cap, and we all boosted the ewe over the tailgate.

As I had spread the bed of the truck with hay and scattered a can’s worth of grain, the sheep were quickly distracted and gobbling.

It all went so smoothly that the non-shepherds among us relaxed their vigilance. Briar was the last ewe to be loaded. When I pulled her out of the flock, she lay down on the aisle floor and refused to move. Alex went to lift her but Man #1 protested, “Oh, let her rest,” released his hold, and straightened his back. Immediately Briar jumped to her feet and shot down the aisle toward the front of the barn, where the doors had been carelessly left open. “Close the doors!” I screamed, picturing Briar galloping merrily over 22 acres in the dark. The doors slammed shut just in time, Briar was caught and lifted into the truck, and the cap was locked, then reinforced with a tie-down of baling twine.

Goodbye, Bean, Smoky, Snowy, Briar, and Chai. All but Smoky were born on the farm. They all felt like friends. Last summer when I realized I had to downsize severely, the thought of possibly having to send so many of my good girls to slaughter had made my heart drop like a stone.

I sold Blossom and Mango, my Romney/Corriedales. Madeleine, with her grossly inadequate milk supply, I had reluctantly sent to slaughter with the spring lambs. Selling these last five, I had given the new owner a very good deal, and even kept the ewes an extra month to have them bred, simply to assure they would go together to a great new home.

I now have only ten ewes, a perfect number for my current barn set-up, and they are all purebred Clun Forest sheep. Three are ewe lambs; seven should be bred for spring.

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