It is 40° this morning. The goal for today is to bring the sheep home from Betty’s acres down the road. I wilt slightly, contemplating the day ahead.
The sheep have had an excellent summer on pasture. They are on their second pass down Betty’s field, and the grass, which was mown after their first trip through, is now fresh, sweet “second-cut.” They gobble it like candy, leaving nothing behind. The shorn area in the front of their fence was clipped by the sheep, not by the mower.
Betty’s field is wonderful grazing but has a number of challenges. It has no water; I carry a tank in my old truck all summer. It is surrounded by stone walls and has no easy access for a trailer; Damon drove the truck and trailer in through a small gap between the boulders for me last night and, with luck, his tracks in the grass will show me the path to repeat the very tight five-point turn by myself, as today’s work will undoubtedly require at least two trips and Damon cannot be there.
But the greatest drawback is that the field has no structure on it. There is nothing with hard walls into which I can coax the sheep before trying to load them. Electric fences are useless in this scenario. An electric fence only works if fear of the shock is greater than any animal’s desire to go through it. My netting fences are really only glorified string. If the sheep were seriously alarmed, they would stampede through the fences in a flash. The more athletic ewes would sail over them.
Every year I firmly write design sheep handling system on my summer list. Every year there is no time. Someday I will have all this infrastructure in place. But that day is not yet.
Thus yesterday afternoon Kyle and I piled the old truck with the ramshackle collection of pieces I’ve hammered together out of old pallets. With these, some wire fencing panels, t-posts, zip ties, and a pasture gate, we hope to put together a system that will allow us to catch the sheep and load them in the trailer.
I’ve had these hopes before.
I called Damon yesterday to ask if he wanted to work a couple of hours today.
“I’m already working,” he said. “What’cha doin’?”
“Loading the sheep at Betty’s.”
There was a short silence before he burst into derisive laughter. “A coupl’a hours?! Right!”
Damon has helped me several times in the last five years and even though he arrives after I’ve set up my rough catch system, we are usually sweating through half a day of frustration. Twice we’ve had to leave a wild ewe or two in the field for another day. Once I fell over backwards into the forty-gallon water trough. Damon’s usual sheep-handling advice is: “Shoot ’em all.”
I thought it might be easier if we had three people on the job this year, but Damon is tearing apart a truck engine today for a friend. Still, he volunteered to back the trailer into the field for me last night. As the sun set, he looked at all the fencing panels and pallets lying waiting in the grass to be set up today. He did not say anything.
But when he dropped me at home he murmured wickedly, “A coupl’a hours!“