sheep greetings

I don’t know why we are still relearning how sweet sheep are. I guess it says something about their reputation–and how different (our) sheep are from their reputation.

This morning’s lesson: I went out to say hello to the sheep after breakfast. I hadn’t seen the sheep much over the past 2.5 weeks due to travel, work, and the time change. I usually say hello to the sheep when I toss the cat poop bags on the front porch (!), when I leave for work, and when I get home, but it’s usually dark (if not pitch black) by the time I get home these days. And I don’t remember the last time I actually visited them.

So, this morning I went out in my wellies, pjs, Ron’s farm jacket (mine is still in the closet because I’ve been too busy to pull it out), and a polar fleece hat. I started walking towards the fence where I’d do what our amazing farm vet calls the “can can” over the fence. Before I got very far, the sheep (and Diego) came around from behind the corn patch area and then started jogging over.

Sure seemed like they were running to greet me.

Most of them took turns saying hello. Tagine was his usual friendly, pushy self, wanting pets and doing a lot of  l e a n i n g  on my leg. June Bug was near by so I stuck out my hand towards her face. She sniffed my fingers, gave me a cute look, and then wandered off. Pretty nice for shy Junie. PJ also sniffed my hand, but dashed off (also bold for even more shy PJ). Many of them were over by their hay feeder so I wandered over there. I squatted down and started giving Brownie pets at which point Cinnamon jogged over and shoved her face in my face. She even started nibbling on my chin, which she has never done before. Crescent still does this, but Cinnamon seemed to be extra affectionate today. Then I made the rounds with Chaco and Francisco and Tatanka. Strangely, Half Moon was doing his own thing eating hay in the sheep shack, given that he had helped lead everyone over. Also somewhat surprisingly, Crescent and Joseph weren’t very interested in pets.

Later I was thinking about Brownie’s return after her hot date at A’s farm two years ago when she had an extended “play date” with an intact ram and got pregnant with Half Moon. Upon her return, the sheep took turns going up to her. At the time, Junie was happiest to see her because she was still pretty young when her sheep-mom left for almost 6 weeks. As I recall, Spot and Brownie were last to greet. Not surprising since they always had issues, which we could entirely never understand (two alpha ewes??).

This morning, I hadn’t seen the sheep much over the past 2.5 weeks and I think they were greeting me with extra affection because the blonde sheep had been gone so much.

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of llama and lambs

Here’s another guest post from Ron. Not sure about the ratio of “regular” and “guest” posts in recent months, however.

Diego the llama has been with us for several months now, and I have spent a fair amount of time observing the interactions between him and our flock of Navajo Churro sheep. As some readers may recall, we held high hopes for him as a guardian of our little flock, particularly following the failed coyote attack on Joseph the lamb. The intra-species interactions would be interesting to watch from the perspective of a dispassionate observer of animal behavior. This description does not apply to me, though, as I freely admit an excessive attachment to our sheep and have accordingly been watching for any signs of aggression, mating behavior, or–on the positive side–development of a bond between the two species. In summary, in spite of a few glitches, I have been very pleased, and at times touched, by the somewhat gradual development of this multi-species flock.   

With that, I will tell you about Diego and Chaco the lamb. Chaco is Cinnamon’s (not so) little boy, and the first lamb born in 2017. We saw him slip out of his mother on a lovely April morning followed by his brother Francisco (Paco) 10 minutes later. Both lambs are a shade of white quite distinct from Diego’s chocolate brown coat. The day I integrated Diego with the sheep flock, Chaco came walking up and introduced himself with a nose inclined towards Diego’s face. Chaco seemed to have no fear of this six foot tall, two hundred plus pound creature. Diego, however, turned and scooted away. An odd power dynamic considering Chaco might weigh 40 pounds with eyes at the level of my thighs. Chaco was not dissuaded though and tried this again several times that day with Diego growing more comfortable with this much smaller, white creature. A week or so later I caught the tail end of a different interaction with Diego slowly chasing Chaco around the pasture. I did not see any potential for harm, but Chaco was a little disturbed by this. I let it play out and all was calm in a few minutes.  Perhaps Diego was irritated with the invasion of his personal space, or perhaps he was herding his little charge. I have not seen this again.

A week or so later, we looked out in the pasture, Diego was lying down, and Chaco was standing right next to him–looking his hero Diego in the face from a few feet away. This went on for something like 30 minutes. At the least Diego had decided to tolerate his lamb worshipper. However, I gathered later that more than tolerance was likely occurring.

A day or two after moving the flock to a new pasture I noticed burdocks in some of the lambs’ wool. This can make mess of the wool so I went out, pulled up any burdock, and cut the burrs out from those lambs that would let me grab them. Chaco and Paco are too skittish for this so I had to lure them in to the catch pen. Once I had the two white boys corralled, Diego came running over and stood right next to us on the other side of the catch pen fence intently watching. When I grabbed Paco and flipped him on his butt, Diego let out an alarmed whine and got quite agitated. I then did the same to Chaco and Diego paced the fence line whining. When I set them down the llama stuck his long nose through the fence and sniffed everyone as if to check that they were okay. Diego did not relax until I let everyone out in to the pasture. To me this showed an obvious sign of a protective bond, especially for those two (not so) little white lambs.

That evening I was sitting on the back patio as the day’s light faded and I saw Cinnamon walk out into the pasture to graze with her two boys. This time of fading light is the golden hour for many predators. Diego got up and followed the trio into the pasture and simply stood next to them, watching the tree line–looking, looking, looking. At one point Chaco put his face up towards Diego, just like on the first day, and Diego stretched his long neck down and briefly touched noses with his admirer.

As a biologist I know it is bad practice to interpret or apply human emotions to the animals we observe. However, it is hard to imagine the gesture of touching noses as anything but affection, bonding, family. Diego is Chaco’s hero, and this shepherd’s hero as well.

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a shepherd and his sheep

Ron got back from a trip early this week. I picked him up at the airport and we got home just before dusk. As usual, the sheep (and their llama, Diego) were out and about.

When Ron got out of the car to unlock the garage, he said hello to the sheep who were hanging out under the pine trees. They looked up and were very interested.

He went into the garage, opened the door, I pulled the car in, and then we started unloading my work stuff and his travel stuff. As is often the case, we stood at the entrance to the garage and looked over at the sheep.

By that point, all of the sheep had wandered over to the fence line near the garage and stared at Ron with big eyes and perky ears.

It was hard not to imagine the cartoon bubbles over their heads: “Look! It’s our shepherd. Where were you this week???”

We brought our stuff into the house, I started fixing dinner, and Ron went outside to do the day-end chores a bit later than usual–collect the eggs, check on the chickens, fetch the mail, lock the garage, and check on the sheep.

Once the leftovers were on reheating, I wandered over to the west desk and saw Ron out in the near pasture with his sheep. They were in a big sheep blob around him, obviously saying hello and the friendlier ones–Tagine, Half Moon, Cinnamon, Francisco (who has turned into a big sweetie), and, of course, Crescent and Joseph–getting pets. It was clear they were very glad to see him–and he was glad to see them, too.

We did not think being sheep owners was going to be like this. It’s made losing sheep like Spot and lambing season a lot harder because we have so much affection for these fuzzy creatures.

But it’s a helluva lot better than instrumental functionalism that treats the sheep as if they are nonhuman, lifeless commodities.

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on the job

Thankfully, Diego the llama is, as Ron puts it, on the job.

Integration Friday afternoon went smoothly. Poor Diego was castrated Wednesday afternoon and we had planned to integrate him with the flock Saturday morning, but Ron decided to do it a little early.

Diego was less certain about the whole thing than the sheep. The sheep really weren’t scared or intimidated, mostly curious. Meanwhile, Diego stood away for a while, watching, scampering off when someone–often Chaco the lamb–got too close.

More than a bit funny to see a llama (at least) twice the weight of the adults and four times the weight of the lambs–and more than twice as tall–dash off because he’s nervous about the sheep.

Diego got a bit more relaxed as the day and weekend went on. He sniffed all the sheep, in that personal, animal “get to know you” way. Pretty soon he was hanging around with them, more at a distance, but closer as the hours went on.

On Saturday, the flock was divided in half, with some of the sheep resting under the pine trees and the rest grazing a hundred feet away. Diego was initially with the sleepy sheep, but he kept watching the others. At one point, he got up and then laid down with the grazing sheep. The cartoon bubble over his head seemed to say, “time to check out the sheep over there.”

Here’s a photo of him in typical watch-the-sheep mode.

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After three days together now, we humans are breathing a lot easier. The integration went well, Diego is very curious and watchful, and the sheep aren’t bothered by him at all. In fact, they seem to like Tio (Uncle) Diego.

If I remember, I’ll write about that tomorrow.

In the meantime, another photo of Diego and his sheep. I particularly like this one because Half Moon is looking right at the camera in typical Half Moon mode. You can also see how big the lambs are getting (PJ with the butterfly on his forehead on the left; Crescent hiding behind Half Moon; Cinnamon’s twin (white) boys on the right; Francisco is the whiter one, Chaco is more beige).

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update on joseph

We are relieved to share that Joseph the lamb is doing very well after the coyote attack Tuesday afternoon.

PHEW.

He is recovering amazingly quickly–physically at least. The vet stitched him up and he has five days of penicillin, pain meds, and this anti-fly spray stuff once per day. He’s now on day #4 of treatment.

Joseph had a definite hobble the first day, but each day his limp has gotten better and better. It was hard watching him trying to run the first day or two because he was so gimpy (and slow), but now he’s a lot better. I don’t think most people would even notice that he has a little hobble when he walks now.

In terms of personality, though, he’s still not entirely himself. It’s actually pretty funny. The first morning or two after the Awful Coyote Attack, Ron let the sheep out of Fort Knox around 6 in the morning. Several of the sheep tend to wander by, pause, greet Ron, and get a few pets before moving on to graze.

[OK, think about this for a minute. Sheep greeting their shepherd and wanting pets!?!?]

The first few mornings, Joseph wandered by and stopped for pets. After a pet or two, he suddenly stopped and then dashed off. It was like the cartoon bubble over his head said, “Good morning, Ron! Ahh, pets… Wait!?! I’m not supposed to like you right now because you held me for over an hour while the vet stitched me up and now you are giving me a shot, pain meds, and spraying that strange stuff on me…”

That said, we’ve been able to nab Joseph pretty easily to give him his daily treatment. He’s a pretty resilient and sweet lamb. Ron grabs him, flips him over on his butt, I’m the nurse’s aide and hand Ron the syringe and pain pills, while trying to help keep Joseph from wiggling too much. I’ve been getting a handful of corn and putting it my pocket for after his little medical regime. Joseph seems to really like the corn treat. He often doesn’t get much, if any, because the adult sheep are much bigger and more motivated.

Two more days of post-attack treatment and then hopefully he’ll keep recovering without any issues.

And hopefully we won’t have any more coyote attacks thanks to Tio Diego who is now integrated with the flock.

More on that tomorrow.

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despite diego

We believe sweet Joseph the lamb was attacked by a coyote between 4 and 6 yesterday afternoon. Full daylight (!!).

The coyote conundrum intensifies.

The subject heading is actually misleading because the sheep and Diego the llama are not yet integrated.

Undoubtedly that was part of the problem.

We’ve been getting Diego’s vaccinations up to snuff so that we could then have the poor guy castrated. We’re in the waiting period between shots #1 and #2.

Then this.

Diego was in the upper northwestern pasture (his usual territory for the moment). The sheep had the run of most of the meadow. We’re not sure about timing, but I was doing wage work, Ron went for a walk, I left for yoga, Ron came back to do farm chores around 4, he started making dinner around 5:30, I got home at 6:10, and we were eating dinner around 6:30 when Ron noticed that Joseph was limping.

Limping is often–usually–nothing. The sheep seem to twist their feet and ankles semi-regularly, but it sorts itself out after a day or two. He was grazing so we figured it wasn’t that bad. We finished dinner and immediately went out to check on Joseph.

I got there first and tried to look at his back left leg. I noticed a strange wet substance on his leg like he had walked through grass with a lot of rain. Not a good sign. Ron got there, and because Joseph is so calm and trusts us so much, Ron was able to walk up to him, pick him up, and flip him on his sheepie butt. This is how you check out sheep.

Poor Joseph immediately flashed a puncture wound about the size of a quarter on the inside of his back left leg.

Not. A. Good. Sign.

Ron gently felt his leg and we saw some more scraping wounds on the inside of the same leg. More. Not. Good.

I came inside, called Cornell vet (meaning their after hours answering service), and waited for the return call. The vet called back within 15 minutes and we asked him to come out. Unfortunately, after hours = extra $$.

The vet was at the farm within 30 minutes. While we were waiting for him, we struggled to catch Joseph. Initially, Ron had taken Joseph into the greenhouse after we discovered his wounds without any struggle. But both Joseph and the rest of the sheep were upset. They really don’t like when one of them is missing (see: poor sweet Spot).

Ron decided to put him back in Fort Knox with the rest of the flock. But while we were waiting for the vet, we had to nab Joseph again. Not so easy this time given his suspicion and 10 other suspicious sheep. Too much running around and avoiding us–even Joseph with his wounded leg and serious limp. One of Cinnamon’s twin boys somehow ran up my back and leaped over my head, knocking off my baseball hat, in an attempt to escape as I was bent over trying to grab Joseph.

Finally, a tray of corn did the trick. I walked into the sheep shack with the corn. Most of the usual suspects followed me–Cinnamon (of course, aka Corn Girl), Tagine, Half Moon, one of Cinnamon’s boys, and Joseph. Ron shut the door behind me, then we juggled the door to allow him in, and Ron was able to nab Joseph pretty easily in the confined space with only 5 sheep (and Cinnamon happily munching the entire tray of corn despite the strange behavior and events going on–again, see Corn Girl).

Ron carried poor Joseph back into the greenhouse and I stayed with him. He was a bit wound up at first, standing up at the window/walls, but I grabbed him, gave him a big bear (sheep??) hug, and he calmed down. I plopped down on the (dirty) hay, held him, and kept petting him. He just stood there letting me pet him until Ron and the vet got there.

The vet inspected poor Joseph, started shaving the wool off his leg, and ended up finding 6 wounds, the worst of which was a large, 3″ wound in his back thigh. Exposed muscle in the wounds needing stitches. Small amount of muscle damage in two spots. The vet stitched up the larger wounds, gave him penicillin, pain meds, and some anti-toxin something, and gave us directions on how to take care of him the next 5 days. It took about 90 minutes from start to finish.

Joseph was pretty calm through the whole thing. Ron had him on his back or side on his lap. Joseph kicked his back legs a bit now and again, and sometimes wiggled, but we were able to keep him calm and quiet for the most part. I’m sure the fact that we spent much of 12 hours in the greenhouse with him the first day he and his twin sister were born helped.

We heard coyotes howling at one another around 10:30 when we tried to go to bed. Ron spent the night in his sleeping bag near the sheep. I tossed and turned in bed, not sleeping much. We haven’t let the sheep out of Fort Knox yet this morning. They are confused. Cinnamon is mostly guarding the door and baaing at us when we go outside. But the sheep are fairly calm and have less room to run around, which is good for Joseph’s recovery.

Joseph is putting some weight on his back leg, which is a very good sign. He even did this immediately after surgery last night. Joseph was standing up, nursing, and bright eyed this morning (but still hobbling), which makes us feel much better. The vet expressed a lot of optimism that Joseph will eventually make a full recovery. Of course, for the next week, he will have severe limitations and is therefore quite vulnerable. I assume he won’t be at 100% for some time after that.

So, given that what we hoped wouldn’t happen occurred last night (although not as bad as we feared–KNOCK ON WOOD), we have decided Diego’s integration needs to be accelerated. To today. The risk of him mating with a ewe is less than the (known) risk of coyote attack so we plan a gradual and supervised introduction to the sheep today.

A lot rests on poor Diego the llama’s shoulders.

 

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coyote conundrum

Here is another guest post from Ron.

All my life I have thrilled at the sound of coyotes howling and I’ve had the rare privilege of hearing wolves in the wild in Montana. I hold great admiration for these intelligent and adaptable creatures and have donated to many causes and signed many a petition to protect their right to live and hunt in our wild places.

We hear the howl of the Eastern Coyote frequently at White Pine Farm, and thrill to it as always. However, since our sheep have been here this thrill is mixed with a deep trepidation. Coyotes eat sheep! We have never had a problem and the most serious steps I have taken include improving and monitoring the perimeter fence, and on occasion walking into our dark pastures at night and responding to nearby howling with a hearty “NO COYOTES ALLOWED HERE!”

But, alas, there has been an upswing in sheep predation this summer. Our cohorts in sheep raising up the hill lost a lamb, and had two more injured badly. One of the injured may not survive. Other shepherds have lost sheep on Snyder Hill and only a mile or two away down near the village of Brooktondale. So despite my admiration for these creatures, something must be done. The immediate solution was the quick construction of a 50 by 50 foot safe pen (now known as Fort Knox) with a 7-foot fence and 2-foot wire skirt around the perimeter. The sheep have contentedly spent the night there the last week or so, and love bouncing around in the sheep shack. This is not something I really want to do long term though.

Hence, we introduce to you Diego the llama!

diego

I found this handsome boy at an alpaca farm to the north where the owners have aged out of farm work. Diego and his father Reuben journeyed down here in the owner’s horse trailer last week and Reuben has joined the farm family up the hill. I have told a few people about the new member of our farm family and not surprisingly they do not see the connection between coyote attacks and our desire to have a llama.

Llamas are natural guard animals and have been used for centuries to protect sheep. They are bigger, much taller in stature, and have an instinctive hatred for all things canid. Unlike the sheep, they will confront a canid intruder with a loud alarm call and stomping. The wise coyote will quickly look elsewhere for dinner, or risk serious injury or even death. Coyote, 40 pounds, llama 200 plus. This is not good arithmetic for Wily E.

Diego is currently an intact male, so castration is a pre-requisite for integration into the flock. Intact llama males may try to mate with ewes (!). Again, ewe 100 pounds, llama 200 plus. Not good arithmetic for the sheep. This will take a few weeks as the Cornell vet wants his immunizations up to date before surgery. For now he is sadly alone, and not too happy about it. He can see the sheep and seems to want to be with them, but not just yet poor Diego!

It is my sincere hope that he bonds with the sheep as expected, and lives with and protects them for many years. I hope this is the case as not only do I want our sheep safe, but I find myself already growing quite fond of this beautiful, calm animal.

So more later on the great llama adventure!

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