year in review: the sheep

Richard, Mocha, and Latte went home yesterday.  It’s funny how critters, even those you don’t own, became part of one’s daily routine and expectations–and entertainment.  I kept looking out the kitchen window this morning, expecting them to be under the pine trees and waiting for Ron to bring them hay and break up their water bucket.

The Sheep Lady took them home, in part because of this week’s cold snap.  Last night and today are supposed to be around 10 F–without wind chill.  Tonight is supposed to be 3 F, but with wind chill, it will feel like -20 to -25 F.

Ouch!

The sheep didn’t have shelter here except for the pine trees, but, as we recall, the Sheep Lady said they don’t actually have shelter at home either.  So, we’re not sure why she took them home yesterday, but she did.  Part of it has to do with lambing cycles.  Part of it has to do with weather.  Part of it is that we don’t know.

It was fun having the sheep–from 2 to 4 at any one time–here since June.  First it was Richard and James.  Then Vincent and Long John got added to the all-male flock.  Then all the boys except Richard went elsewhere and the Sheep Lady brought us Latte and Mocha.

In addition to entertainment, the sheep did a great job mowing the pasture and what other people might call “lawn,” except it is far from coiffed and managed.  Of course, pasture management was the main goal of having them here.  Entertainment was just a bonus, but it turned out to be a good one.  The sheep moved around the property several times (not sure I’m going to bother counting).  They were in one sections for several times and by late fall, that pasture was looking better and healthier–fewer weeds and invasive species, more grasses.  And that’s the whole point of this loaner sheep program we’ve worked out.  In addition to much less mowing.

The down side to the loaner sheep program is that the Sheep Lady doesn’t always manage the sheep exactly how we’d like.  Obviously her primary interest is the health of the sheep, not the health, for instance, of our meadows.  She did a lot of caring and checking on the sheep, but as the summer and fall went on, Ron started doing more of the work.  Not health-related things like their feet (they are prone to foot rot!), but tweaking the fence and even moving them pretty significantly several times.

What we’ve learned this year is that sheep are good grazing animals that require relatively little effort to manage.  They are also fun to watch.  And Richard really likes carrots.  But given that the Sheep Lady has multiple mini flocks of sheep outsourced to multiple properties like ours, she can’t always manage them as closely as we’d like–or in the ways that we’d like.  Given what we’ve learned this year, we’re planning on working with her again next year and having more sheep show up at some point in the spring or summer (the earlier the better).  Ron is planning, however, to take on more of the management so that the sheep graze our pasture closer to his goals.  That will mean moving the fence (and therefore the sheep) around more frequently, but even a significant fence shuffle means about a half-day’s work.  It’s also easier if I’m around so that I can help make sure that the sheep stay in what remains of the fence, but they are flock animals and are oriented to “home” (even if “home” is our meadow) so they don’t run off.  See Richard and Vincent’s big adventure when part of the fence fell over after the first hard freeze and snowfall.  They wandered around for part of the night and then hung out under the other pine trees.

The big question is if we want to own sheep, rather than be responsible for loaner sheep.  It wouldn’t take that much money or effort to have a sheep-ready property, but it’d make travel and trips even harder than they already are and it raises questions like vet bills and what to do when one of them gets sick or old.  There’s the whole attachment to nonhumans problem.

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