sheep trauma

We are still very sad and somewhat traumatized by the sudden loss of Spot yesterday morning.

And so are the sheep.They are still not normal. But why would they be???

It is easy to anthropomorphize animals, including sheep, but it’s hard not to interpret their facial expressions, body language, behavior, and lack of normal behavior as an understandable response to the confusion and concern about Spot.

Ron said they were clearly distressed when Spot was hacking and coughing. Then he carried her into the garage, hoping that he could do something for her or the vets could if they got there in time. They did not. The sheep therefore saw her in distress, Ron carry her away, and then she has not returned.

Yesterday afternoon they were acting odd. They still are this morning.

Believe me, sheep, we wish we could bring her back.

In the past few weeks, particularly once we started giving them daily winter treats, the sheep had gotten really assertive and become big beggers. They would baa whenever we came out of the house and especially if we were carrying anything–anything!!–in our hands. Cinnamon was the worst culprit, but they all did it at least some of the time.

Yesterday afternoon they were near silent.

It’s hard not to read this as a negative association with snack time.

Related to the begging behavior, they tended to come over to the fence nearest where we were, looking, watching, and ready to baa at us.

They did some of that, but somehow they seemed confused.

They also did their usual eat hay, stand and/or lie around digesting routine. But they seemed to take turns standing a bit away from the group looking, surveying the terrain.

It’s hard not to read this as looking and waiting for Spot.

At one point yesterday afternoon Cinnamon had her head in the hay pile (all of them do this to a certain extent). All the sheep went down into the woods, leaving Cinnamon buried in the hay. When she looked up and realized they were gone, she baaed for them. The “oh, sheep” moment happens to all of them from time to time, but the rest of the sheep in the woods seemed to baa more–more of them and more baaing–letting her know where they were. She dashed down to the forest, baaing back at them.

Maybe I’m making it up, but it all seemed more intense than the usual, “hey loner sheep, we are over here…” I swear they were really rallying the sheep troops after Spot was already missing.

They often hang out under the pine trees, especially the one where their hay feeder is located, even in snowy or difficult weather conditions. Yesterday, though, they were less mobile than usual, no doubt due in part to the foot of snow on the ground. However, they often put themselves in the sheep shack to protect themselves from the snow and particularly the wind. Yesterday they kept hanging out under the pine tree, despite getting covered by snow and the blowing wind.

Again, maybe I’m making it up, but it seemed like they had a general malaise and had forgotten about the sheep shack. Late afternoon I told Ron that I wanted to try to walk them up to the shack for the night so that they could be protected from the snow and wind.

I bundled up (wellies, nylon pants, down parka, etc.) and went out to greet them. Again, not a lot of verbal response, which is unusual. I gave them a few pats and tried to get them to follow me. However, it was going to be a bit of a trek because we had to go around the orchard and garden.

But, true to form, Tagine, who tends to like chasing games, did start to follow me. He looked a bit perplexed: “Why are we going out in all this snow???” Tatanka who has been my Best Buddy lately also looked curious and started watching me and following. They don’t know their names, of course, but I tried to verbally encourage them to keep coming my way. In addition, walking away from them can trigger their flock instinct. I walked, looked back, walked, looked back, and Tagine and Tatanka started coming.

If two sheep go in one direction, usually the rest of them follow. And they did.

Tagine took the lead, walking in the path made by my footsteps in the foot-plus snow, Tatanka following, Cinnamon behind him, and the three smaller sheep (Brownie, June Bug, and Half Moon) then taking up the rear in single file. Tagine is the biggest of the sheep–barely. He’s barely bigger than Cinnamon (!), but he was the pathbreaker, slowly walking through the snow in my path. I stopped about every 50 feet, talking to them, encouraging them to keep coming. They baaed a few times (so did I!), but they did keep coming.

After a few minutes of tromping through deep snow (Tagine was up to his chest in it and really working to follow me), I got them up to the sheep shack and they all dashed in. Tagine, Tatanka, and Half Moon wanted a few pets. Most of them wanted some hay.

Yes, it was snowy and windy, they love their sheep shack, and they have a strong flock instinct. At times that means following the Blonde Sheep (namely, me) or That Guy (Ron). But I also believe that they trust us. And somehow I’d like to believe that Tagine knew that I was trying to take care of them, making sure that they were more protected from a cold, blowing, blizzard-like night.

I just wish we could have protected and saved Spot.


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One Response to sheep trauma

  1. Ron says:

    A comment from the head shepard! Cinnamon, our biggest and healthiest ewe, is pregnant! Her udder is starting to fill which means lambing in a month or so! So some good news!

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