Wednesday, March 30, 2011

School of Hard Knocks

Broken hearts here and many tears today. We lost our little bottle lamb, Stella. And we are kicking ourselves -it was a senseless accident. We kept her in a cage on our porch and would let her out in the yard (which is fenced) to play. We'd let her out with Diva (our little Aussie mix) and Selena (the matriarch 12.5 year aussie). Both dogs didn't pay much heed to her.

I was working in my office and thought I'd just check on her. I looked out the front door no Stella. I put on my shoes and called and didn't see her. So I went to the backyard, looked no Stella. And then the most horrible thought crossed my mind. The ornamental pond. Oh no. I looked in and much to my distress, there lay Stella, motionless.

Amongst tears I carried her to the front yard and screamed at Hubby to come help. I tried to resuscitate her with mouth to mouth. But it was no use, she was gone. I could of kicked myself to tim-buck-too, why an earth did I give her so much freedom? I went round and round in my head -all of the should haves...but nothing would help bring her back.

Then I had to do what was one of the most heart breaking things in my life -tell my daughter when I picked her up from school. She knew something was wrong before I told her because I couldn't stop crying. She thought at first it was Selena because she's our oldest dog. I shook my head no, and said it's your baby. She screamed in disbelief "not my baby", I had to nod and cry with her.

I know time heals and soothes. But today was a hard lesson. We never thought little Stella could get up on the deck and into that pond- but somehow she did. I promise to all my little creatures that I'll do better in the future. I'll do my best to prevent the "I should have's...". If I think there's a chance, then I won't let it happen. Better to err on the side of safety then say I should have.

The pond is now covered in plastic trellis. I can't bare to look at it.

Friday, March 25, 2011

We have Sheep

I went to Kingston, OK on Monday. I drove up to the last turn and I knew I was in the right place, it was quite comical. What greeted my eyes as I turned onto the road? A farmer trying to herd a flock of sheep off of the road. I rolled my eyes and wondered what I was getting into. The farmer greeted me and asked me to honk my horn, so I did as I was bade and the sheep cooperated and ran into the yard.

We exchanged hellos and then proceeded to look at the sheep. The farmer was very nice but looking at sheep proved a bit challenging. He had lots of them (probably about 100) but they were penned on 40 acres with fields sectioned off here and there but NO real gates, so the sheep could go from section to section. The sheep were pretty spooky and as we'd get close they'd flock together and pour into another section. I inquired about a couple of ewes with lambs "was that a ram or ewe lamb on that ewe". He didn't know (or at least didn't let on that he did). Finally I settled on a loud painted desert ewe and older ewe lamb (he was pretty sure this lamb was a ewe lamb). I wanted at least one more ewe and lamb to start my flock. I picked out one more barbado ewe with a nice lamb (not sure if it was a ram or ewe).

This is the painted desert ram that was running with the ewes, sire of the painted desert lambs:

On my way out he showed me what he had in his little horse trailer -an adorable day old bottle lamb. She was just darling. He said I could buy her but that was more than I wanted to get into. We parted company and he said if he got down to the Gainesville livestock auction this week he'd deliver my sheep for a little extra.

Well I didn't hear from him on Tuesday auction day, so on Thursday I made arrangements to go pick up the sheep. I hummed and hawed on how to get them. We have a 4 horse trailer but that seemed a bit overkill for two ewes and their lambs. I looked at my HHR and thought why not? The HHR rear seats fold down nice and flat and they are all plastic backed -they don't have carpet on them, nor is there carpet in the back of it. I found an old shipping blanket put it in, picked up my daughter at school and set off to get my sheep.

What an adventure. We got there and the farmer had some of the sheep sort of penned in a catch pen (there was no gate). The ewe and ewe lamb were in there so we set about catching them. We were able to corner and grab the ewe with sheep dipping and diving all around us, and got her into the car. Meanwhile the sheep started sliding through an opening between the fence and a pole in the catch pen. We saw her lamb disappear with the group. My daughter and I ran to get a gate closed before they disappeared out of the field and shut it in the nick of time. Then we had to herd the sheep back into the catch pen which of course was the last thing they wanted to do. We did manage to get the ewe lamb in there and nabbed her. Now I had to find the other ewe and lamb I had picked out. They of course were not with the group that we had penned. I said "well let's go get them". The farmer said we'd never catch them but I was determined.

We found the ewe with a group of sheep in the top field and I was excited when we were able to drive them down out of the top field into the field with the catch pen. The farmer said "It's not going to work", and I shrugged wondering what he was talking about. The sheep so far were cooperating, they had come from the top field, and we only had to drive them from there to the smaller field with the catch pen. Then I saw. This field had a culvert that went under the road. The sheep were heading in that direction. I said "they can't go through there can they?". He nodded, they could. Oh boy...this wasn't good.

I conceded defeat. He said he'd catch the other sheep in a couple of weeks time and I could get my ewe then. On the way out, I showed my daughter the little bottle fed barbado lamb. The farmer asked my daughter if he wanted to feed her as it was feeding time. Of course she did and so a bottle was mixed, and my daughter fed her. I could see it was love at first sight, and it was an ewe lamb so what harm would be done adding her to our folds? In the car she went with a bag of milk replacer.

The sheep were good passengers and other than having to relieve themselves straight away and stinking us out, traveled well. Here is a picture of them on their ride home:

Friday, March 18, 2011

And then came the Sheep

As mentioned in my first post, Annie my Aussie and I have started stock lessons. Annie is shall I say a bit over the top -she's just so excited to be with the stock. I'm very happy to see her enthusiasm considering how hard it is to get her motivated in other events, but do need to find a way to moderate her desires. At $35.00 a lesson how much will it cost just to get her to settle so that she (and I ) can be trained? My solution? Get some sheep of my own so she can watch them. We're certainly not ready to practice with them yet but I figure just letting her see, smell and be around them should help her relax a bit for our lessons.

Annie's first time on sheep about a year ago...look at those eyes

Now it's time to decide what kind of sheep to purchase. I've browsed the herding boards, observed the sheep we work with for our lessons, talked to our instructor and basically absorbed everything I can about sheep for the last month. At first I thought perhaps I'd get some shetlands -they are so incredibly cute, look at these guys:
Shetland Sheep

But as I read more, it seems these little cuties aren't the ideal sheep for herding, first of all they have wool which means dealing with shearing (or rooing if lucky enough to have sheep that will shed) and they aren't the best flocking sheep which makes them difficult to herd and not a beginner herding sheep.

Dorpers are popular around here and are easy to find (we're not in sheep country so there isn't a huge selection of breeds to choose from). I practice on a mostly dorper flock and you can't beat their temperament. Here's some of the flock we practice on with their lambs:

Barbados Blackbellies are another popular sheep for herding. Their small size appeals to me, as well as their coloring and they are a hair sheep. I'm not so sure about the rams and their horns though -I guess I don't need a ram (or not yet anyway).

Barbados Sheep

While researching barbados, I stumbled upon "Painted Desert Sheep" These are a breed of sheep developed in Texas by crossing Mouflon,Rambouillet, Merino with Blackbellies. They are built like a barbados but have "painted" markings like a paint horse. I have decided this is the breed of sheep I'd like to try.

I have scanned the craigslist postings and have located a farmer with a herd of barbados/painted desert sheep priced reasonably in Kingston, OK so I plan on taking a look to see what he has on Monday.