Life in the Slow Lane: Sheep Tales

That title should read More Sheep Tales, but it's been a week of sheep giggles for me. First up is Mari, who has made an amazing turnaround. I had her sheared ten days ago. Like her father Cinco, that wool of hers is a throwback to the Hampshire side of the family. Unlike most Dorpers, who shed their hair (Dorpers have hair, not wool), Mari has wool and it just kept getting thicker. So as I did with Cinco, I hired a shearer.

Then I worried. How fragile was Mari after that hip injury of hers, the one her father caused? I wasted my time. Jason and his son know their sheep. Jason gently tipped her up on her rump and held her pinned between his legs as he swiftly cut away her excess wool in one big chunk. After that, he trimmed her left hoof. Because of her injury, she walks on the side of that hoof and the position of her foot prevents her from breaking off the excess nail on rocks.

Mari walked out of the barn a new ewe! I'm sure she was grateful to be cool at last. A few days later I caught her gamboling across the field, skipping and hopping. Then she bucked, kicking up her back heels out of sheer joy.

She stayed in that joyous frame of mind until, like the rest of us who think we're normal when we're not, she had a reality check. Oops.

It's mulberry season here on the farm and my trees are covered with berries. For the record I prefer the Pakistani Mulberries over the others--Chinese, I think. The Pakistani berries are long and narrow, and very very sweet. The other variety that has seeded itself around the farm produce much smaller berries that alternate year-to-year from insipid to tasty. While the sheep agree with me as far as taste goes, this hasn't stopped them from gobbling up the less sweet berries that litter my driveway down to the barn.

Poor Mari! The other day she watched the Gang of Four as the lambs bounded over the short wall that separates the driveway from the embankment, looking for fresher berries. Emboldened by her new sense of freedom, she pushed off from the driveway. Her front hooves came to rest in the pile of dirt on the other side--I've been filling in the area, hoping to use it for a garden in the future. Only then, with her belly resting on the wall, did she realize her hips didn't have what it takes to carry her to the other side. So there she sat, trapped, unable to push forward or pull back.

That's when little Rosie noticed her or rather, she noticed Mari's udder. Mari's position on the wall left her udder pushed to one side, caught between her back leg and the wall. The result was one teat conveniently exposed just when Rosie was really jonesing for milk. That's because Tiny was refusing to let her two girls suckle.

This is the second time I've witnessed Tiny refuse to nurse her babies, both times at about six weeks after lambing. And both times, she kept her babies off for four days before starting to nurse them again. Tiny, it seems, has her own pregnancy schedule, one with which I do not agree. Ha! This time there's no ram to take advantage of her offer. Just as well. She needs a break.

So there was Rosie, longing for milk, and a trapped Mari offering everything a little lamb desires. She latched on and started to suck. Beyond insulted, Mari twisted and turned to no avail. Fortunately for Mari, I happened to be on the hillside, having my daily dose of mulberries. A fruit, fresh off the tree, and a great anti-oxidant, plus the occasional tiny ant for added protein. What more can you want?

For a ewe who doesn't much like to be touched, Mari didn't offer the least bit of resistance as I maneuvered her off the wall. The minute all four hooves were on the driveway, she gave Rosie a good headbutt for her impertinence.

And Rosie turned to me for comforting.

We're developing a relationship, Rosie and I. She's definitely Tiny's little girl, bold as brass and smart, at least smart enough to know what she wants and how to exploit any situation to get it. She's been studying my interaction with her flock, especially the bucket. The bucket is what I use to get my sheep from place to place. The bucket is usually filled with barley and black oil sunflower seeds for the chickens, but I always stop to share a couple of handfuls with Tiny and Mari. Because they're sheep, they crowd me, each demanding their treats this instant.

Rosie has accepted this as routine, the bucket appears and the ewes crowd, so she's joined the tussle. But each time I've offered her seeds, she turns up her nose. That had me looking for something else, something that will keep her in the routine. She does tolerate me scratching her head and neck but not so much that she'll beg to be petted. Then one day I saw her trying to itch her right ear with a hoof. Then I noticed her doing it again.

The next day when she joined the morning seed scrum, I reached out and rubbed her ear the same way you might do to a dog. Her eyes closed, her head tilted. Then her little hoof began to move, trying to scratch along with me.

Gotcha Rosie! Ear scratches for you.

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