Monday, July 25, 2016

Sheep Are Hard To Keep Alive

I am sure we have all seen the Arby’s ad where James Earl Jones plugs their gyro sandwiches. I have to admit that the ad makes me giggle. No, not the part about him pulling the gyro out of his loin cloth, I try to put that image out of my mind. It’s not the line about the lion running off with sweet the sweet little sheep. It is the last sentence I find amusing.
The ad ends with Mr. Jones saying; “Man, sheep are hard to keep alive.” I don’t know James Earl Jones or his background, but I suspect that he knows nothing about sheep or taking care of them. That is why the line struck me as so funny (and I am easily amused), if only he knew the half of it. No, I don’t have trouble with lions and I must admit that I really don’t have trouble with predators (knock on wood) but I do know that sheep are pretty helpless.
This helplessness was in full display last Monday. That morning I had let the ewes out in the rain. I thought I was doing them a real favor. The lot was muddy and I was sure the pasture was a better place to spend the day. We had already gotten about an inch of rain and the forecast was for it to rain the rest of the day.
I went about my day without a second thought about the ewes or their safety. That night I came home after a meeting (luckily before dark) expecting to find the ewes waiting on me in the lot. I have never had problems with predators but I do lock them in every night. Most often they return to the lot themselves and wait for me to shut the gate.
However, this night I returned home to find the ewes waiting on the East side of the creek where they normally cross each night on their migration back to the lot. We had gotten more rain during the day and the creek that normally just has a few inches of water now was a raging river. About that time Tatum also returned home and we started to devise a rescue plan.
When I built my fence along the road I was unable to put a corner post right up against the creek. To fill in the gap I had fashioned a cattle panel and a steel post. That gap had always bothered me, but now it looked like the perfect escape hatch. We decided to take the ewes out of the pasture through the cattle panel, onto the road, across the bridge, through the barnyard and back into the lot. I positioned Tatum on the road to keep them from going west and I called to the ewes.
Normally a few calls and the sheep would be in full stampede mode toward me. This night they looked at me, looked at the lot across the swollen creek, milled around and bawled. Mr. Jones words rang in my head. Recognizing that we were at an impasse, Tatum volunteered to get a bucket of grain to see if we could get them to follow that. As soon as she left the ewes started to come to me. Well, until they heard her open the barn door and then it was back to the flooded creek crossing and looking forlorn and bewildered.
Tatum brought me the bucket and returned to her post. I called and shook the bucket, nothing. I walked out into the pasture, shook the bucket and called. Then they broke loose. A mass of wet, muddy stampeding ovine was headed toward me at a full gallop. I slipped through the gate and started across the bridge. Soon I realized that I was on the other side all by myself, the ewes were piled up in the gate just like it had never been opened. I walked back with my bucket and urged the first nosy old ewe through. The one good thing about sheep is that if you get one to go, they all go.
I turned around and rapidly walked back across the bridge and into the barnyard. Ewes followed eager to find out what I had in my bucket. The next hurdle was the show lamb pen, the ewes crowded around the hay bale I was feeding the lambs and grain I had spilled on the ground. Tatum came up behind them and encouraged them to move along. I am not sure what she said to them, but they did listen.
I walked through the gate with the entire flock in tow and Tatum bringing up the rear. We had traveled a grand total of fifty yards as the crow flies and it took about thirty minutes. Tatum shut the gate and with that I had a sudden craving for an Arby’s gyro. Mr. Jones words ringing majestically through my head, if only he knew just how hard it was to keep sheep alive.

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