When Your Sheep Want Something You Can’t Give…

We are at the point in the grazing season where the sheep’s desire for green forage and the availability of it are at odds. We have loads of beautiful hay, but they’re not having it. They want green grass, and some of them aren’t going to stop until they find it.

It was an interesting grazing year, with fairly good forage going into the season but it was a dry summer and the grass didn’t grow back quickly as we (and the sheep) would hope. We had to work pretty hard to keep the flocks on lush forage. We moved the big flock across the road twice and then into new areas of the home place once they returned a few weeks ago. We added fence in the far reaches of the south and east pastures where the sheep had never yet grazed. It was a bit of an adventure having them so far from home – harder to keep an eye on them – and for the first time in a number of years we had some escapees. There’s usually always one or two who ignore the fence occasionally, but these past few weeks there has been a small band breaking away each day, literally searching for greener pastures. One of them was a younger ewe who we call The Jumper. She’s very tall and has been jumping fences from the time she figured out she could. The rest were old, seasoned ewes. They probably have to work harder to keep themselves full, with ageing teeth and bodies. And, they have experience on their side. They’re smart and doing what they need to do to. Who can blame them?

We moved the whole group back in closer to the house last week, ahead of the cold weather, and started serving up some really nice hay. The little band of escapees has not given up on finding green. They’ve been leaving every day and returning to the rest of the flock at night. Finally the others noticed and by Sunday whole throngs of sheep were leaving. In some ways, it’s no big deal, as they are only escaping to larger, more open swaths of pasture on our own land. They’re kind of hanging with the cattle and the donkeys. But, it stresses us out, watching them graze close to the treeline where the coyotes and mountain lions surely watch and plan their attacks. And, it stresses Biscuit, the dog who guards the big flock. He gets agitated when they’re out, understandably. He’s of no use to them if they’re off on their own in a paddock he can’t access. And, we can’t have sheep going wherever they decide, whenever they decide. Next, it will be the neighbor’s spring wheat field or the roadside ditch that beckons, and these escapes would be problematic.

I worked all day, yesterday, trying to remedy the situation. I beefed up the fences hoping to deter the escapees. They blasted right on through. I changed tack and tried to entice everyone to stay in by serving up the very best hay, although I hated to use it so early in the season. A lot the crowd bought into it, for the time being anyway, and I imagine the snow that is falling now will help to keep the escapees in come daylight. I hope so.

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