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What cool sheep stories do you have?

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I'm putting this topic here so that more people might see it and because sheep (and their other livestock friends) are the general reason for the border collie in the first place (something easy to forget in the day to day experience of living with a border collie who isn't working sheep all the time).


Sheep generally have a reputation for being among the dimmer of the mammals, thought to mindlessly follow each other over cliffs. To be so boring as to put you to sleep if you ponder them long enough.


I think it's time to counter that a bit.


Yesterday, I was at a sheepherding demonstration. The demonstration was being held inside a dog park. There was a small agility field in one corner, a gazebo and picnic table in another, a fenced stock tank meant for dogs to cool off in in front of the gazebo and a spigot and water bucket in front of that.


Four Scottish Blackface yearlings were being used for the demo and they came onto the field (where they'd never been before) as curious as all get out. They went straight to the agility field and started sniffing around, becoming especially interested in the tunnel (more so, in fact, that a number of the dogs I'd seen in the dog park earlier). One of them poked it with her nose and when it crinkled, they all hopped back. But once they realized it wasn't doing anything else, the others poked it too and then they ambled off to check out the rest of the equipment. They jumped over the teeter (the part of it that was touching the ground) and sniffed at the weave poles. They checked out every part of the field.


The Scotties also quickly figured out that the stock tank had fresher, cooler water than the water in the pail under the spigot and they also knew how to get the gate to the stock tank area open.


Actually watching them should dispel any notion that they are basically just breathing obstacles being moved around by dogs. They were definitely active participants in what was going on, curious and bright-eyed during the whole event.


What cool stories about sheep do you have?

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I got my first sheep when I was 13. A ewe lamb that I named Candy. Since she came with just her mother and another bred ewe, she had no playmates. She learned to entertain herself and became quite friendly. We had a cattle loading shoot in the barnyard and as a lamb she'd walk up it and jump off and then go do it again. It was only about 3 ft high and had grass at the end so she couldn't hurt herself. She also learned her name and would come when I called her. We eventually had around 20 ewes but whenever I go call her she'd come trotting over to see me. She lived to be 13 and I still have one of her granddaughters

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I find the social dynamics pretty fascinating. It is interesting to see two girls have a disagreement and set to butting heads. Other girls let it go for awhile then step in and separate the two antagonists not allowing the fight to continue. I love that they have friends, twins, family... sheep they prefer to hang with. It isn't nearly the indiscriminate mob of white blobs in the pasture. There is so much going on. Also enjoy the greetings of new sheep being introduced to the flock. Quite the hubub. It annoys the hell out of me that we (humans) assume, if we can't see or don't understand, that nothing is happening, nothing is there.

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I only have 7. They are a mixed bunch. As mentioned before, they are fun to observe and besides the baby ram sticking his head through the fence (4x4 horse panels) while his horns where coming in, again and again, yes, this worked while he was little, they seem to be quite smart and curious. But I also learn more and more about how their very group structure can provide quite frustrating while handling.

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I also enjoy watching their social communications with one another. A few years ago one of our ewes rejected a lamb that Paul and I brought home to bottle feed. A few months later when we returned Little Orphan Lambie to the flock the mama ewe was really excited about this new addition, sort if funny since she was the one to reject her, and those two are still almost always curled up together and hanging out.


I also like watching their relationships with other species. Over the years we have had two different rams that will gaze through one if the metal gates at the horse in that pasture. Many times you will find this big qh gelding with his head draped over the gate and the ram on the other side sniffing noses, hanging out or even playing. The horse bites at the ram and the ram will charge into the muzzle of the horse, it's really quite cute. Sort of sad though if the horses are turned out together they completely ignore the rams wishes for interaction.


It also use to crack me up how the hens would sleep on the backs of the ewes when they shared the same barn.

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Four years ago I thought I might want a few Shetlands because I thought they were cute. Somehow I ended up with 4 big sheep - Clun Forest Tunis X and two very cute Shetlands. We added two Shetlands last year and one Tunis ewe lamb this year. Nine sheep seem to be about at the tipping point. I think if we had even one more, "fun" would become "work." It has been a good experience, though more expensive than I thought it would be initially. We do not breed but I do have the fleeces of the Tunis X Clun made into yarn and this year, for the first time was able to sell all of my product to a local yarn store where it is being well received by customers. Last year I was able to consign about half of it. And, honestly - how much does golf cost a year? I could be doing something that had no return on investment.


I have learned to spin and play with the Shetland fleeces, which I send out to be processed into roving. This year I have also sold some roving. I have met my initial goal of paying for processing of all that wool with the sale of the yarn (keeping the Shetland for myself) and now need to balance out profits/expenses. I've bought just about everything I need to operate save for two small investments; those being a heated hose to draw water from the well in the winter and a second modulator for the electronet fencing so I can have one section on the solar charger and one up by the barn, plugged in. I've learned to give my own shot, administer deworming and to trim hooves. Shearing is best done by a professional. It seemed to me that many expenses are associated with poor condition or lambing. I feed them way too well but it keeps them healthy and again, we don't breed so knock on wood, no big health issues.


Some of you may recall that when I started out on these boards with my Red Dog, then a Red Pup, I posted a picture of him, saying proudly that he'd been chosen as "Puppy of the Month" on a website devoted to pet dogs, most of them pocket-sized. It was a cute photo and he was definitely a candy-coated dog. Among the comments, someone said, " Well, we know where this is going to end up." Actually, no-one knew where I was going to end up, especially me. I was quite ill at the time, dangerously so and the thing that got me up and kept me going was thinking about what I could do with my puppy if I could only get well. We've gone places I didn't dare imagine back then - not as far as I would like in terms of training or trialing, but we've done our best to become a team and the sheep are the best thing that we (that is my husband and I) to help us focus on things besides doctors appointments.

We still have a great time with them. They are tame enough to have their own personalities but in mixing them up and not working them too often, I get a chance for different training opportunities. We enjoy watching their interactions with each other and the hierarchy they've established. I see two of the big ones that any sensible person would have culled for their attitudes but in a flock this small, they can be managed and their wool is wonderful. They have a healthy respect for the dogs, which is an important factor in handling them.


Four years later, I can call Robin a "started" dog. He is almost too dedicated to his task in that he simply cannot stay away from the sheep when he is at the farm. He might do a lap in the field, then head right back to the gate again. He will work until he drops. He's got his sides (as do I!) , an outrun, lift and fetch. He still goes hell-bent for leather, so we're working on taking time. And who knows where we'll end up?


The best thing about the sheep is being able to interact with them and the dog. I was at a lesson last week, watching the trainer do some work with Robin. He fell into line immediately with her and I thought - how beautiful and purposeful the communication between them. It truly is what these dogs were made for and it is a rare privilege to be a part of it.

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I have no cool sheep stories (the sheep that used my chest as a springboard for a very athletic and gymnastic leap was not real cool in my book) but I do have a bovine story or two.


About 20 years ago, we had a beef cow give birth one night and by the time my husband found out that she had prolapsed (her uterus had everted outside her body), it was too late to save her and he dispatched her. So we had a little heifer calf to bottle-raise. Our daughter named her "Baby Cow" (not original but shortened to "Babe") and she and I raised her on the bottle.


At the same time that Babe was a calf, we also had a wonderful young Australian Shepherd, who was always the nuturer and protector of all creatures that were small or immature. He would stand under Babe's chin and catch the milk drips as we fed her, and then proceed to clean up her face after. No small wonder that Babe, who took many walks with us and the dog, was growing up thinking she was a dog, not a nasty, stinky cow.


When it came time to put Babe in the pasture with the cows (rather than finding her settling in on the front porch, staring in the family room window and hoping we'd come on out), she was quite offended. This was not what she'd anticipated would be her fate in life. We often found her out of the pasture and in the yard or on the porch or watching in a window.


Mac (the Aussie) and Babe had their own special game. She'd put her head down and shake it, and he'd stand up on his hind legs with his feet on her face, and pretend to bit and chew on her curly forehead. And then they'd take a walk together. For all of the 15 years that we had Babe, Mac would never work her. He'd move the whole herd, he'd give a good heel grip to any cow that wouldn't move, he'd give a good nose grip to any cow that threatened him, but he wouldn't take a step or make a move to push Babe.


And Babe knew it so, while Mac and we could move the whole herd, Babe would come along as she pleased, stopping for a bite here and there, and knowing she'd not be bothered by her canine buddy or tapped by our stock sticks. She was, in a word, spoiled. There was a downside to that - she didn't have the normal cow's respect for personal space and sometimes would pass by Ed or myself without leaving enough room. She knocked me down or pushed me aside more than once. No malice, just being comfortable inside my personal bubble.


When Babe calved her first baby, a fine bull calf that Lisa called Ra (he was born on a sunny day), we all found the new mother and baby right after the blessed event. Mac, who just loved all baby calves, walked right up and began cleaning up the new baby as it lay by its mothers feet. Babe? She just let him do the job because she had total faith and comfort in his presence. I think Ra had a very confusing first day - "Who is my mother? The tall black one with the white face, or the short black/white/tri-colored one?" However, since Mac couldn't supply the moo juice, Ra realized pretty quickly who was his mother.


When Babe was very old and quite stiff with arthritis, and Mac in the same stage of life, they were together out in the pasture behind the house. She put her head down and gave it a little wiggle. Mac reached up and pretended to bite and worry at her old, curly forehead. Two old friends, enjoying an old and favorite game, one last time.

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The sheep are in the barn and bedded deep waiting for the next lambs to be born. How slowly they walked today to Doan’s land. And I was proud of Sweep who took his time. Even waiting for one old fat ewe that was angry. But his demeanor won out and she turned and went on. Down the narrow trail to the open land.

Someone accused me in a gentle way of being a romantic. And I agreed with them. Deep in my soul I feel that we need time to do strong, things that are shaped by land and the creatures that share our lives.

I don’t have a lot of work for my dogs this time of year. But I let the young dogs do as much as they can.

As the wet big flakes of snow came down. I watched Sweep run out to gather the flock. Still fast. But it is a joy to watch.

Then slowly home again through the woods that I fear will be developed in the years to come.

I hope 100 years from now some child on a winter walk will faintly hear the ring of my ewe’s bells and my whistle for the dogs to run out.

And then maybe this child will ask their mother a question.

“Who lived here before us? What were their lives like?”

I hope to enter that unborn child’s dream and whisper.



(This was written a few winters ago. The 100 some odd pregnant ewes walk out to forage on salal and evergreen huckleberry.)

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I remember when I first brought Maia (the maremma) home and put her in the field with the flock. She was tied and first, but when I walked her into the field, the entire flock came running to look at her, a little afraid, but trusting that they wouldn't come to harm if she was with me. It took the flock about a week to get used to her, with her tethered in the field. At some point one of my tunis ewes became her best buddy, and I would often see them resting together, enjoying the sunshine. As Dave noted, the bonds sheep form with each other and with other animals is a wonderful life lesson for those who choose to watch and learn.


I have a Clun mule named Nosey Nellie. I don't really name my sheep, but I bought NN along with three other mule sheep and a BFL ram out of Michigan and picked them up at the MD sheep and wool festival. These ewes had been raised on pasture with minimal handling and so were by no means pets. When I got them home, Laura and I needed to shear the ram. So as not to freak him out too badly, we brought the four ewes into the barn with him while we sheared him. The whole time we were working on Glen Grant, one unnamed ewe kept grabbing at our clothes, chewing on us, and just making a general pest of herself, despite not having ever really been closely handled by people. And so Nosey Nellie was christened. Her lambs are often as friendly as she is, even though I don't make pets out of them either.


Sheep personalities are fun.



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I also had one ewe who should have been wild as a marsh hare, but was extremely friendly. Her daughters seem to learn it from her, too. She's a pain in the ass sometimes, but she's a darn nice little ewe. Every now and then it's kinda nice to NOT have to chase down that one ewe who needs something.


A lot of my old ewes learned the annual routine of weaning. By the time their lambs were lifting them off their feet, the ewes were ready to be done. My old gals would just about bash the sorting gate down to get away from their over-sized offspring. The young ewes would always hang back & worry, at least until about the third year. Then they're right in there looking for freedom.


My ram pen bordered the driveway, and my old BFL ram, Hank, kept a close eye on traffic. Many folks called him my watch shep. He was always at the fence, waiting to see who got out of the car. He was way friendlier than I like a ram to be, but he

never caused any trouble. His last year, he was in with my lambing ewes because he needed the extra feed. He'd escort the ewes with their new lambs into the shed when I brought them in, then wait for me to let him back in with the rest of the flock. I'd find him in the pasture with lambs climbing all over him. His daughters inherited his easy-going personality and attentiveness.

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When I was getting started in sheep made a deal with an elderly farmer in his 90's to help with his sheep for a few ewe lambs. One day we were trying to get the sheep to the barn no dog. I had heard him call the sheep lots of times and thought he was saying here Lamb I was out there shouting here lamb at the top of my lungs getting nothing but blank looks from the sheep. When I walked over to Don who was leaning on his canes and he said I call them with "here Nan". I walked back out shouted here Nan instant reaction and out of the pasture and into the barn yard. I asked him why he used "here Nan". He got that far away look people get when thinking of a fond memory and he said he was given an old ewe when he was a kid who would twin every year but did not have enough milk to feed them on pasture so night and mornig he would call her in with the dairy cows and grain her as he got more sheep she would lead them all in when called. So after Nan was gone they still came in to her name 70 odd years after Nan was died and gone

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I also had a ewe who was exceptionally friendly. Like Nosey Nellie she was always tugging on my clothing and always underfoot. Never resisted when it was time for shots or worming or any kind of handling, so she was always the first in line for anything. Actually had to be careful not to double dose her because she was always in the way as I'd try to grab another sheep. I didn't generally name sheep either, but she was tag number 22, so she ended up being called Two Two . . . and always came running when she heard her name, if she wasn't already underfoot.


Her twin sister, OTOH, was a complete opposite. Man, she was a witch! She was always the very last to be caught and fought me tooth and nail for anything that needed to be done. She was a great mother and always twinned, so we kept her as we were still building our flock. But she was on the short list to be culled when we reached capacity on our pasture. <_< It was interesting, though, how these twins from the same parents were so entirely different.


Sheep are definitely interesting creatures. They have elephantine memories for certain things, like the clang on the feed bucket to call them in to the barn (I fed on the way to work in the morning, so no dog with me), even after 9 months of being on pasture, or where there'd once been a hole in the fence, even though it had been repaired long ago.


OTOH, sometimes they could be dumb as rocks. We had a long feeder with a V shaped top for hay and troughs on either side. As the flock grew, it became too small and one ewe would squeeze her head through the brace on the end to reach the feed. The problem was that she could get her head in, but her fleece prevented her from backing out. Day after day I'd come back 10 or 11 hours later and there she'd be, stuck in the feeder since morning. She never learned, and the only way to stop her was to wire the opening shut . . . and add an extra trough so everyone had enough room.


It's been quite a few years now since I had to give up my flock and I still miss it, especially at lambing time. I used to love sitting on the road that overlooked the pasture and just watch the lambs playing. They'd run around in a little mob frisking with each other and then every once in a while everyone would stop in an instant like there was some signal and run back to their mothers to check in. Sometimes in was just a quick check in and others they'd nurse for a few minutes before running back to their play group. It was adorable to watch them.

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