Lambs and Dogs

 

A few Saturdays ago the first of the sheep went into labor, and as usual it happened late at night right before bed.  You always want to be present when an animal gives birth but when the clock hit 1AM and the ewe was still groaning and shifting with nothing to show for it, I went inside to sleep. The following morning after breakfast it was back to the barn to see (hopefully) a happy mom and a few new lambs.  Walking up to barn seemed strange though, it was unusually quiet and there were no baby animal sounds like I was expecting.  Instead, I saw a huge fresh hole dug underneath the door to the lambing stall and a bunch of bedding hay pulled out.  In such situations the following thoughts will run through your head:  “Something got into the barnyard and killed the new lambs…or maybe all the sheep!  No, the livestock dogs wouldn’t have allowed that to happen. But maybe they’re the ones who did it. They killed the lambs they were supposed to protect, now I’m gonna kill them!”

It was a relief to finally look inside and see a tired ewe and two new lambs nursing away.  I was so fixated on watching them that I almost didn’t notice one of the dogs poking its head through the hole under the door.

Then it all made sense.  While the ewe was giving birth, her screams of pain must have driven the dogs insane.  Unable to reach her in the closed stall, the Pyrenees heroically dug a massive hole to rescue their friend but upon finding no predator, they instead sat, watched, and guarded.  Good dogs!  Their protective instinct continues to amaze.

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A Successful Sheep Purchase

If you don’t succeed at buying decent sheep the first time, try and try again.   And so we did, this time heading West to a farm in the mountains of central North Georgia.  The farm is run by a former cattleman who got tired of dealing with the massive animals and the higher cost of raising them and now exclusively raises sheep. Right off the bat I got a good feeling about this place. The farmer was ready and waiting and his property looked clean and well-run.  After a few pleasantries we leaned on his fence to look at the flock and discussed raising them. While we we talked he began giving verbal commands to his Border Collie…”Come by”,  and the dog moved clockwise behind the sheep, pushing them forward to a smaller pasture where we they could be sorted for purchase.  The farmer continued with more commands: “Away!” and the dog immediately switched to a counter-clockwise position, pushing them toward an open gate which they eventually trotted through.   “That’ll do!” and the dog ran right back to the farmer’s side looking happy as can be.  The first sheep farmer we visited took over two hours to separate her sheep, this farmer (or rather, his dog) did the same job in ten minutes.  It was one of the most beautiful displays of an animal working with a human that I’ve ever seen.

We soon picked out three fat ewes, all pregnant from a giant ram with excellent genetics. Once back at home there was no need to announce our new arrivals to the rest of our herd, the animals all sensed something was going on and ran to the truck as soon as we pulled through the gate.

After some initial sniffing and greeting through the cage, the new sheep integrated into the herd just fine and had a peaceful first night.

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