Meet the sheep

On Sunday, we headed up to the sheep farm to pick out five ewes from this year’s lambs.  The shepherd had 13 girls in a holding pen, waiting for us.  We talked briefly about what to look for (straight back, broad build that could hold a lot of meat, strong Cheviot traits like the roman nose, not too small), and then proceeded to spray paint neon pink dots on the butts of our favorites, so we could keep track of our top choices.  Sheep have a tendency to huddle up together when they feel threatened, which makes it difficult to discern one ball o’ wool from another… sort of the opposite of the SPCA, where the dogs practically do tricks to get you to engage with them.

Once we guessed our way through 5 good looking girls, the shepherd led them into a shoot where we could de-worm them.  This was part tutorial, part “now you won’t have to try this on your own until Spring,” which is all to say just another example of how awesome this shepherd is when it comes to her willingness to help out a couple of rookies.

A quick note on de-worming: our goal is to have an organic farm, not for the sake of certification or higher sales prices, but because that’s what we want to eat and how we want to raise our animals.  However.  Sheep.  They are sorta crazy prone to worms, and unless you are going to raise a huge flock where you don’t mind some of them dying, or you are an expert shepherd who’s mastered pasture rotation, you will not succeed.  Or so I’ve been told.  As the book put it, have organic be the goal, but don’t try it your first year.  That struck me as reasonable advice, even if the purist in me feels that if you can’t raise something naturally, maybe you shouldn’t be raising it at all.

But back to the actual process.  The hardest part is catching the sheep, even in a tight shoot.  They want nothing more than to be as far away from you as possible, so you end up using your thighs to hold onto them just north of their hip bone, leaving both your hands free to wrestle their faces up enough so you can open the mouth and push in a dose of medicine via a round tipped syringe.  The shepherd could do this by herself, but it was a two person job for me and Will (one holding the animal, the other dosing it).  We also learned that you can check their eyes to get a sense of how bad the worms might be (the redder the eyelid, the healthier, as worms make the animals anemic).  I like diagnostics that I can do myself, assuming I can ever get close enough to grab one of them.

Then we loaded everyone up into a trailer and the shepherd and her husband followed us down to the farm.  The girls took to the place instantly, and the backyard magically transformed into a pasture.  And our home felt worlds closer to being a real farm.


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