You can’t kill-em all

Living on a farm has its pros and cons. Sometimes people who don’t have farm roots ask me “Doesn’t farming tie you down? Do you ever get a vacation? What do you do with the animals when you have to go away?”

I grew up on a dairy farm. The cows needed milking twice a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year. The Fourth of July was the closest thing we had to a day off. We would usually go to a parade and a party at a neighbor’ s place. Picnic food, soft ball, pony rides and fire crackers rounded out the afternoon and evening. About five thirty a couple of the older kids would slip away to do the milking. We would rush home, change clothes, get the dog and go round up the cows. If we were a little late they would be waiting at the barn door. We would hurry through the chores so we could get back for more fireworks.

So when people ask me if I feel tied down with the sheep and horses I chuckle to myself. There is a lot more latitude with them with the exception of lambing season. This is mid winter so we don’t really have any place to go anyway. During the summer the animals are out on grass so a simple check and see caretaker arrangement works fine.

Over the years we have had a number of different people who have volunteered to do chores. Neighbors with farm experience are the first choice. They understand that when you are dealing with animals anything can happen. That is probably why they sold their animals years ago. They are also close by in case the horses go for a stroll around the neighborhood. They have probably chased them out of their yards before.

Giving clear directions is very important. One time I arranged for a fellow sheep farmer who lived about 25 miles away to feed the horses hay. I carefully counted out the number of bales required for the time we were going to be gone. In fact, I added a few extra bales as over-fed horses are much more content to stay in the fence than hungry ones. I told my friend “Feed the horses enough hay to keep them happy”. Not being familiar with the appetites of draft horses and estimating the number of bales required to keep them happy based on what it takes to keep sheep happy, he fed frugally. Six hungry draft horses separated from a pile of hay bales by a strand or two of electric fence wire, soon overcame their fear of electricity.

We arrived home to find the horses standing in the pile of hay bales. In the meantime they had made the rounds of the neighborhood. It was in the spring of the year. Their hoof prints, left in the dark of the night, led to and from our place. Fortunately they had only escaped the night before. We had hoped for the best until we listened to the message on our answering machine. Had to do some apologizing on that one.

Another time we arranged for a friend with no farm experience to feed the sheep grain. It was spring and the sheep were out on pasture. They had a pretty big area to graze, part of it wooded. He came out and I showed him where to put the grain. Pretty simple. He was nervous and even wrote everything down. In an effort to ease his worries, I jokingly said “Don’t worry you can’t kill them all”.
In hindsight I probably should not have planted this seed in his head.

Day one. Morning feeding went well. The sheep had been grazing all night and were at rest in the yard. All seventy plus sheep present and accounted for. Evening came. Follow directions #1 Fill two pails with grain. #2. Open gate. #3 dump feed in feeders 4. Shut gate. Easy right? Only one problem.THE SHEEP WERE GONE! Does kill them all equate to losing them all?

As a person who has been faced with similar situations, had I been there, I would have offered this advice. 1. Don’t panic. 2. Don’t take the buckets of feed with you when you go look for the sheep 3. When you holler ” here sheepie, here sheepie, “. Don’t turn your back to the woods.

From what I gather he went from the panic of thinking he had lost a whole flock of sheep to “What’s that sound? Is there a thunder storm brewing”? By the time he realized why the earth was shaking, the feed crazed sheep had busted out of the woods and were bearing down on him.

I can imagine the scene. A panic stricken man carrying two pails sprinting for his life to get to the feeders. Sheep, seeing their feed getting away from them, kick it into second gear. I speculate the flock leader was first on the scene, sticking her head into the pail, delaying the getaway just enough so a lieutenant could get a head into the other pail. By then, the rest of the flock would do the envelop maneuver. A life or death decision must be made in a fraction of a second. An experienced farm seasoned chore doer would know when to throw them (the pails). An amateur might try to hold-em.

The sheep won the day. Nobody died. Funny though, he never volunteered to do chores again. If fact I think he gave up wearing sweaters too.

“Here sheepie, “

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