Like a walk through the country side living on a small farm is full of daily surprises, sometimes wonderful and amazing, and other times puzzling and sad. I hope you will walk with me as I live out my dream of living on this tiny farm. You will come to know the dogs, cats, Shetland sheep and chickens that make up this farm and what goes into keeping them happy and healthy. Come and join the journey with me.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Flock In Flux

Gracie Leads the Flock When I Am Out Front!
  It has been a hard year around here in the sheep flock.   To date there have been five of their members that have died.  For the most part it has been the effects of old age, but there have been a few tragic incidents as well.   Losing Lanny last month was the kicker--he was my 'big white' wether and steadfast in moving them along. 

Gracie Says--I'm Retired! 
What this amounts to is that the flock has evolved from a sort of calm little entity to a silly, leaderless bunch of dopes.  For the most part.  They have no leader.  There are plenty of bullies, but while they want to push other sheep around they do not want to be the one to choose where to go, or how long to stay, or to walk that first step to pasture.   A leader sheep is priceless...especially a gentle, tame leader sheep. 

Flock on the Run
They are attempting to work it out.  No one really wants to be leader, they just want to be top sheep.   I have never seen them so unsettled as they have been this Spring.  They won't settle down to graze certain pasture areas, so that I must keep them penned in tight in those areas if they are to graze it at all.  Otherwise they will fearfully venture into those pastures, and at the slightest inclination or even a fit of imagination will send them fleeing to the 'safety' of more familiar areas.   By the time they do this fifteen or twenty or thirty times a day it doesn't leave much time for grazing.  They end up tired, stressed and they go 'to bed' (night paddock) hungry.   While I really do not particularly care if this happens to the younger sheep who are the prime instigators, I do worry about the older members of the flock.  Their hold on health is often fragile at best. 

Luna Says--Not Me!  I just want to lead a quiet life in the background! 
For many years I  had 5 to 6 'big white sheep'--Dorset/Merino crosses, who are worlds apart from the Shetlands in temperament.  Docile, slower and flocking in nature they helped keep the more spirited Shetlands grounded.  Adding to that was that most of the Shetland flock were more 'mature' and had worked through their silliness.  Now I have only three 'big whites' and a large balance of six year and younger Shetlands.  The elders in the flock have now reached the point where they are being pushed out of their positions due to frailties of age and try to keep a lower profile.  So basically--as in many areas of life-- you have a bunch of young inexperienced thugs trying to run things. 

Ford Says--I'm trying to lead--stupid girls....
This Spring has been cooler than normal, and the nights have been lovely and cool.  This has brought out even worse behavior in the ewe flock over the last week.  It's not the wethers (of which I now have three) that are causing problems at the moment--it's the ewes!  They have been fighting nonstop every evening when I pen them up for the night.   Brenda Lee, last years ewe lamb is moving up the chain (or trying) so there have been some knock down drag outs with her and the other young ewes.  This is fairly normal.  However, having five or six ewes start randomly chasing and beating the be-jeebers out of another ewe isn't that normal and is painful to watch.

Eve Says--no way, I'm scared of my shadow!
The corker though was the other night I heard Callum (my old wether) give a mournful little ahhhhh (that is his version of baa), and another sheep bleating.  It wasn't dark yet, and I went out to see what was up.  The sheep are usually very quiet unless it's feeding time or something is 'up'.   I could see that there was a group fighting, but didn't see anything amiss, until my eyes fell onto the grey sheep thrashing on the ground.  My  heart dropped.  I went running out there to see Willow, who at 12 is my oldest Shetland, on the ground apparently having a seizure.  She was thrashing madly about on her side, and all the common ailments of sheep-on-grass went screaming through my head in the space of the few seconds it took to get up there.   However my mad dash to her side 'cured' her right quick and gave her the impetus to leap to her feet.  I surmise that she was broad sided and knocked to the ground by one of the younger ewes, and because her back was downhill she became 'cast' on her side.  I managed to get her and her son, Callum into the smaller pen for the night.  She happily ate grain and nibbled hay and seems fine after her mauling.

One of these is a the chief instigator of brawls & mayhem.....
The next night I penned up her and her two daughters and later Rosemary went in with them.  Rosemary is a timid sweet peace loving soul and also the brat packs victim of the night.   But I mistakenly thought they had settled down and later let everyone out.  I  heard Willow bellowing and went out to see one of the black ewes chasing her in and around the barn, walloping her every chance she got.  I went up screaming and chased the evil ones out of the barn, and Willow put herself in a stall, which I closed the gates to and kept her up all night.  A little grain and she was up in there last night without me asking which helps allot.   At least she is safe from the mob mentality at night.
In quieter times....

I think with the weather warming up this phase will pass for now.  But it would sure be nice for a leader to step forward ---Ford is trying, Callum does what he can (he is old and crippled up), Gracie (my 12 year old Dorset) says she is retired...and so it goes.  

I'm not sure there is anything to do about it, just wait them out and hope they mature some this summer, or work it out, and try and keep the old folks safe.  At least so far we have ample grass and am praying that we do not have drought this year!  


Michelle said...

I am so sorry, Tammy, and know how worrisome and frustrating it is. My ram has been head-butting Brian's wether to the point that both have a wee bit of blood on their noggins; Brian would be heart-broken if Browning ended up seriously hurt. Yesterday morning Bramble was shivering. It WAS cold, and she was recently sheared. But last night she was grinding her teeth some, and this morning (NOT cold), she was still shivering and grinding her teeth. I fear she has been "the victim." In the past she has done plenty of victimizing, but Bonny was her buddy and now she's vulnerable.... :-(

Vicki Lane said...

This is fascinating -- our cattle are the same way -- having a calm, old hand who knows the drill and can't be pushed around is invluable.

Donna said...

Very good observations of flock dynamics! I hope they work it out safely.

kristi said...

I am sorry to hear about the troubles in the flock. It annoys when that bullying goes on. The sheep tend to be worse than my goats when it comes to bullying issues. I hope they find a happy medium as a I know it puts more stress on you. After all its summer and everyone needs to be happy!

Tina T-P said...

Darn blasted things - they can be sooo mean to each other! Right now everyone we have gets along pretty well, but we've had some bullies in the past that The Shepherd has just given away - and when they reached their new homes, they were, according to the new owner: "Just the nicest sheep" - go figure. T.

Sue said...

Having recently been thru a realignment of the pack, I know it can get nasty and even violent. I have the vet bills to remind me. It's hard for a person to stand by and let them resolve the issue but they have to choose their leader without our help. I'd be tempted to lock up the old timers each night and let the young hooligans sort it out by themselves. I don't envy what you're going thru.