It was May 2013. We’d been living out here for just a year. During that period, HWA and I had talked about various livestock we could use to keep our pasture grazed; each has its drawbacks.
My first choice was a couple of beef steers. Our fencing is designed for larger livestock so this seemed the most sensible choice. However handling them could be problematic – particularly the part where we corral them into a livestock trailer we don’t have to be pulled by the truck we don’t own to haul them to the processor.
HWA leaned towards sheep. Being smaller they would be easier to handle but – our fencing would not keep them in, and fencing it so that it would, would be a huge upfront cost.
For months we went around and around on this topic until this particular Sunday in May when my long-time friend, Craig Zlist, informed me of 6 lambs for sale. I asked HWA if he wanted me to contact the guy and — long story short — he set out with our two dogs that afternoon to go pick them up. In our PT Cruiser. Hatchback. As in “tiny, girly, car”. Severe storms were forecast, so he hurried to try and get them and return before the weather hit. After driving an hour, HWA arrived at a real sheep ranch, with real sheep, and real sheep ranchers. He was in our toy car wearing sneakers, shorts, and a t-shirt.
He was greeted by the owner and his 5-year-old son. The rancher asked if someone else was coming with the trailer and HWA had to explain his plan. The sheep farmer graciously withheld his laughter until after HWA left. The 5-year-old did not.
Undoubtedly thinking, “these poor, poor, animals”, the rancher set about catching the 6 lambs. Having been raised on their mothers, they were unused to human handling and not crazy about being caught, much less shoved through the passenger door of a PT Cruiser. But the rancher knew his trade and worked quickly; stopping only to address:
a) his son concerning protests that sheep don’t belong in cars,
b) his son concerning protests, “Mommy says we have to wear boots because of the rattlers, but that man is wearing tennis shoes!”, and
c) HWA, saying, “Could you please not be so helpful, sir? You’re only slowin’ me up.”
HWA says that last bit left him feeling a bit “sheepish”.
By now it was starting to rain and the dogs were getting wet. After paying the rancher, HWA headed for home. The storm was soon upon him so he had to roll up the windows and the smell of wet dog grew intense. Then the hail began hammering on the car and scaring the crap — and the piss — out of lambs. Sure, we’d put down a tarp in the back, but it was wholly inadequate for the task.
HWA with two wet dogs and six frightened lamb weanlings in a PT Cruiser in a hail storm, now thought to himself, “What better time to get some chow?” and stopped at a drive-thru for dinner. We speculate the conversation inside the drive-thru was something like:
Order taker: “I think he said “chili-burger, fries, and a Dr. Pepper”, but I’m not sure because there was the hail and lots of other weirds sounds too.”
Window staffer: “Katie, hurry. You have to come see this!”
Returning home with the lambs we hadn’t prepared for, the immediate question was where to keep them. The only fence on the property which would hold them was around our sewage lagoon. Yes, that is where we put them. (I’m happy to report that they had no interest in entering or drinking from the lagoon.)
Unfortunately, the lagoon fencing, while adequate to contain them in the short term, provided no shelter from above-mentioned weather, so, in the dark now, we set about using livestock panels to create a fenced pathway from the lagoon gate to the adjoining horse shelter. Working as quickly as we could in the dark, we were glad to get the last panel wired, herd the lambs from the lagoon to the shelter so they’d know it was an option, and then take cover ourselves.
That night we congratulated ourselves on being the owners of some mighty fine livestock, while planning ahead to the lamb dinners we would enjoy later in the year.
The following morning, I woke to a bellowed, “CRAP. The sheep are out”. Racing outside in my pajamas, I was just in time to see 6 lambs disappearing around the corner of the neighbor’s house. By the time I caught up to them, they’d had a chance to catch their breath and at the sight of me, took off running away down the road. The next 5 hours consisted of us chasing them first one direction and then the other, but never convincing them to make a 90 degree turn at our driveway. The last time we saw them was when they neatly – and surprisingly athletically – leaped over a barbed wire fence and headed off into a neighboring 480-acre field of tall grass, trees, and ravines. We’d owned them for all of 12 hours.
How did they get out? Ah. In the dark, we had omitted to secure one of the livestock panels at the base. The lambs leaned against it, it gave, and they walked out of it as though it were a gate. Sigh.
Frustrated that we’d spent $450 to feed coyotes, HWA none-the-less had the idea that they would surely stop somewhere for the night and he might find them by shining a bright flashlight and looking for the reflection from their retinas. So, after dark, he went out and walked the field for several hours. He startled a pheasant from its nest right under his feet which, in turn, so startled him that he fell over backwards. He also saw a large buck bounding away, but caught nary a glimpse of the lambs.
Another night passed – this time in fitful slumber – and I was woken next morning by the excited barking of one of our dogs, who almost never barks. Thinking a predator must be trying to break into the chicken yard — we’d figured the lambs had traveled miles already in search of the mothers from whom they’d just been weaned — I raced to the window to find the sheep huddled right outside of it!
I was reminded of the nursery rhyme:
Little Bo Peep
Has lost her sheep
And doesn’t know where to find them
Leave them alone
And they’ll come home
Wagging their tails behind them
What amazed us was that the lambs had been on our property approximately 12 hours before escaping and had then been “at large” for about 24 hours. How they knew to return to us, we’ll never know, but we were thrilled to see them, and once again exited the house in pajamas; this time to greet them and herd them back into the (now better secured) temporary sheep pen.
And how long does the smell of sheep urine linger in a PT Cruiser? We’ll have to get back to you on that.