Animal Communication

I have an uncanny ability to communicate with our sheep. Just the other day I walked by a pregnant ewe as she rested on the ground, chewing her cud. She was, to put it mildly, very wide. An untrained eye would read her body language to say, “I’m a happy sheep.” I, however, could tell by the look in her eye she was really saying, “I’m gonna need a winch to get back on my feet.”

Sometimes animal communication works, sometimes it doesn’t. Take the fall when we’d changed how we arranged the big round bales (about 700 pounds each, 6 ft tall, 6 ft. wide.) Instead of putting them one by one, with panels around each to keep the sheep from climbing on them, we put them four together, then put panels around this quartet.

It didn’t take long for the sheep to somehow defeat our panel system, and soon they were frolicking on top of the four bales. Not surprisingly, one slipped. Her back end wedged itself between the convergence of the four bales. Melissa tried for half an hour to free her, pushing, shoving, and murmuring words of comfort and encouragement. Finally she appeared in my office. “I need your help.”

I changed into my work clothes, perhaps mumbling a bit at the interruption. I marched out to the hay bales, letting the gate slam behind me, then confronted the ewe, a ballerina on tiptoes wearing a tutu of hay bales. “Hey!” I said.

The sheep shot straight up into the air, slid down the bale, and ran off. Melissa’s mouth dropped in awe. “Wow,” she said. “Anytime,” I replied, then went back inside, changed out of my work clothes and started working again.

An hour later Melissa returned. “Got another one.” I went through the clothes-changing routine, slammed the gate, confronted the ewe in the same situation as the last one, backside jammed down between the bales. “Hey!” I said.

Nothing happened. She just stared at us. This one was obviously stuck, and good. We slid a long 2×4 in between the bales, trying to push her butt up. The 2×4 snapped. While Melissa returned to the barn, I hung out with the ewe, who by now was greedily eating from the bales forming her prison. I was just about to remind her that eating wasn’t going to help the situation, but stopped, since I tend to eat more when stressed as well.

Melissa brought out a long metal pole, which we poked between the bales. The sheep squirmed at this, perhaps not liking the feel of a metal pole being poked at her butt. I was getting discouraged. “Maybe we should bring her a bucket of water and deal with it tomorrow.”

Nope. We couldn’t use the tractor to move the bales because there was a fence in the way. By now it was dusk, and getting hard to see. Melissa brought down the pickup, a chain, and a grappling hook. She’d sink the hook into the top of the bale, the only part she could reach, drive away, and the hook would come sliding out. We repeated this step an embarrassing number of times, succeeding only in moving one bale about two feet. The ewe dropped down onto her hooves, but now was totally surrounded by the bales. Finally Melissa bravely took the hook in hand, and literally dove up and over where two bales met. Her head was down in the ewe’s little prison. All I could see were her boots up in the air. “I’m stuck,” she said.

“Maybe I should bring you a bucket of water and—“

“Not funny. Stuck tight—can’t breathe—hook’s in bottom of bale—pull with truck.”

Terrified the hook would slide out of the bale and impale Melissa, I nonetheless jumped into the pickup and drove forward until I heard a shout. I leapt from the pickup in time to see Melissa slide to the ground, and the ewe spring over her through the opening I’d made.

The ewe baaaed all the way up to the barn, no doubt planning to complain to the SPCA about being touched inappropriately in her swimsuit area. I might have to have a chat with her about gratitude. Luckily I know how to communicate with sheep.

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