The Great Sheep Escape (Or, My Ten Minutes of Terror)
I wrote in my memoir, Hit By a Farm, that when we started farming, it was clear I hadn’t inherited my grandmother’s shepherding genes. But yesterday, during ten minutes of pure terror in which I was driven by instinct alone, I think I might have earned my shepherd’s crook.
We keep the sheep inside a five-wire fence charged with 4,000-5,000 volts. It works. Now and then, when pasture is scarce toward the end of fall, we set up temporary fencing in a ditch or our yard or the windbreak, and let them out of the perimeter fence. They’re still fenced, just not with a heavy-duty perimeter fence. Our flock has never been outside of the fences because we live an alarmingly short jog to a major highway, and it’s just not safe having sheep outside the fence. Yesterday we set up a temporary fence in the windbreak and let the sheep in to munch on grass and clover.
Here’s the scene. I’m home alone, near death with a head cold and flaming sore throat (luckily I’m not at all dramatic about being ill…) Melissa is 25 minutes away at work, where it’s too noisy to hear her cell, so it’s off. After a morning of deep self-pity over my cold, I look out the back door. There are sheep out there. Even in my fuzzy state of mind, I know that’s not right. I look out the west window…there are sheep on the driveway. Also not right.
Then it hits me. The entire flock is outside of the fence…They are unfenced…They are free to dash down into the neighbor’s hay field, or run down the driveway and turn left, where they can perform all sorts of mischief on a neighbor’s land. Or they can turn right, and in a comfortable thirty second jog find themselves at Hwy 52 and certain death from cars zooming by at 75 mph.
My heart nearly stops. It’s up to me to get the flock back to safety. I throw the puppy in her kennel, change my sweatshirt for something lighter because I’ll be running, jam my feet into my barn Birkies, then race outside. I know people think that having a border collie automatically helps, but it doesn’t. Ours has always been fairly independent, but now that he’s deaf, he’s doubly so. Robin can’t help me. Melissa’s at work. She can’t help me. There’s no time to call a neighbor because as the sheep graze, they are moving farther from the house, and spreading out.
I dash to the goat barn and retrieve a bucket of corn, then race for the fence that should have kept them in. I see they knocked it down. I disconnected the electricity so I can touch the fence, then run to the pasture where I need to move them.
I’m a planner. I consider the options, weigh the results, and then make a decision. But I have no memory of making a decision, but instead I acted on pure instinct. The sheep are all outside the temporary fence, but the llamas are still inside. When I open the fence to call the sheep in, the llamas will want to leave. They are contrarians like you wouldn’t believe. I decide I’d rather have two llamas running loose than 100 sheep.
I’ll have one chance to lure them down the driveway into a 90 degree turn, up the hill, then another 90 degree turn into the pasture. If this doesn’t work, they’ll become suspicious, flightly, and likely run helter-skelter down the driveway.
I open the fence, rattle the bucket of corn, give the odd yodel we use to call the flock, and all the sheep come running from the yard, driveway, and barnyard. A handful make the 90 degree turn and start following me. The rest hesitate. The llamas are heading for the opening and freedom. In a burst of energy fueled by terror, I push up the hill, rattling the bucket and yodeling. I risk a peek over my shoulder. Thank god for the sheep’s desire to stick together. They’ve all made the turn and are following me up the hill. Even the llamas are coming, having been swept up in the wooly stream.
I turn left into the pasture, and every sheep and llama follows me. I shut the gate behind them, fall to my knees and cry and cry with relief. I don’t know if there’s a god or goddess responsible for watching over shepherds, or a saint even, but one of them smiled on me yesterday.
After I recover, I shakily retrace their steps using the clues they left behind. (With a flock of 100 sheep, one of them is almost always pooping.) So I followed the poop. Here’s where they knocked down the fence:
They ran down this hill
They played in the front yard, knocking over my gourds.
I lured them through this opening,
up this hill,
and into the pasture, where they are once again safe behind 4,000 volts, innocent as you please.
In my books and blog, Melissa’s usually the hero, and I get a kick out of making fun of myself. But yesterday, I done good. Melissa was proud of me. I was proud of me.
Heck, if my grandmother were still alive, I’m pretty sure she’d be proud of me. I might have inherited her shepherding genes after all…just took ten minutes of terror for them to kick in.