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.

They played in the backyard.

They pooped on the driveway.

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.

18 thoughts on “

  1. Hell! I’M PROUD of YOU! I cannot believe what you did on the spur of the moment, feeling the way you did! You GO Girl! 🙂 I love your blog, and am going to read your book if i ever get time to sit, and i want to tell you that sometimes i surprise myself in emergency situations too. Know that ability is in you and let it out more often. It works!

  2. OH MAN OH MAN!!!! I so feel your terror! Anytime the critters are out, your mind just races as to the best plan of action. And all alone, too. 100 sheep, though, oh my gosh! I had 36 goats out just last week. Fortunately they had not had a chance to wander far, still lots of nice lush grass to graze right outside the gate they pushed open. (A new paddock, no electric in it yet, and the gate wasn’t secured very well.) Mine are very tame and friendly, and I was able to get most of them back inside by just walking back into the pen, picking up an empty bucket and rattling it. They probably would have all come if my not so smart, but ever faithful dog hadn’t planted herself at the gate! The older ones weren’t too afraid of her, and came in, only a few youngsters remained, and they were easily lured inside later. I didn’t even have to run that time!
    Of course the morning we awoke to find the cattle had opened their gate, and our 2,000 lb Scottish Highland bull was grazing in the yard, that’s another story. He’s a very gentle guy, but he isn’t going to move unless he wants to! Heifers running around, out to the busy road (nothing like Hwy 52, thankfully)That was quite the morning, lots of running, cajoling, and buckets of sweet 16. Always have something you can slosh around in a bucket, preferably with lots of corn in it! You never know when you’ll need it!
    Good job, Catherine, I can truly appreciate your terrifying task!! May it never happen again!

  3. I think we’ve all had an experience somewhat like this — although probably not with as many as 100 escapees! Good thing something within us kicks in and we don’t even stop to think “CAN I do this?” but rather just go into action on automatic pilot and DO it, WHATEVER it is that HAS to be done . . . and then collapse when it’s over.

    Who says women are the weaker sex? I have absolutely no doubt you would have done it with a broken leg and on crutches too!!

    Now take care of that cold.

    Mama Pea

  4. I’m not sure how to spell that sound made when you inhale in horror. I’m glad everybody came back safe and sound. Hope the exertion didn’t set your cold back.

  5. Thanks, everyone….

    Though I know I couldn’t have done it with a broken leg! And to step outside my front door and find a bull out there? Uh-uh. No thank you.

    As for the type of sound one makes, I think the sound follows the rule I use when Melissa gets hurt out here (bangs herself with a hammer, hits her head, runs into something—she’s creative, that girl.) If she swears and yells in pain, I know it’s not bad, and I ignore it. But if I hear this shocked intake of breath and no cussing, I come running because that means she’s really done it this time!

  6. oh man, I get all worked up and run like a bullet when my three sheep escape… I can’t image what another 97 would put me through! Congrats on being such a tough farm chick.

  7. Good grief, this brings back very bad memories of the day my neighbor called to tell me my pigs were in her pasture. And I was home alone, and pigs freak me out! Got the little (&$^#()% back in the pen, with the aid of the neighbor’s husband and a big stick. A whole flock of sheep? I think I would need a little lie down afterwards! Good job!

  8. OMG, Catherine, that must have been so scary for you! Good thinking to grab that bucket of corn and those sheep were smart enough (or hungry enough) to follow you. (I would cry from relief too.)

  9. I must be a masochist, because I just sat here at my desk this afternoon and read your entire blog from beginning to end… 😉

    …and am simply delighted to have found you and your farm and your writing. Holy ewe! So refreshing and funny and down to earth!

    *hurriedly ordering books on Amazon*

    Must have more. Will send several copies out as gifts; several sisters and friends will be as delighted as I am, I’m sure.

    Thank you for the glimpses into your daily life, the photos, the humor and the pathos as well.

  10. Thistledog….

    Hmmm, masochist is a good word…or perhaps INSANE…

    I just reread most of my blog entries to see if any would work for my next book, and nearly put myself into a deep trance…

    Hope you enjoy the books. (And I’m gonna steal that ‘Holy Ewe’ and use it sometime!)

  11. Catherine, Wow! What a nightmare, but you really came through! I love your blog, and in fact, wanted to tell you that it’s the only one I read. I could be reading one of the thousands of knitting ones, but I prefer your humorous farm-life stories!

  12. Hi Catherine — I’m a long-time reader of your books and blog, but first-time poster 🙂 Loved your real-life adventure, but what I wanna hear is the sound of your outdoor yodeling whilst having a flaming sore throat — must’ve been something. You’re lucky the sheep didn’t run the other way in terror lol. Have Melissa make you a sheep-herding trophy and put it up with your GCLS ones.

  13. Uniknitter—I’m flattered to be one of your favorite blogs. No photos of knitting projects here, I’m afraid. (Maybe some day!)

    Shel—The sound we make to call the sheep is silly and I hate doing it when people are around. But Melissa trained them to it… I don’t think I’ll be recording myself and putting it up on youtube anytime soon!

  14. Great story telling, Catherine! (And a nice reward for my visiting your blog for the first time since reading Hit by a Farm last year.) I loved your story-telling, and then the pleasure of seeing the scene of the escape. . . and round-up. I think of you and Melissa nearly twice daily, especially this time of year, when I drive by two farms on my way to and from work–one where there are about a dozen black baby sheep kicking up their heels (so cute!), and another, just down the road, where the easter-basket green hill is dotted with 20-40 black mama cows, all with suckling golden-tan calves–for a second year in a row. Guess all the mamas get inseminated w/ the same batch of sperm?? Anyway, love your stories! And love hearing about two strong women living their dreams. Sincerely, Sabrina, Santa Rosa, CA

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