Mutton Busting

Today was the day to move the sheep between two pastures. They get folded across two fields separated by a quarter mile of dirt road, a creek, some more fields, and the hen house.  We keep them in a slick portable electric fence setup that’s very easy to take up and move around.

We corralled them into a small area so that we could transfer the bulk of the fencing to the new site.  After getting the new pasture ready, we put on our shepherd hats and started leading the sheep to the new area.  This involved me in the back of a truck hooting and hollering “here sheepy, come here sheep-sheep!  ayooooo!”  while someone else ran behind them to make sure they didn’t peel off to one side.  The herd wants to follow something, and the truck is apparently good enough.  This method worked much better than I expected, though at one point the chaser did need to correct their course a bit.

As we neared the new fencing, a ram fell behind (it was a hot day and the sheep were running full tilt at this point — their choice, not ours).  The truck stopped to make sure it was okay, but the rest of the herd was undeterred and decided to make a run for it while we were distracted.  The driver and the chaser stayed to look after the straggler while I lit out for the herd.

You have to think strategically when you’re herding sheep around.  These ones are a bit skittish and if you run right at them, they’ll scatter.  You have to run off at angles with the herd and repel them in the directions you want, just like big ocean predators forming schools of small fish into dense balls.  So while the herd continued down the road, I gambled which way they’d turn off the road and struck out through an overgrown field to head them off.  Once I had got round in front of them, stopping their momentum wasn’t too hard and I walked them back to the fenced area.

The dog that stays with the sheep, Fennel, proved to be remarkably unhelpful during all this.  It seems that she’s more of a sheep companion than a proper sheep dog.  I hope she learned a thing or two watching us today.

Also, they have an actual shepherd’s crook… I never thought about it before, but I felt like nobody had used one since hundreds of years ago.

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