A New Herd

The goats have been keeping me busy – we slaughtered the three male bucklings from this spring, and suddenly we have lots of meat and lots of milk. Kefir, yogurt, cheese, too. It is such an abundance as we have not had in several seasons. It feels heady and happy – every meal is a feast. We have lots to share, and at last my heart feels generous again. I hate that careful feeling of having to hold back when everything feels short and not enough, and not be able to freely share. It feels so mean and stingy and full of fear.

The four doelings from the spring are growing and growing! Tulsi is too heavy to be picked up easily. She stands on me and nibbles my hat in the mornings while I am milking. Coconut puts her head in the headgate with the big goats. She looks as if she is suffering once she is in, but she never hesitates to get in again the next day.

If that wasn’t enough – I am starting a new herd with sheep. It’s almost like trying to garden in a new place – everyone has to get used to each other. I used to keep sheep ten years ago or so. They were hair sheep, which is the easiest kind of sheep to find. I bought them as lambs (when Ethan was out of town), and they turned out to be quite difficult to keep in my system at the time – no perimeter fence, with them plowing down the poorly-electrified electronetting and doing horrible things running amok until we donated them to a different farm. To be honest, my opinion of sheep after that was that they were secretly evil.

The memory has faded over time, and after staying in France on the sheep farm, and getting to help out at the sheep and goat dairy in the Alps, I found I love the flavor of sheep’s milk, and the cheese and yogurt that can be made from it. Not only the milk, but I also longed to have wool of my own. Years ago I used to spin on a drop spindle. I love to knit and work with wool. Besides, sheep don’t have the high copper requirements that goats do, and I am wondering if they are a little easier to raise than the goats.

The problem was the difficulty of finding the right kind of sheep. I thought perhaps I could get the Gulf Coast sheep or Cracker sheep and select for milk production – something that would take many generations. I was telling my friend Tiare of Shepherd’s Hill Farm (she raises hair sheep), and she told me about her friends who actually raise dairy sheep here, and they keep the wonderful East Friesians.

I couldn’t believe it! We managed to secure two ewe lambs this spring. Ethan’s truck is so awful to drive these days – it is mildewy, moldy, the turn signals don’t work and people honk angrily at you, it has electrical problems and will run itself out of batteries while parked, one window won’t roll down, the AC is broken, the hand-hold to pull yourself up into the crazy high-up seat is ripped off, the windshield wipers barely work and turn themselves on when you open the door, the passenger-side door is off the hinges and must be lifted when closed, trash and empty beer cans rattle out when you open the doors, it can’t go faster than 55 mph, and the whole thing creaks like the suspension is about to give out and explode all the tires off like a cartoon car – so I decided to take my little white 2000 Honda Accord to pick up the sheep instead, so Clo and I could relax with the windows up in the air conditioning and learn Japanese off the Pimsleur Language Program CD from the library (Konnichiwa!) instead of suffering for an hour and a half. True, we would have to have a sheep in the backseat, but I laid down towels just in case.

We picked up Daisy first. She was very easy, and Clo cuddled her in the backseat the whole way home. When we got back, the dogs were very friendly and curious towards her. She was nervous and unhappy, and we tried to put her in the field of grass where I hang laundry with one of the friendliest little goats – Gingerbread.

Gingerbread is always the odd one out. Her mother, April, was the one we lost when my goats got sick this spring. She’s very, very friendly from being bottle-fed, but the other goats are always picking on her. I thought she would appreciate a friend.

Instead, Gingerbread made it clear that she felt victimized. She bleated and bleated instead of eating the nice, tall grass. We introducing Daisy to the rest of the goat herd, and they were terrified of her and ran away. So Daisy wandered around, lonely, always reappearing around the kitchen after a few hours of being put out to graze. A few times, when the goats were in at sunset when I put Daisy in for the night, I stuck Gingerbread in with her for company. They got some feed, salt, kelp and water – but Gingerbread was very unhappy to be put in with the weirdo, and even though the other goats were right across the fence, she bleated all night.

Every morning I milk a little milk into a bottle for Daisy. She and Gingerbread have to be locked out of the milking area for this – Gingerbread gets in the way, and Daisy tries to assault me (she REALLY likes the milk). Then everyone goes out to graze, with Gingerbread and Daisy trailing behind so they don’t get head-butted by the big mean goats. They did seem to get used to each other after awhile, but I thought it would be much easier once we had another lamb for Daisy.

It was storming again when we went to pick up Hana, the second lamb. There was not much time to judge her character – we assumed she was just like Daisy, who walks in the kitchen if the door is open, and loves to have her back scratched. But Hana was not like Daisy. She bit Clo’s finger on the way home (to be fair, Clo was doing something to her ear and had put sunglasses on her).

When we got her home and set her down beside Daisy, Daisy looked her up and down, and then gave her a few good smacks with her forehead, just to let her know who was in charge. It turned out that Daisy had gotten used to being an only-sheep, and she would rather go on being an only-sheep. I tried letting them out to graze together, because it was still afternoon, but Hana was so neurotic about following me out, it was difficult.

Once out in the pasture, I discovered that the cows had knocked down their fence and more than half of them were out (all the bad ones). At first I thought they were supposed to be grazing there, but when I called Daisy and they thought I was calling Poppy (our herding dog) they all started running back to jump back in. So I really called Poppy over, and Ethan, too, because you can never have too many people around when the cows are misbehaving, but Poppy drove them the long way around and then back next to where the lambs were grazing.

One thing I’ve noticed about sheep is that they have a lot of nervous energy. They are not logical like the goats. Their natural defense strategy seems to be to do something completely spastic and unpredictable that is so crazy, a predator could never imagine it coming. Hana had one of those moments – and took off running and pronking like a crazy animal after the cows. Daisy hung back and observed from next to me. I could almost hear her say. “Well that can’t end well.”

It was very nerve-wracking for a few minutes as the little lamb got mixed up in the flying horns and hooves. The cows get spooked in the most satisfying way possible, with eyes bugging out and heels up when they are being herded by Poppy (they couldn’t care less if it’s me trying to herd them), but it is quite dangerous. Hana ran all the way in to the pasture with them, and was much more afraid of me trying to separate her out than the cows trying to get away from her. They weren’t sure exactly what she was, but they weren’t taking any chances. The more she tried to keep up with them, the more they ran away. It took three of us, and Poppy to chase her out again. Daisy watched smugly from just outside the double-strand electric fence.

Every day it gets a tiny bit easier. Today Hana got quite close to me, and she is starting to settle down. Soon, hopefully, she will get used to all of us and be friendly.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. What a beautiful menagerie it’s always so much exhausting fun introducing a newbie. Great the fam are there to help. It’s so great to read you are all doing well although I guess the same can’t be said for Ethans truck thank goodness you have the Honda. Look forward to your next beautiful adventure as always.

    Like

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