sheep wrangling

Owen and Christine of Anthony-Masterson photography are an amazing couple who volunteer their skills to benefit the movement towards sustainable farming in Georgia. They've been out to the farm a couple of times now, and most recently, got some awesome footage of Ross wrangling our sheep for hoof-trimming. As we don't yet have a proper handling facility built yet, this process can be a little crazy, involving electric mesh fencing as a crowding pen and a shepherds crook. As the video below attests, this makeshift system has its problems, but such is the way of things in a farm's first year… humility and patience is the name of the game.

we have sheep: the complete tale

So, as indicated by the previous post, we have our sheep. At last. They are wonderful, peaceful animals… nervous, but peaceful. Here is the riviting tale: We awoke at 5:00am to have some breakfast and collect Frankie who was going in for a neuter while we were going to be away from the farm. We chucked him into the back of my station wagon and arrived at the vet's by 7:00. We returned to the farm by about 8:00 to finish preparing the trailer and finally we were away by 9:00. The drive up to Rapidan, Virginia was a grueling 11 hours in our awesome but loud F350 with some seriously rigid seats. We had meant to arrive just outside of Rapidan the night before we were scheduled to pick up the sheep, but we ended up cowering in a roadside hotel laundry room about 100 miles short of our intended destination due to about three tornados touching down around us. As we fell into bed that night, we were seriously grateful we decided to pull over when it started hailing and that we didn't have the sheep at that point.

After another 5:00am wake up call, we arrived at Everona Dairy around 9:00 to a queue of East Friesians in a chute that we were told were ours that looked waaaay too big to have been born in February. Turns out they were indeed the wrong ones. We had anticipated based on our email communications that Dr. Elliot, who is a breeder of good repute in the dairy sheep world, had picked out a group of 15 ewes with good genetics, including two rams of different lines. How wrong we were. We spent the next few hours rifling through several sheets of semi-complete records on two groups of lambs, picking them out by the ear tag number to get a good look at them, only to find that after we had grabbed, looked, and released, that we would be catching the individuals by hand rather than running them through the chute to sort. Basically, due to a number of miscommunications, we hand to hunt and peck for ear tag numbers for the same sheep twice. We did not have the sheep loaded until after 12:00. Small, but wonderful consolation was that Dr. Elliot's son, Brian gave us ample slices of his warm, home-made lamb sausage and a lovely chunk of herb-crusted Piedmont (Everona's signature cheese) for the road. It was a phenomenally delicious little farm lunch. We are riding on the hope that our little lambs will help us produce food as good.

After our morning adventure, we drove about an hour south east to pick up a group of Katahdin sheep from MyArk Farm. This was a much more straightforward experience, mostly due to the fact that Katahdins, as meat sheep, are not as valuable as dairy sheep and so long as your working with a good breeder, a bit less care can be given to the selection process. We actually ended up taking their entire crop of ewe lambs. Though some were less perfect than others, our thought is to go with all of them in order to gain experience with whatever they end up being and doing. It should be fun.

So, after picking up and loading up everyone, we were ready to take our new babies home. Our original plan was to be finished with everything by about 12:00 to give ups plenty of time to get all the way back in one night (arriving late, but not too late) so the sheep did not have to spend a night out on the road. But, since we didn't end up pulling away from our second pickup until 3:00, we prepared ourselves to find a safe place to stay for the night. I did not want to stay in a hotel with my sheep sitting in an anonymous parking lot by the highway. It felt vulnerable. Ultimately, we headed south toward Greenville where Ross' uncle lives on a cul-de-sac with enough room for a trailer. I am so grateful for their generosity for letting us arrive at 11:00 at night, watering the sheep, and providing us with a free bed. It was really a godsend.

The ride itself was quite its own adventure. I-95 with a livestock trailer full of precious, precious sheep is NOT a fun place to be. Remember, I-95 is the same road that, in New Jersey, is the New Jersey Turnpike, the single most hellatious road I have ever travelled on. Well, it seems that the Turnpike extends its negative influence all the way down the eastern seaboard. The lanes around Richmond, VA are horrifyingly narrow, the road is in ill-repair (bumpy, grated, cracked, and generally uneven), and everyone seems to be hauling something (yachts, cars, semi-trucks, the contents of a small household, ass). We pulled off as soon as we got clear of Richmond and decided to take a parallel road. No joy. It was a suburban wasteland filled with strip malls and the obligatory traffic lights. Unpleasantus maximus. We were actually delighted when we finally reached I-85. Let me tell you, hauling a livestock trailer with 32 sheep in it on the connector through downtown Atlanta was a totally surreal experience. Come to think of it, it probably wasn't a legal experience; we probably should have gone around on I-285 with the rest of the truckers.

But we got there in the end. We unloaded them and tagged the ones that didn't have one. They have been rotating through our smallest pasture since their arrival and should be ready for their first big move later next week. Thus far, we've only had one serious mishap (knock on wood!). Franklin got a little too playful with one of the ewe lambs and seriously hurt her leg. She will be fine; she's living in our basement with another sheep for company while we nurse her back to health. We've christened her "Cookie" for being such a tough cookie. Frankie is in a better situation where he has less access to the lambs, but can still bond with and protect them properly. Every day is this intense learning experience, making changes, shifting things, figuring out a better way to keep everyone safe, healthy, and happy, including ourselves.

This whole learning curve we're riding here feels a bit like playing The Oregon Trail, only _for real_. It's like I'm constantly circling the wagon going "is everyone ok? all alive? no snakebites? no dysentery? cool, lets get moving at a strenuous pace." Every time I hear coyotes at night my heartbeat quickens; I pray the fences are strong and that the dogs are diligent. I have never hoped and prayed like I have since so many lives have been in my care.