Monday 29 October 2012

Sheep Watch

We've had these three sheep for almost 6 weeks now and it feels like they are such an established part of our routine, they've been here a lot longer. We have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and they've been very little trouble; very happy relaxed animals which are a pleasure to look after. In terms of man-hours they get a bit more attention than any other animals with 2 separate hours of 'exercise' each day in what we call "Sheep Watch".

They have long since munched off all the long grass in their original paddock, so we let them out twice each day to graze and browse around the wider estate. In the process of doing this every day for 3 weeks or so I have come to know them quite well and to be fascinated by their little ways and individualities.

Originally these 'Sheep Watch' sessions were just out to the front lawn and back. One of us (Liz or Myself) would grab a handful of their pelleted feed ("Sheep Nuts") in a plastic bucket and go out to their gate rattling it so they'd come charging over to meet us. You'd open the gate and then lead them, still rattling your bucket, to the front lawn, where you'd give them the nuts and then they'd look up from the buckets and realise there was lovely green grass all around. Their noses would go down and your job was basically done for 50 minutes or so while they filled their stomachs.

When their tums were full of basic grass 'fuel' they would start to look up and look around and maybe start exploring, maybe into the wooded bits or the hedges looking for some 'dessert' of ivy or young Queen Anne's Lace or other succulent herbs. We'd let them do this till the hour was up but by then you could rattle another hand-full of nuts in the bucket and they would rush over and allow themselves to be led home to their  paddock where they'd sit down to 'cud' and digest that hour's takings. This we do twice a day, around 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. in what we call Sheep Watch 1 and Sheep Watch 2.

As time's gone by they have started to eat off the  front lawn grass and get a bit more curious; more likely to wander about in search of variety rather than focusing on the lawn. They've explored the woods and all round the allotment (where I have to keep shooing them off the curly kale and the human crops and try to keep them on the grass 'verges' or the knackered old slug-riddled cabbage), they've come down through the yard into the Secret Garden and been all up the Primrose Path and ventured into the East Field. This is where watching them gets a bit more serious as the fences outside of their actual paddock might be cow-proof but they are in no way sheep proof. Sheep can easily duck under the bottom barbed wire strand of a cattle fence, so the watcher has to hover nearby to shoo them back off vulnerable gaps or be ready with a bucket of grub to tempt them back to safer ground.

As I said, in the process I have found them fascinating little individuals. I was surprised how choosy they are. Even on the front lawn which looks, at first glance, like an even carpet of grass, there are 'favoured' bits and less favoured bits, so that parts are grazed really short while other bits, such as near tree roots, stay long. Maybe they taste different?

They love to climb and clamber over the raised bits - old overgrown walls and mounds, or stand up against trees to reach up for ivy. This might just be because they are 50% Jacobs, Jacobs being a very goat-like sheep. For me, because of their dark brown colour, they remind me a lot of the dark-phase Fallow Deer in Challock Forest (Kent). They move through the trees in a similar way. I was surprised too by how fast they can move about and run, sometimes kicking up their heels and chasing away for 50 yards or so in a bouncing, leaping run like playful baby lambs. These dashes are the ones which bring them suddenly to the curly kale and have me sprinting after to shoo them away before they get too many mouthfuls! They even seem to do that stiff ankled, high-leaping run which in deer is called "pronking". Again, this might be the Jacob 'mountainy-sheep' blood in them. I didn't even know that ewes squat like a bitch to wee! They are also slightly different, each one, with Constance definitely the most 'tame' and most likely to come and say hello. She likes to have her hair ruffled and lets you tickle her chest and back. Florence (the paler, gingery one) is a bit tame, but Dora will have none of your fuss unless she has her nose in your feed bucket.

It's been fun but now, as I said, they are coming up to a reasonably hefty weight so we are approaching the time when we have to stop thinking of them as entertaining animals and start thinking about live-weight and the yield in shanks, shoulders, leg-of-lamb and rack of ribs.

Hey ho.

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