Ever tried something new? There's always that learning curve associated, where no matter how much you've prepared, you're just going to have to get in the trenches and make mistakes to grow.
This is so true when it comes to animals. We've been preparing to start a farm for years, but nothing is as good a teacher as actual doing. And it always comes with some major (and funny) mistakes.
Let's Get Sheep!
Alex and I decided we wanted to raise grass fed lamb (don't worry--it's not a teeny tiny baby lamb but just a sheep that is less than one year old). One of our favorite cattle raisers that we source stocker calves from has a son who raises Dorper sheep.
So naturally, we reached out to our friend Art and got hooked up with his daughter in law to purchase 5 sheep. She selected 4 ewes (girl sheep) and 1 ram (boy sheep) for us. Since this was the first time raising lamb, we decided to start small.
Having done a little research, we decided that our barbed wire fencing around our entire property would be okay, since sheep aren't like goats and tend to stay near their home. But we would create smaller grazing areas with electric fence netting specific to sheep.
We'd move them to new pasture regularly, much like we do our cows. Eventually, we would combine our sheep and cows into a "flerd" (flock/herd) just like several other regenerative farmers we follow.
Oh how naive we were.
The Sheep Are Here!
The day our sheep arrived, we were so excited. Art called to let us know he was on his way, and Alex had set up the sheep fencing to create a pen the night before.
Art arrived and dropped the sheep off into the paddock. Alex started talking to Art and his wife, and they caught up on a few things. Alex took a look at the sheep as they were heading towards the edge of the pen fenced in by barbed wire and asked, "Do you think that barbed wire will keep them in?"
As if the ram could understand Alex, he simply stepped over the lowest wire, ducked his head under the second wire, and made his way right onto our neighbor Chris' property followed by all four ewes as if to say, "Nope. Definitely not going to keep me in."
Art looked at Alex and said, "Well I'd help you but I've gotta go see a guy about some cattle. Good luck with the sheep business!"
Farm Neighbors Are the Best Neighbors
So we did what every farmer does when something like this happens--we called our neighbor to get permission to hop the fence and chase down the sheep. But by the time Alex got across the fence, the sheep were in the next pasture! Alex then promptly called that neighbor for her permission to chase down his sheep. She kindly granted it, but we decided we still needed to figure out how to actually get the little escapees back.
This is when I was really wishing we had a trained herding dog.
Alex came inside fully resigned to count the sheep as a complete loss. "Well, I guess we're out of the sheep business." I quickly reassured him that no, no we'll figure out a way to get them back, when our neighbor's neighbor called Alex and said, "I was driving back from Seguin and found your sheep on 3335!"
3335 is a well-traveled Farm to Market road with a speed "suggestion" of 60 mph. Most people drive MUCH faster than that! Visions of sheep roadkill promptly triggered intense anxiety.
So we quickly put our heads together and tried to figure out how we could get five sheep back without a trailer, without a herding dog, or any other sort of means to get a bunch of scared sheep back at least a mile to our house through 70 mph traffic, several turns, and nowhere to put them.
A 4Runner and a Horse Have a Lot in Common
Our Toyota 4Runner, Diosa, seemed like the best option, since it is enclosed and the sheep wouldn't be able to jump out. Alex quickly hopped in, while I tried to figure out how I could help with a newborn in tow.
Oh and did I mention we were waiting on 2 deep freezers to be delivered at exactly this time? Of course, the freezer delivery man called Alex at this time to let him know he would be there soon. So Alex took off in the 4Runner and left me to wait (and worry!) at the house.
Alex found all five sheep huddled up against fence alongside the road. So what did he do? He herded them using the 4Runner. Basically he used used the car to push them down the road a bit and then when he needed to turn them, he would speed up to get on the other side of them and position the car in a way to convince them to go where he wanted.
I really wish I could have seen all this. Or videoed it.
No one else was on the road at the time (PRAISE JESUS). Once Alex got them on our dirt county road, they ran into a driveway just as our freezer delivery guy turned down our road.
Freezer Delivery Guys Can Double as Sheep Assistants
Alex waved him down and had him use his truck to help herd the sheep into our neighbor's driveway, where he knew the fence would keep them in and he could try to rope them one by one. I bet he wasn't expecting that when he set out to deliver our freezers that morning!
The freezers then made their way to our office, and next thing I knew, Alex was driving back with our 4Runner with our neighbor in the back holding down the ram!
Alex then quickly put together a makeshift pen in our lean-to barn. Chris and Alex dropped the ram into the pen and headed out to get the other four while I had a stare off with the ram.
They managed to get two ewes back (one at a time) before the ram bolted out of the makeshift pen onto our OTHER neighbor's property. We promptly gave up on him for the day.
Eventually, Chris and Alex got all four ewes back into the makeshift pen. We decided we'd figure out Bolt (I mean, how could we not name him that?) at a later time.
A Sheep Will Adopt Cows As Family
For the next two weeks, Bolt took up residence in the herd of cows grazing our neighbor's property while we worked to properly fence in our large yard into a sheep secure pen.
Every day we'd check to see if he was still over there, and he was. Alex tried to rope him a few times but quickly determined that was never going to work. He was just too fast!
Thankfully, another nearby neighbor who runs the cattle next door eventually had time to herd all the cows into one of the pens and help Alex rope Bolt. We put him in our (much more secure) pen and fed him (and the ladies) alfalfa treats on a daily basis to convince them to stay.
Since then, no one has made any escape attempts!
What We've Learned
We learned a lot in this process, including:
- A good Toyota 4Runner is almost as good as a horse.
- Roping skills are like riding a bike--you never forget them.
- Sheep definitely can, and will, go through barbed wire.
- Freezer delivery drivers can do so much more than make deliveries.
- Nothing beats a helpful neighbor.
- It takes approximately 4 days to air out your 4Runner after using it as a sheep trailer.
- A rogue sheep will happily adopt a cow herd as its family when it has no other options.
Next time we get sheep, we definitely won't be using barbed wire to keep them in!
What new things have you tried recently? Comment below and let me know if you made any mistakes in the learning process!