If at First you Don’t Succeed…

I made attempt #1 to give Neo a haircut today. With that special mind reading ability that sheep have, Neo instantly knew I was up to no good and ran to hide behind his sister instead of coming over for treats and chin scratches.


“Nothing to see here, this is not the sheep you’re looking for, move along…”

I think the instant suspicion was because I was carrying the rope halter in my hand instead of hiding it in my pocket like I usually do. The sheep all know the rope halter is a horrible thing that only comes out when I want to make them do something they don’t want to do, or torture somebody by giving them a haircut and trimming their hooves, so they all start avoiding me when they see it.

All except Angel, who has never been haltered and thus retains her youthful innocence of halter-related tortures. She thought maybe it was a new toy for her to beat up and/or chew on.


“I’m the boss, rope!”

And Nova, who stayed well out of grabbing distance but still wanted her crunchies.


“Toss the crunchies over here and keep that nasty halter to yourself!”

I put the halter on the hoop house and covered it with my coat, hoping that would make them less suspicious, but since about 90% of the reason they like having me around is because of the crunchies in my coat pockets, they all just ran off and continued to shoot dark looks at me over their shoulders.


“ShepherdPerson looks extra shifty today, we better keep an eye on her!”

Angel didn’t run off, mostly because she was busy trying to decide if my coat needed to be beat up separately since I took it off, or if it had been sufficiently intimidated by being beat up while I was still wearing it.


“I’m the boss, you got that, coat?”

To my complete lack of surprise, she decided yes, the coat needed to be taught a lesson on its own. One might think that the muddy hoofprints all over the lower half of my poor coat would be sufficient proof that the coat knows who’s boss, but no.


“Take that!”

Eventually, with no halter in evidence and Angel otherwise occupied, Mira and Lady thought it might be safe to come see if I had any crunchies, as long as they stayed out of arm’s reach. No such luck with Neo, but I hoped if I could get his mama to relax it’d make him relax.


“If we come over there for crunchies, you’re not going to try to grab us, are you?”

But the minute they started walking towards me, Angel abandoned trying to beat my coat into submission in favor of running over to jump up on me and make sure no one else got any of her crunchies. It’s hard to try to catch anyone else when you have a lamb attached to your hip throwing jealous tantrums at everyone who gets too close.


“Mine! My person! My crunchies! Mine! ‘Cause I’m the boss!”

This is how I always end up with muddy hoofprints all over my clothes. Angel, Mira, and Nova are always climbing on me trying to monopolize my attention. And my pocket full of crunchies. I’m just glad the Shetlands generally don’t try to jump up on me.

I made a few more efforts to catch Neo, but he was able to avoid me pretty easily, and Angel kept snatching all the crunchies before I could try to bribe him close to me, so I gave up. I’ll have to catch him in the morning before I let them out of the barn, when he doesn’t have so much room to escape.

They always feel so much better once their itchy old fleeces are gone, I don’t know why they have to make the process so difficult.


If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words…

… how many words is a video worth?

The weather and my camera batteries are not cooperating with photography. It was snowy yesterday. Angel was once again deeply concerned that the white stuff was trying to eat her feet, and everyone else was deeply concerned that the white stuff was hiding all the grass. It melted in a few hours though, before anyone could starve to death.

I used my cell phone to record letting the girls out of the barn this morning, until the battery died unexpectedly. With my luck, I managed to capture the day I accidentally shut Nina in the barn because she’d decided to lag behind and eat the round bale in there. Fortunately her loud protests started before I got very far away.

Videos apparently don’t show up in emails for some reason, so click through to the blog if it doesn’t show up.

I’m about 90% sure at this point that Nova is in fact pregnant, I think I’ve started seeing some udder development in the past week, so that’s exciting. She’ll be due around April 9th if she is pregnant.

I’ve also noticed that Mira has been a lot happier these last few days; I think she’s finally getting over her postpartum depression or whatever was making her so cranky for the past year or so. She’s still keeping all the sticks in line, though, when she isn’t pestering me for treats or squabbling with Angel. I’m glad to see her happy again, a perpetually sad/angry/grumpy Mira isn’t much fun for anybody.

One of these days I’ll actually manage to a) charge the camera battery, b) put both the memory card and the charged battery in the camera, and c) bring the camera outside with me, all at the same time, so I won’t have to keep relying on my cell phone camera. Maybe I’ll even manage it on a day that isn’t too gloomy to bother photographing.


Yesterday morning involved a very intense battle between Lady and Mira. They were both in heat so of course they obviously had to try to kill each other. Angel was also making determined but futile efforts to pick a fight with Duke (Duke!) through the fence, as part of her ongoing effort to conquer the world before her first birthday.

They weren’t interested in my efforts to distract them, so I gave up and left them to it. Eventually they wore themselves out and had to take a lunch break. Using extreme stealth and the highest zoom on the camera, I managed to capture evidence through my window that the sheep aren’t always up to some sort of chaos. Sometimes they sleep.



I went out on the porch to see if I could get any closer, but as soon as the door hinge creaked heads started turning my way.



I ducked back inside before they could get any more disturbed. They settled back down for a while, but an hour later Lady and Mira were back to fighting. Hurricane Angel decided to go fight a hay rack instead of Duke, until she got bored and moved on to start a hopping contest with Nina. Business as usual.

At least the weather is giving us a break for a while, from all the ice and/or flooding. The rain might be good for the grass, but it’s nice to have a day or two where I can walk without slipping on ice or sinking into the mud.


Spring is Coming

We are entering the part of the year where it’s sunny and in the eighties one day, and rainy and in the low fifties the next. Our seasonal wet weather creek has started showing up intermittently, which is always cause for much complaining from the sheep.

Watching them cross the creek like it’s a river of lava is always funny, even if I only had my cell phone camera to take pictures with.

“Hey! That water wasn’t there yesterday! What is it?”

Angel’s never seen a wet weather creek before. It was very alarming.

“What is this water doing here?”

She started to wade across, but the minute her feet hit the water she started jumping around much the same way I jumped around the last time I stepped on a wasp barefoot.

“Noooo! Wet feet! Help!”

Nova jumped the creek cleanly, but Duchess was overcautious and started her jump too far from the waterline. She didn’t quite make it all the way across and ended up splashing herself in the face.

“Ugh, wet face! Get it off!”

Mira learned from Duchess’s mistake and edged right up to the waterline before making her jump.

“I made it! You need to do something about all this rain, Mom!”

Lady and her kids went “upstream” a bit to where the water was narrower before hopping over.

“Whew! Safe! That was scary!”

I don’t think Lady needed to jump quite that high to avoid about four inches of water, but I guess she’d rather be safe than sorry.

The sheep may be grumpy about the flooding, but the grass is starting to turn green from all this rain, which I’m sure will make them happy.

If it ever stays dry long enough, it’s about time to start giving them their annual haircuts, which will also make them grumpy, but I’m sure being rid of those heavy, shaggy fleeces will make them happy.

I will be happier and less grumpy when it dries up enough that I can get Echo to go outside without bodily shoving him out, only for him to huddle miserably by the door until someone lets him back in.

“I don’t wanna go out there! It’s wet! I’m just going to lay here and refuse to move!”

It’s hard to argue with 86 pounds of sad collie that doesn’t want to move. Especially when I feel the same way myself on rainy mornings.

Hopefully we’ll get some more sunshine soon, and everyone will be happier.


Happy 3rd Birthday, Mira

Today I am enjoying the sun and eighty degree weather, remembering how exactly three years ago there was over a foot and a half of snow on the ground the day Mira was born.

I tried to get pictures with her today, but most of them didn’t turn out due to Drama™ in the form of Hurricane Angel that kept bumping my arms and therefore the camera. I got a few decent shots, though, even with all the milling around.


“Mommy! You’re sitting down, where are my treats and cuddles?”

If I’m sitting down outside, it must be so I can give Mira treats and cuddles. Unfortunately Angel thinks I should be giving her all the treats, hence much of the Drama™ that makes photography difficult.

Angel and I have had to have quite a few discussions recently about her butting me when she’s in a temper. She’s not the first lamb I’ve had to have that discussion with, and so far I’ve been able to reach an understanding with all the lambs prone to direct their temper tantrums at me, so I’m sure she’ll give up eventually. For now it’s still a bit of a relief when Mira manages to run her off for a minute or two.


“If I stick my face in Mommy’s face, she’ll only be able to pay attention to me!”

Mira is one of my lambs prone to temper tantrums, but today she was a good girl. Probably because she got to vent all of her more negative feeling on Angel instead of me, but I’m not questioning it.


“You owe me lots of crunchies for letting you take my picture so much!”

She was a bit pouty that I wasn’t feeding her enough treats, but it’s a bit hard to juggle Mira, Angel, a camera, and crunchies. I need more hands. Not to mention Neo, who was hiding behind me wanting his chin scratched but not wanting to get mixed up in the Drama™. One must always have a free hand for petting Neo, too.


“Don’t mind me if I nod off…”

Neo always ends up falling asleep on me when he’s getting his chin scratched. At least until Angel and Mira start chasing each other in circles around me and he has to start ducking. I may have made slight progress on the “no butting ShepherdPerson” front, but Hurricane Angel has not decreased in force at all when it comes to butting the other sheep, much to everyone else’s aggravation.


“Pet me some more while they’re off trying to kill each other! My poor head’s been busted enough!”

Neo is a sweetheart. His head looks pretty much healed now, surprisingly cleanly given the original injury. It’s a bit puckered right at the top, but I don’t think anyone who didn’t know him would notice the whole scar unless it was pointed out. Sheep are amazingly fast healers. He’s still reluctant to get into any butting games, even with little Angel, but I can’t really blame him for being a bit head shy.

I didn’t get any pictures of Mira and Angel fighting, unfortunately, but I did find an old video of baby Mira running laps around the rest of the flock that made me laugh. She loved to run more than any other lamb I’ve had. Watch out for the volume, it’s a spring video so there’s a bit of wind noise.

This was also the day, as far as my photographic evidence can determine, that her obsession with sticks began, although there was a very blurry earlier one of her hauling something I think was a paper towel tube around the kitchen in her mouth, I’m not sure if that counts as a stick in her mind.


“This stick isn’t getting away from ME, Mommy!”

Many happy returns, and many sticks to play with in the future, my funny Miss Miracle!


Best Day of Watcher’s Life

The boys finished off their round bale the other day, and since it was too muddy to bring another one down I pushed the rest of the “emergency” bale in the barn outside for them. I thought that would tide them over until things dried up, but there was less of it than I remembered and they polished it off in about 24 hours. The girls are also peeved that they can’t grab a mouthful off every day on their way in and out of the barn anymore. That was their emergency round bale, how could I just give it to the boys like that?

Lacking any other ideas, I let the boys into the girls field last night so they could share the girls’ round bale while the girls were in the barn. Surprisingly, the girls’ bale didn’t completely disappear overnight. Even more surprisingly, thirteen naughty boy sheep appeared in the yard with the dogs this morning between the time the dogs were let out and when I went out.


“Yay, yard grass! We’re saved!”

Echo is still a bit scared of the Dukelings I think; he was staying as far away from the intruders as possible. Watcher, on the other hand, was enthusiastically rubbing his face on Duke’s mane, which Duke was tolerating with surprisingly good grace. “Eau de rutty ram” is apparently a very desirable fragrance in Watcher’s mind.


“Oh, hi Mom! Look! My sheep are in the yard! Isn’t it exciting?”


“Hold on, I’ll bring them to you!”

Watcher worked very hard herding the boys to me, helped I think by the fact the boys were heading towards me anyway.


“Hurry up! No lollygagging!”

Watcher was never so thrilled in his life as he was to have a group of sheep actually doing what he said. I’m pretty sure the boys would have followed me back to the field regardless, but Watcher ensured they did so in a much more timely and tightly-bunched fashion.


“Come on, stop grazing! Keep up! March!”

Once I’d gotten the sheep back in the field, (and the dogs back out of the field,) the boys all bunched up by the barn doors, either because it’s the least soggy place available right now, or because the barn is about the only normally off-limits place on the farm that they haven’t invaded in the last 24 hours. They haven’t been in the farm lane either, but if they’ve forgotten about that I’m not going to remind them.


“We want in the barn!”


“We want back in with our mommies!”

Drake, Will, and Griffin wanted back in with the ewe flock, but I think they’re happier with all the other boys for now. They can roughhouse and act as macho as they want over there.


“That was fun! When can my sheep come play again?”

Watcher’s still hovering around the fence making wistful noises. His entire reason for being has been validated. He finally got to do the job that is imprinted on his genes! It was the best thing that ever happened to him!

Echo would also like to know if this is happening again, so he can be sure to be elsewhere. His genes did not come imprinted with the sheep-chasing drive. His genes mainly tell him to take care of his people, eat and sleep a lot, be petted as much as possible, and sometimes play a game with Watcher.

With Watcher taking care of the sheep, and Echo taking care of the humans, and the humans taking care of the sheep and the dogs, I think we’re all pretty well looked after around here.



I am having a lot of trouble getting pictures that don’t look miserable and depressing, because the weather outside has been miserable and depressing for weeks. We keep getting soggy, wet snow overnight that melts by midmorning into soupy, wet mud.

The sheep usually like the cold, but they seem to be as grumpy as I am about the weather.


“No more snow and mud, Mommy, I don’t like it.”

I’m not sure whether to blame the general gloom or maybe the early stages of puberty for Angel’s mood lately, but she has transformed in the past week into approximately twenty pounds of solid “FIGHT ME!”, super concentrated formula. Mira got obnoxiously, ridiculously aggressive for a while when her hormones first started changing, so I’m thinking that’s probably what’s going on.

Either that or she’s aiming to be flock queen before her second birthday, one or the other. Maybe both. It’s hilarious right now but I do hope she calms down just a tad before she gets to be her mother’s size, or we might all be in trouble.


“I sure taught that stick a lesson!”

She’s not only been fighting her stick, but also the hoop houses, the straw bales, and my legs, and chasing birds and squirrels all across the field. I personally saw her fighting separate battles with Mira, Holly, Nina, and Nova, all within a 12 hour period the other day. Sometimes she hops around shadow boxing with no opponent at all. It’s an exhausting campaign for such a little Angel.


“I need the crunchies in your pocket for energy! I don’t know why I keep getting so tired, I’m only fighting everything that crosses my line of sight!”

Sometimes I look at one of my lambs and think “Why are you like this??”

Then I usually run through their pedigrees in my head and think “Oh, that’s why. Never mind.”


“Hey, it’s not my fault; I’m just over here minding my own business, killing this stick for the hundredth time like a normal person!”

I think Mira’s still convinced Angel just showed up out of the blue in her stall one night last spring from nowhere, attacked her, and now just generally exists to ruin her life. Angel feels the same way about Mira though, so I guess they’re even. It’s a shame they can’t at least be friends, but I’ve given up trying to persuade them. Either they’ll work it out eventually or they won’t.


“This is OUR stick, not Angel’s!”

I think the Shetland girls are a bit worried that Angel is going to damage their favorite tree branch. The ends of the branches are the perfect height and length to scratch themselves on through their big, shaggy fleeces. Unfortunately those same branches are also the perfect height to serve as Angel’s favorite punching bag.


“I’m the littlest, I gotta fight extra hard to teach those GrumpyBigSheep who’s boss!”

I’m hoping this is just normal hormone fluctuation and it dies down a bit in a few days, like it (mostly) did for Mira. I’ve told her Angels are supposed to be all about things like “Fear not,” “I bring you glad tidings,” and “Peace on earth goodwill to sheep,” but right now she seems set on being a warrior Angel of the “flaming sword” variety.

I suppose it’s a good thing she’s confident and assertive, though. She is an exceptionally small little lamb with no mother out in the field to stop the bigger ewes from bullying her. If she decides she wants to be flock queen when she grows up, I don’t have a problem with that, as long as nobody gets injured in the conquest.

Lady’s more interested in making more lambs than in actually leading the flock at the moment, anyway.


“No ewe can resist my flirty face!”

“Oh Duke, you’re so handsome, if only ShepherdPerson would stop closing all the gates!”

She and Duke may think July lambs sound like a good idea, but I’m not convinced. They’re doing very extensive research on whether lambs might be made through the fence, but so far they haven’t managed it, thank goodness. If they figured that out, the world would soon be overrun with tiny, hyperactive sheep!

If the weather insists on being gloomy and unpleasant, at least the sheep are keeping me from being bored.



One of the most fun things about animal breeding is watching how the little ones look and act like their parents. “Heritability” is the statistical estimate of how much of the variation in a population for a given trait is due to genetic variation, and how much is due to environmental factors, nutrition levels, learned behavior, etc.

A more heritable trait is more determined by genetics, a less heritable trait is more influenced by environment. Behavior and temperament are difficult traits to quantify for heritability, not least because offspring raised by their biological parents will both inherit and learn their behavior patterns from the same source, doubling up the parental influence.

In humans this is called the “nature vs nurture” debate, and psychologists get very hot under the collar about it. In animals, there usually isn’t much attention paid to inheritance of behavior and temperament except in companion or working animals, where temperament is obviously important, and sometimes in captive breeding programs of exotics, where loss of learned behaviors might prevent captive-bred offspring from being reintroduced to the wild.

The behavior of my swaggering little ram lambs seems to be very highly heritable indeed, but anything they didn’t inherit they quickly pick up from Duke. It’s very funny watching them follow him around and imitate him, while he keeps a watchful eye on them and shows them the ropes.


“These are my two junior apprentices! I am very proud of them!”

Drake and Griffin have been sticking particularly close to Duke. I was worried he would know they weren’t his sons, but apparently he either doesn’t know or doesn’t care, he’s adopted them regardless.


“And these are my senior apprentices! I did an excellent job training them, I’m very proud of them, too!”

The Dukelings have started their spring growth spurt already. Every day I go out it seems like they’re a tiny bit bigger. They have another year to grow; they’re turning two this year. By the time they’re three years old next year they should be as big as they’ll get.

Duke and his Dukelings are pretty straightforward, but over in the ewe pen there’s something a bit stranger going on.


“Die, you stick!”

The last few days, Angel has declared a blood feud with the biggest stick of them all, the fallen branch that smashed part of the fence last year. When I check on the sheep from the window I’ve seen her enthusiastically bouncing around attacking it. The Shetland girls like to use that branch as a scratching post, which is why the bark is worn away in places, but no one else in the flock fights sticks except Angel’s biological mother, Mira.

I can’t think of any possible reason why the obsession with sticks would be genetic, but Mira didn’t raise Angel, so I also don’t see how it could be learned.

Maybe they both independently learned it from Watcher, but neither of them were ever outside with him very much, so I don’t think it’s very likely.

Maybe Angel picked it up from watching Mira, but it seems odd she’d be the only one to ever pick it up, given how many other lambs have seen Mira playing with sticks and ignored it.

Or maybe they’re doing it on purpose to mess with my mind, but that makes me sound really paranoid. Is it paranoia if they’re really out to get you?


“I don’t care why they do it, as long as it means they’re distracted from eating and I get more hay!”

That seems like a good attitude, if slightly greedy. At least if Angel’s attacking sticks she’s leaving my feet alone. And I suppose trying to beat up sticks is better than trying to beat up other sheep all the time.

I’m still curious about why, though. Sometimes I wish they could speak English, so I could ask. Then I imagine having to listen to all 22 of them complaining out loud in words, and I decide I can live with my curiosity; they can communicate quite clearly enough the way they are.


Breathing Room

The snow melted a few days ago, much to everyone’s relief. Once again, we survived without anyone starving to death from the lack of grass. Everything is still dead and gloomy and muddy and unrelentingly brown, but that won’t change for another few months.


“I’m starving! I need crunchies!”

Angel always needs crunchies. She has to grow big so she can beat up her flockmates better. They don’t take her very seriously so far.


“I need crunchies, too!”

Holly also desperately needs crunchies. Usually she and her mother are joined at the hip, but Lady was in heat and too busy flirting with Duke to pay attention to Holly, so she was on her own except for her big brother, Neo.


“That’s ok, Little Sister can hang out with me while Mama’s busy.”

Neo is a good big brother. His head is much better now, just some puckered skin on his head and a pretty visible scar since the hair hasn’t grown back yet.


“Eat all the hay!”

Holly and Neo were determined to eat all of the hay faster than Bran and Johnny on the other side of the fence. The fence is getting wobbly there from so many sheep climbing on it.


“I found my stick!”

Mira is very happy that her sticks have emerged from the ice. She had to run around and check on every one of her collection, and glare at me ferociously if I walked too close to any of them. Which I always do, since she keeps leaving them in front of all the gates. I think she needs a toybox to keep her toys in.



The little boys were somewhat at loose ends, since Duke was too busy flirting with Lady to pay attention to them, and the crossbreds were monopolizing the shared hay rack. They came up to mill around uncertainly by the fence hoping I’d give them crunchies, which I did, of course.


“Ah, elbow room!”

Everyone except Ash, who seemed to enjoy having the round bale to himself without all those brothers and cousins to compete with.


“Don’t touch my sticks!”

I had to walk past Mira’s stick again on the way out, giving her one more chance to glare at me. She left it briefly to chase me down and demand some crunchies as I was leaving, but she was happily scooting it around again by the time I got back to the house.

I’m glad to have a few days of warm(er) weather, but I think I’m ready for it to be spring. The pastures are starting to look pretty rough, and I need some color outside besides straw-yellow, mud-brown, and patches of snow-slush-white.


First Snow

Angel saw snow for the first time this morning. She was shocked and dismayed.


“What is this stuff?”


“It’s cold! And it keeps trying to eat my feet!”


“Wait for me! I want back in the barn!”

I think Angel had the right idea, my first instinct on seeing snow is always to go back to bed and see if it’s gone when I wake up again. Unfortunately I can’t just go back to bed when there are hungry sheep to feed.

Mira was highly displeased with the snow, because all of her sticks are stuck to the ground or buried or both.


“Why won’t my stick move?”


“Come on, stick! You’re supposed to move when I drag you around and stomp on you!”


“My stick is stuck. What do I do now?”

Eventually she gave up on freeing her frozen sticks and joined the melee at the hay feeders. Everyone was mobbing the feeders in a panic because there’s two inches of snow and therefore there will never be any more grass ever and they’re all going to starve. Every year they have this mass hysteria over the grass being buried, and nobody’s starved to death yet.


“We have to eat it all as fast as possible anyway, just in case! This year, there might not be any more food ever! We might starve!”

Usually the whole flock follows me to the gate wanting in the yard. Today, they sensibly realized there wouldn’t be any grass out there either and stuck by the hay feeders. Only Mira, Nova, and Nina (and of course Angel) followed me to the gate hoping for crunchies, but they were visibly worried that all of the hay would be gone by the time they got back, and kept looking back nervously.


“Hurry up and give us the crunchies so we can go back! They’re eating all the food, and there might not be any more ever!”

I was in a bit of a hurry myself to get back in the house where it’s warm, so I quickly tossed them a few crunchies and we parted ways, sprinting back to our respective breakfasts.

Last time I looked, Angel was still hopping up and down, looking at her footprints and tentatively eating the snow. She has her own little hay rack all to herself in her own little private stall in the barn, so maybe she’s not as worried about starving as the others. I’m glad at least somebody’s enjoying the snow.