Getting Better

Lady limped for quite a while, but she’s all better now, so I’m writing it up as a late-night scuffle in the barn that got out of hand. She’s leading the Soays again, with Will and Holly still close at her side. Neo was off being chummy with the Shetlands today. He’s a bit less clingy than his two younger siblings.


“Look, Ma! I can climb trees!”

“That’s nice, dear.”

Watcher is still convinced he can teach Echo to play fetch. Today he decided we’d use the ball instead of the frisbee, maybe make it easier to understand.


“First, get the human to throw the ball by bringing it to them and wagging your tail and looking super-hopeful! This is the best part!”


“Then, when she throws it, we chase the ball down and grab it! This is the best part!”

“Ok, but this sure is a lot of work!”


“OK, I’ve got the ball, now what?”

“Now we run back to the human! This is the best part!”


“Nooooo, silly! You’re supposed to bring the ball WITH you to get petted, so she can throw it again! That’s the best part!”

“But… but… she just threw the ball away! Why would I bring it back, when she’s just going to throw it away again?”


“That’s it, I give up. I’m tired. I am never going to understand this game. Way too much running and throwing and chasing. There has to be an easier way to get petted.”

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES“Don’t worry, I went back and got the ball for you! We can try again! The play must go on!”


“That’s ok, Watcher, I figured out if I just come up and kiss her face she’ll pet me anyway, even without the ball! That saves me a lot of time and energy, not having to do all those other steps!”

Poor Watcher. He tries and tries, but Echo just doesn’t see the point of fetch. I guess dogs are like people, not everybody likes the same games. I’ve had to become an expert at petting Echo with one hand while throwing Watcher’s toy with the other to keep them both entertained. Both dogs resent having my attentions divided, but until they can agree to do the same thing at the same time, they’ll just have to put up with it.


Lady, I am happy to say, is not sick. I am unhappy to say she is still limping, but overall she’s much better than she was this time yesterday, so I think she’ll get over whatever she did to her leg without a vet’s intervention. If it goes on past the weekend I might reconsider, but I’m pretty sure it’s not as serious as I thought it was at first.

Sheep are notoriously stoic about injuries, but Lady’s family seem to have missed that memo. I remember she got a piece of straw in her eye when she was a youngster, and she laid around the clubhouse refusing to eat and acting like she was dying for two days after I got it out. Neo drooped around so pathetically after he was wethered, he had me fully convinced he was going to die. Will Scarlet… is Will Scarlet. There are way too many “I’m dying!” stories in his history to choose just one.


“Don’t worry, ShepherdPerson! We’re looking after Mama!”

Will and Holly (count the legs) are sticking close by Lady, just in case she needs somebody to lean on. Or possibly they’re hoping she’ll forget that they’re both supposed to be weaned. Lady has the clingiest kids in the flock. I’m giving her some space for now, staring at her most of the day yesterday sort of freaked her out, I think.

In contrast to the melodrama of Lady & Co., I would like to assure everyone that Liam is a happy, healthy sheep with absolutely no body image issues. The amount of indignation I’ve received, either in person or through my inbox, for suggesting in my last post that Liam is overweight is both surprising and honestly pretty funny.

To clarify, the word I used was “rotund,” which I understood to mean something closer to “plump” than “obese.” He’s a little heavier than I’d like him to be, but not hugely overweight. I’d just rather him not keep gaining weight at the rate he has this spring/summer. I really don’t think I’m giving them enough extra feed to affect their weight as long as they share, but unless I supervise pretty closely Liam ends up eating most of the treats. He’s not a bully, he’s just a (relatively) big sheep with a (relatively) wide head and it’s not easy for the smaller sheep to push past him.


“I don’t mean to hog the treats at bedtime, but sometimes I accidentally knock the other sheep out of the way ’cause I’m so much bigger than they are, so ShepherdPerson has to shoo me away so I don’t make myself sick and the other sheep can get their share. It doesn’t hurt my feelings; as long as I get a few treats and I get to sleep in the same stall as Lana and Nina I’m a happy boy. Especially now that we have yummy crunchies again instead of that health food stuff!”

The dogs are wholeheartedly in favor of me using Chex for treats again instead of sheep feed, because crunchy cereal can be a dog treat as well as a sheep treat, but the sheep feed is only edible to sheep. They know this, because they kept stealing my treat bag when I stopped to pet them, then making disgusted faces when they tried to eat the feed pellets.

Echo’s feeling neglected with how much time I’ve been spending out with the sheep. He was staking out the basement door today, making sure I didn’t get past him without giving him some attention. He wouldn’t have said no to crunchies, but I didn’t have any on me this morning.


“You were out there forever! I was worried! I thought you’d never come back! Who would pet my ears if you left me?”

Everybody loves Echo. Everybody pets Echo’s ears. He is not suffering from lack of attention. Even Watcher chews on Echo’s ears, although Echo isn’t too crazy about that.


“Don’t worry, Echo! I’ll chew your ears if all the humans are too busy!”

“Nooo, you get them all slobbery! I want real pets! And maybe a belly rub!”

Poor doggy. So sad. I made sure to pet both of them before coming inside. Sometimes I think maybe I should feed and caffeinate myself before I go out in the morning, instead of after.

Can’t Catch a Break

Had a scare with Lady today. She was staggering and wobbling when she came out of the barn this morning. After Princess, anybody looking wobbly sets off my big red panic button. After watching her for a few hours, she has a definite limp on her left hind leg, but there’s nothing visually wrong with the leg, and she doesn’t show any neurological symptoms, so I’m 90% sure she just strained something. It’s happened before, and it’s usually gone by the next day. That 10% still makes me nervous, though.

Even on three legs she’s faster than I am, so I haven’t managed to take her temperature or feel her leg yet. I’d try to get everyone in the barn so I could catch her, but I’m afraid she’ll get knocked down/trampled/kicked in the rush. If she gets any worse, or doesn’t get better by this afternoon, I’ll have to try it anyway.


“Just keeping you on your toes!”

Why? Why do I need to be on my toes? Can’t I ever just relax and walk normally, without being one crisis away from a nervous breakdown? Would that be too much to ask?

Keeping an eye on Lady meant sitting outside for a long time, and it is a truth universally acknowledged that a ShepherdPerson in possession of treats must be in want of some sheep to eat those treats, so I had a lot of distractions company while keeping watch.


“Treats? Any treats for us?”

Neo and Nova, my first little lamb crop, investigated my lap and hands for treats, while Mira stood by my shoulder and radiated disapproval.


“You guys go away! This is MY mommy, MY lap, and MY treats!”

Neo may be a gentle soul, but he is pretty big and Mira’s not quite brave enough to try to butt him away. She settles for squeezing in between him and me while glaring at both of us.

On the subject of treats, I’ve been giving the sheep a pelleted feed instead of Chex cereal for a while, because it’s actually formulated for sheep and it’s cheaper for a 50lb bag than endless boxes of breakfast cereal. I’m thinking I need to go back to Chex though. The sheep like their crunchies better, and I think the pelleted feed might actually be too nutritious. I don’t feed them much, maybe two or three handsful for the whole flock, but certain sheep of the Shetland variety around here are starting to look a bit rotund.


“It’s all wool!”

Yeah, I don’t think that’s all wool.


“Maybe it’s muscle?”

Sorry, no, unless all your muscle is around your belly.


“Fine, I don’t have to listen to this, grumble-mumble, my girlfriend thinks I look fine, grumble-mumble.”

I’m a bit suspicious that using the pelleted feed may also have accidentally flushed the girls last fall, leading to my 100% twinning rate this year. I do not like a 100% twinning rate. It’d be fine if I was running a commercial operation, where the extra boys would get eaten, but…


“Hi, ShepherdPerson! We’re hanging out with Johnny today because Dad’s in a grumpy mood again!”

…Yeah, don’t think I could bring myself to eat the Dukelings. If anybody’s in the market for a nice Soay ram lamb, I wouldn’t be opposed to selling a few of them, though.

Learning the Wrong Lessons


“Hey, ShepherdPerson! Daddy and Johnny have been teaching us how to head-butt like big, grown-up rams! It’s really cool! Wanna see?”

Ah yes, I love watching tiny, half-size rams play foreheads at ten paces. Actually, it is kind of funny, since the Dukelings have terrible aim. They tend to miss completely and go charging past each other without colliding, which is hilarious. Or they just barely clip the sides of their horns together as they pass, and both of them spin out and fall down, which is equally hilarious. Even when they do manage to connect they’re still too little to do serious damage to each other.


“It’s really hard to aim from ten paces away with my eyes closed!”

It’s probably going to be less funny when they get serious about it and I suddenly have five territorial rams instead of one, but I’ll worry about that later. Or maybe I should get around to having the extras wethered before it becomes a problem. There’s an idea.

Meanwhile, back in the yard, Watcher is determined he’s going to teach Echo how to be a proper playmate. Echo still doesn’t understand fetch. He’s gotten the chase-and-capture part, which is progress, but once he has the toy he starts chasing Watcher with it instead of bringing it back. Also, the game in general requires far too much running and far too little sitting in laps getting petted, in his opinion.

The one game Echo both understands and is enthusiastic about is tug-of-war. He really likes playing tug-of-war with Watcher, mostly I think because he’s ten pounds heavier than Watcher and thus generally wins.


“Hey, guess what? I thought this rug was just here for us to sleep on…”


“But then Watcher showed me that it’s actually a giant tug-of-war toy! I love tug-of-war! Best game ever!”

Tearing stuff up is not what I had in mind when I wanted Echo learn how to play.


“This is awesome! I love playing!”

Not what I had in mind at all.


“Grrr, my rug! Gimme!”

Sigh. This is my cue to call time-out on the game before they tear the poor rug to pieces. Why are all my kids so destructive? The whole “let the other animals teach the new kids the ropes” thing sounded like such a good idea in my head. I guess I should have kept a closer eye on the curriculum. Well, at least they’re having a good time, I’d hate for them to think learning was boring.

Fairest of Them All

Mira, Mira, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? Mira came in heat for what I’m pretty sure is the first time today. She didn’t just inherit Duchess’s looks, she definitely also inherited her mother’s flirting skills. She’s driving everyone crazy with her over-the-top antics.


“Hey Mom, you know what? Boys are a lot more interesting than I thought they were!”

I’m not sure the pasture can handle two such beautiful ewes. Mira certainly thinks she doesn’t need the competition. I expected her to be flirtatious when she grew up, I wasn’t expecting her to be so catty. I probably shouldn’t be surprised; she never has been very good at sharing.

It seems Duchess isn’t good at sharing either. She was never interested in anyone other than Duke, but that doesn’t mean she’s ok with Mira flirting with her beaus. The two of them have embarked on an absurd rivalry over the hearts of the local boys. Prima donnas, both of them.


“I’M the fairest of them all! Not you!”

Neo’s somewhat nervous presence behind the tree was purely coincidental; he made it abundantly clear he wanted no part of any fight between feuding females

Duchess has always been pretty low-ranking and never wanted to be in charge of the flock, but apparently she does like being queen bee in the world of sheepy romance. She keeps glaring at me like it’s all my fault Mira turned out exactly like her. I think she’s deeply unimpressed by my lamb parenting skills. I refuse to accept blame, I’m positive there’s more of Duchess’s nature than my nurture at work here.


“Fine job YOU did, teaching that girl manners!”

Duke has commenced his annual fall tradition of pacing up and down the fence making strangled noises of rage and frustration. Meanwhile his pasturemates have commenced their annual fall tradition of staying as far away from Duke as possible.


“Hey girls! Over here! I think you’re both pretty! Hey!”

Everything should be temporarily back to normal in a day or two, once Mira isn’t in heat anymore. I’m hoping Mira won’t turn out to be so much like Duchess that she acts the same whether she’s in heat or not. Breaking up the fights would get very old very fast. I don’t think she will, she’s never been overly interested in boys before, and as far as I can tell Duchess was born flirting. I suppose I’ll find out soon enough.

The one calm point in the raging hormonal storm is that sweet Liam remains steadfastly devoted to Lana, regardless of all the drama going on about Team Mira or Team Duchess.


“At least MY girlfriend is SANE! And she’s fluffy like me!”

A match made in heaven.

It’s Hard to be Sneaky


“Do we get morning crunchies today?”

Holly and Neo are sticking close to their mother for breakfast today. Will failed yet again to sneak milk off of Lady, and wandered off with Duchess in a huff. Duchess remains unimpressed by his attentions.

I’m almost positive that Holly is now taller than Lady, which makes poor Lady the shortest of her family again. Holly does have a fluffy lamb coat though, it could be her fluff making her look taller than she is.

Fluffy though Holly is, nobody does fluffy lamb coat like Nina! She’s officially moving into “cotton ball with legs” territory.


“I’m hiding behind these weeds, super-sneaky! You can’t see me!”

Nina tries very hard to fit in by copying her Soay pasturemates’ games. Some games she’s more successful at than others, but I can’t really fault her stealth skills. Hide-and-seek is a Splendid Game that the sheep love to play but don’t seem to be very good at, except for newborn lambs hiding in tall grass. Even the Soays tend to forget that hiding their heads doesn’t make them invisible.


“Are you sure we can’t have morning crunchies?”

Sweet Neo. Part of my very first lamb crop, and one of my favorite wethers (shhh!). He’s just so friendly and handsome. He’s the biggest Soay I have aside from Duke, but he almost never starts fights.


“Mommy! Crunchies! Gimme, gimme!”

Unlike this little girl, who has started picking fights all over the place lately. Last year I wasn’t sure if she ever really hit puberty, but she definitely has this year. Hormones, so many hormones. Sigh. They grow up so fast.

Mira got in the way and put everything in her mouth supervised while we replaced the tarps on one of the girls’ hoop houses yesterday. She was rather dubious about the sudden lack of windows, but she was very pleased by the shade. If only I could get the little hooligans to see the correlation, lack of windows = presence of shade, maybe they would quit tearing the tarps up so much. Probably not, but maybe.


“If there are no morning crunchies, then we have more important business to attend to! Goodbye!”

The classic picture of Soays: lots of tails, conspicuously ignoring ShepherdPerson, with one appointed lookout keeping an eye on me in case I suddenly decide to fulfill my primary function and produce food. Or, given that it’s Duchess on watch, in case I randomly go crazy and decide to eat them. I think Duchess still worries about that, which would hurt my feelings if she wasn’t half convinced that everything is about to eat her.

Mira didn’t inherit that timidity. She doesn’t give up on morning crunchies as easily as the others, either. She’s been in my lap enough to know that sometimes even if I’m not feeding her crunchies, that doesn’t mean I don’t have any. She must therefore check all of my pockets herself and get muddy little hoofmarks all over my pants before she’s satisfied that I’m not holding out on her.


“You can’t sneak anything past me!”

The classic picture of Mira: close up and posing for the camera. She very rarely even tries to be sneaky, just marches right up and demands to have her way. Which she usually gets, being cute, sassy, and my baby. Which means she has very little reason to be sneaky, I suppose.

A Good-Natured Debate

Who knew “where shall we go for breakfast?” was such a controversial question? No wonder Liam and the two Shetland girls usually steer clear of the Soay crowd in the mornings, until they all have something in their tummies and are feeling less cranky.

Start the Clocks

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES“Hey, this shelter is suddenly working again! How about that!”

The tarps on the demolished shelter have been replaced, so now it’s time to place bets on how long it’ll be before “windows” start showing up. I know the tarps will last a lot longer if I can keep the hooligan Dukelings from dancing on the roof with their pointy little hoofsies.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES“Hey girls, how you doing?”

The clock is also counting down towards the crazy days of breeding season. Duke’s taken to following the girls down the fence line more devotedly than usual. He’s not going to be too happy that I don’t intend for him to sire any lambs this year. He’s fathered twelve lambs, of which nine are still in the flock. That’s plenty. Not to mention that out of those twelve lambs, only three were ewes. That’s ridiculous. He’s fired. I’ll either rent a ram or use Cedar this year.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES“This sun feels good. I like the grass.”

Sandy has racked up an impressive amount of time on his clock. He’s officially seventeen and a half years old. When he was younger, we used to have to keep a careful eye on the back yard fence to keep him from escaping and setting out on a path to world dominion, (He’s a terrier, he can’t help it, world-conquering is in his genes) but now he gets to go out in the front yard with no fences at all.

Reason one, he prefers sleeping to exploring nowadays, and his fastest arthritic shuffle is a bit slower than my normal walking speed, so he wouldn’t get far if he did decide to run off.

Reason two, the back yard is off limits, because a seventeen and a half year old terrier doesn’t do well with two big three and four year old collies. I don’t think either Watcher or Echo would try to hurt him, but they both play rough and could squoosh him without even trying.


“This is my lap! Not Watcher’s, not Sandy’s, and not that silly baby sheep’s!”

Besides, I only have two hands, so I can only pet two dogs at once, especially since Echo gets just as jealous of my lap as Mira does. When a seventy-six pound dog decides you’re going to sit down and he’s going to sit on your legs, there’s not much point in arguing with him. You might as well get comfortable and wait for him to decide to get up. Sometimes it’s a long wait.

Growing Up

This year is the longest I’ve let extra ram lambs go un-wethered. I keep putting it off either because I want to retain the option of selling them as breeding rams, or because I’m too lazy to get around to having it done. I’m not sure myself which reason is more compelling.


“That’s OK, ShepherdPerson! You can keep putting it off forever if you want to!”

Funny Apple and charming Cedar, showing off their nice big baby-ram horns. Cedar’s horns remain the largest of his age group, but they both look like they’ll have a nice wide spiral to their horns.


“I’m not in any hurry, either!”

Chestnut’s horns remain unusually small for his age, but he makes up for it with an impressively large baby-ram mane. I might be imagining things because I know my Soays are graded-up, but I think there might be some lingering Blackbelly genes showing up in Chestnut. Or maybe not, maybe he’s just expressing an an uncommon Soay phenotype. I’ve seen Soays in other flocks that look like him.

Ash must have heard too many horror stories from older boys about the word ‘wether’ and decided to hide behind everyone else. I couldn’t get a clear picture of him today. His horns are about average, he basically looks like Apple without the white spot on his face.


“We females don’t have to worry about that ‘wethering’ business, neener-neener!”

Holly and Nina are both getting close to being as tall as their mothers, though they’re still proportioned like lambs, taller than they are long.They ought to be assertive young ladies when they grow up, since their mothers are both fairly highly placed ewes.

Lana remains Queen of the Shetlands by default, while Lady is Commander of Soays In Situations Not Involving ShepherdPerson. The minute I walk through the gate, Nova is suddenly in charge. I do not understand this arrangement, but it works for them and keeps things relatively peaceful, so I choose not to question it. I do wish they’d develop some kind of sheepy United Kingdom though; I miss only having to negotiate with one leadersheep.

Speaking of Nova, at this point she, Liam, and Mira all started raising a ruckus by the fence, claiming there was too much photography and too little sheep-feeding going on.


“Mooooommmy! Stop taking pictures of everybody else! Pay attention to meeee!”

My little girl is looking very grown-up these days, but still throws not-so-mature tantrums when she feels neglected. She feels her special upbringing entitles her to eat all the crunchies.

Nova doesn’t have much growing left to do; she will be pretty much full-grown by next spring. As Commander In Situations Involving ShepherdPerson, she also thinks she’s entitled to all the crunchies. This causes some conflict with Miss Mira, which they resolve by chasing each other around my legs and making it extremely difficult for me to walk.

Liam doesn’t know about entitlement, but he’s big and fluffy and tends to push others out of the way without even meaning to, and he does love crunchies. He’s adorably cute, which doesn’t hurt his cause any. He may be finished growing up, but he’s very keen on the idea of growing sideways.

I usually manage to make sure everyone gets a few crunchies without anyone getting more than a small handful. In spite of what they may think, even the growing lambs don’t need to grow up on a diet of pure Chex cereal.

Business As Usual

I don’t post as frequently in late summer/early autumn as I do other times of year, because nothing much usually happens this time of year and I don’t want to sound repetitive. It’s a nice time of year, though. The craziness of breeding season hasn’t really set in yet, though there are small indications that it’s on its way. The girls aren’t pregnant or running themselves ragged after new lambs, just grazing and putting on weight, preparing for the next go-around. Circle of life and all that.

Echo continues to be torn between his desire to supervise me properly and his reluctance to get his feet wet in the dewy grass. Watcher has no such conflict, he winds around my legs and gets in my way as much as possible between the house and the gate.


“Couldn’t we wait until later in the day, when the grass is dry?”

We could, but the sheep wouldn’t be too happy.



Johnny’s on Dukeling Duty this morning; I’m sure that would lead to many destructive fun things if there was anything left in the field they could conceivably do more damage to.

Duke’s been so good with the babies, he deserves a morning off to hang out with his friend Barney.


“I think those lambs are good for Duke! They make him appreciate me more!”

Out of the barn, the Shetlands immediately move off across the field the same way they always do. After a great deal of deliberation, debate, and minor scuffling, the Soays head off the same way for once. They usually head the opposite direction, but I suppose they were in the mood for a change. It wouldn’t do to become predictable.


“We have independently decided to go this direction this morning. It has nothing to do with those fluffballs, we are most certainly not following them.”

It’s very important to Soays that everyone is constantly aware of their autonomy. Everything they do, it has to be their own idea. Or at least they have to think it’s their own idea. If they want to do something, and then they discover I want them to do the very same thing, they will, more often than not, refuse to cooperate just on principle. Some evenings when they’re feeling particularly contrary, I have to stand outside the barn doors and conspicuously face the other way so they can rebelliously sneak in behind my back.

I don’t have any cats, but from the way I’ve always heard cat behavior described, I sometimes think my Soays might secretly be cats.

This morning, like most mornings, Mira independently decided to stick by me and investigate all of my pockets.


“There are crunchies in your pocket! This pocket, right here, the one I’m poking with my nose! I know it, I can smell them! Why are the crunchies still in your pocket and not in my belly?”

Of course the moment the crunchy treats leave my pocket the Soays will all come charging back across the field to mob me, so she just has to nag fuss whine wait (im)patiently until I’m finished taking pictures. It’s too hard to take pictures with everyone milling around and jumping on me.

Watcher walked me back to the house a bit more sedately than the outbound trip, having taken the edge off his energy in my absence by running back and forth yelling at the boys and being soundly ignored.

Echo had retreated to the upstairs porch, where he was high enough to still keep an eye on me while staying out of the wet grass.


“Can we go back inside now?”

I think Echo would be very happy to laze around the house all day eating and taking naps. He is a dog after my own heart.