Ash’s Horrible, Terrible, No-Good Week

Last week the boys got it into their heads they needed to beat up Ash, and they did such a good job of it the poor guy could hardly walk the next day. The vet checked him over and said it was just soreness, nothing broken, so he got a few days of pain medication and a solo vacation to the small front pen, temporarily converted to a quarantine field.

Once he was back to walking around almost-normally, I tossed his twin, Apple, and their younger half-brother Drake in with him to keep him company. I thought about putting Little John and Flynn in there too and making it a Nova’s Boys Club, but Johnny is very big and Flynn hasn’t been in the same field with his brothers for over a year, and I was worried they might fight. Ash doesn’t need any more bruises.

Between their involuntary exile and Ash’s hated shots of pain medicine none of the three of them are happy with me at all, so I thought while they were mad at me anyway I might as well cut the two years of felt off their backs. Ash behaved reasonably well, but Apple was his mother’s son and fought me the whole time, which made his haircut very choppy, even by my standards. By the time I finished shearing him he looked like he’d lost a fight with a weed whacker and we were both worn out and very grumpy with each other. Drake therefore escaped having his hair cut, for now at least. I did not have the energy or patience for round 3 of shearing.

After I’d had time to recover both my energy and my temper, I went back out to get pictures. Ash was camped out in the shade of the hoop house and didn’t want to get up.

“What do you want now? Haven’t I suffered enough getting beat up, without you stabbing me with needles and cutting off all my wool?”

Poor Ash. He’s having a hard time.

Apple, on the other hand, only thinks he’s having a hard time. He spent most of his first day in the little pen pacing up and down the fence wailing about the Unfairness of It All. I told him he was in sheep jail for all his many crimes, not least of which was helping to beat Ash up in the first place. He insists he’s a mistreated innocent, but he didn’t earn the sobriquet Apple Stop That by being a well-behaved little wether. Keeping his injured twin company for a few days isn’t going to kill him.

“I have done nothing wrong, ever, in my life! Everyone is being very mean to me for no reason at all! You are a terrible ShepherdPerson!”

Mira, in the background, was loudly protesting that I was on the other side of the fence paying attention to things-that-are-not-her. Apparently nobody is happy with me today.

I moved up by the gate to try and get the sun behind me, and Apple and Drake forgave me enough to come see if I had crunchies. I didn’t, so they went back to ignoring me in favor of the girls on the other side of the fence.

“Hi girls!”

Nova leaves a very distinct “stamp” on her lambs, all five of them look very similar in the face. Drake is just smaller than the rest because he’s BB’s son, and Johnny is much bigger because he’s Liam’s. They are very handsome, though my poor attempts at barbering don’t show them to their best advantage. In my defense, Apple was trying very hard to break either my neck or his own when I was trying to shear him, so I blame the ragged spots on him.

Ash got up and followed us, though he hung back behind his brothers instead of coming close. Ash is not quite as friendly as the other two even under normal circumstances, so I wasn’t surprised. He’s also not feeling back to 100% yet, so he wasn’t as interested in potential crunchies.

“If I see even a hint of a needle, I’m gone.”

He’s also a very handsome boy, even with a tragic haircut. And he was much less violent about the whole ordeal, so he’s my favorite Dukeling at the moment. It’s possible he only behaved well because he’s still too sore to throw himself around like a sheep possessed, but whatever the reason I’m not complaining.

Mira followed me up to the gate to be sure I was aware of her continued disapproval. She says I’ve been hovering over Ash for days now and she’s tired of being ignored.

“Mommy! What are you doing Over There? You’re supposed to be Over Here giving me crunchies! You are paying way too much attention to those boys and not paying enough attention to me!”

Mira’s fleece is starting to loosen, which always makes her even more volatile than usual. She absolutely does not want my help in removing it though, she’d rather just be miserable and irritable about it.

Nova saw us all by the gate and came up to the fence to check for any interesting gossip. I suspect Apple was telling his mama all about how evil I am. She got a haircut this year too, so I’m sure she was willing to believe the worst of me.

“Mama, ShepherdPerson is being so mean to me for no reason at all! I’m stuck over here away from my flock and I got a bad haircut and it isn’t fair!”

“What did you do to my little boy, ShepherdPerson?”

Nova usually loses her obsessive protectiveness of her lambs at around six weeks old, but I’m sure she still knows which ones are hers. And Soays never need much encouragement to jump in when there’s potential for drama.

I got tired of being glared at from all sides, and since I’m unlikely to be forgiven until tonight when I come bearing treats I decided to leave them alone under the watchful eyes of Watcher.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got my eyes and ears on them! I’ll let you know if anyone makes a wrong move!”

Watcher’s definition of “wrong move” is very flexible, but it’s usually easy to tell when he’s barking in genuine distress and when he’s just being bossy. He may have been focused on something up by the driveway when I took his picture, but I don’t doubt he knew exactly what was going on behind him. He’s staying under the shade of what remains of the lamb-cave tree now that the weather is warm and sunny. Black fur and hot sun don’t get along very well, but his post under the tree lets him keep an eye on the sheep and the road at the same time, so it’s a nice shady spot to watch from.

Liam should be next up to get a haircut on Monday. He and Jeb are the only two left that I expect to have good fleeces this year. Barney and the two crossbreds will come after that, though their fleeces are likely ruined, and then any of the particularly shaggy Soays who haven’t shed on their own. I’m running very late on shearing, but better late than never I suppose.

Now if only the boys would stop trying to murder each other, I would be a much happier ShepherdPerson.

Hello Yes I Have A Complaint

This is the end of April. I should not look out my back door in the morning and see this:

This is far too much snow for the end of April. Any amount of snow is too much for the end of April. Watcher loves the snow, but the sheep are decidedly on my side of the argument.

“Mommy! Where’s the grass?! It’s all gone since yesterday!”

Mira followed me around yelling at me at the top of her (considerable) lungs the whole time I was out there. Clearly the snow was all my fault and I should do something about it. It didn’t take her long to notice that on the other side of the lane the trees had prevented most of the snow from reaching the ground and there was still green grass.

“Hey! There’s grass over there! Why is all the grass over there?”

And it didn’t take the others long to notice what Mira was looking at.

“Hey! Hey! There’s grass over there! We should go out there!”

Normally I make fun of them for thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but in this case it was true. The view of the pastures looked like this:

And the view 180 degrees in the other direction looked like this:

Still too snowy for April, but not remotely as barren. The sheep were very grumpy that I wouldn’t let them out in the road and doomed them to starve in an unseasonably frozen wasteland.

“I am the queen and I say there is some bad shepherding going on around here!”

The snow was already starting to melt and should be gone by noon, but I put hay out anyway to prevent outright revolt.

“We are saved!”

Given the dire conditions, the dogs decided I needed a two-collie escort back to the house.

“Come on, hurry up! I want to get to the dry porch!”

But my “escort” quickly got distracted by the joy of tussling in the snow and fell behind.

“I’m gonna bite your ears!”

Echo doesn’t like the snow much either and ran ahead to the porch as soon as he could escape from the tussle, but Watcher loves the snow and stayed on watch.

“You go inside, I’ll keep an eye on things out here!”

Currently he’s barking his head off and refusing to come in because the sheep are running around in circles and jumping up to snatch leaves off of the snow-burdened tree branches without his permission. He appears to be having the time of his life. At least somebody’s having fun.

Evening Rituals

I usually take pictures in the morning when I’m letting the sheep out, so last evening I decided to try to take pictures while putting everyone to bed. ‘Try’ being the operative word, since bedtime is usually more chaotic than breakfast. Or at least differently chaotic. My camera batteries were dead again and my phone pictures are terrible, but that’s what I had.

Upon my journey outwards, I found the gate to the field guarded by a fearsome sphinx, who instead of posing riddles demanded to have his ears petted and his paws admired before allowing me to pass.

“You aren’t getting past me!”

“Not until you hold my paw, anyway!”

I taught Echo to ‘shake hands’ back when he first came to live with us, and he took to it with great enthusiasm. I would say it’s the only command he’s ever learned, but that implies that he does it when I tell him to, when actually he’s the one who comes up and offers his paw with increasing insistence whenever he decides he wants someone to hold his paw and pet his ears.

When I entered the field, I was set upon by a band of desperate Soays, who had had nothing to eat ever in their lives and would definitely fade away to nothing if they didn’t get their bedtime crunchy treats before they were actually in the barn. Patience is not a virtue the Soays possess in any great measure, except for mothers with their lambs.

“Woe is us, we don’t have the strength to make it to the barn unless you give us treats!”

The picture blurred because Angel jumped up on me and knocked me off balance just as I tapped the shutter button. Weak from hunger, indeed.

Mira abandoned her usual position as the most desperate of the beggars, because she was putting some last minute fear of herself into one of her sticks. Just so they didn’t get any funny ideas while she was gone for the night and couldn’t keep an eye on them,

“Five more minutes, I almost got this stick moved to my pile!”

And the Shetlands hung back at a safe distance from the chaos. The Shetlands are Highly Practical Sheep and believe that since I always give them treats with no fuss once they’re in the barn, there is really no need to make a dramatic scene on the way demanding to have them early. Soays, by contrast, seem to think a dramatic scene is its own reward and any extra treats they may get are just a bonus.

“We’ll just wait over here until the traffic dies down…”

Once in the barn, all the Soays (plus Nina, who most of the time believes herself to be a Soay, and Jeb, who prefers to be in the center of the group as much as possible when I’m around) piled into their stall and waited expectantly for their treats.

“All right, we’re in here, now pay up!”

Liam and Lana, as usual, headed straight for the private suite. Technically it was built to be a quarantine/lambing stall, but the fact that it is small and private made it desirable, and I have on occasion counted st least ten sheep trying to cram into it at once. Which makes it no more private and a great deal more crowded than the main stall, so when that happens I have to chase most of them back out so they actually have room to lay down.

Duchess and her twins got the private suite almost every night ever since the twins were babies, but since Duke moved over to the girls’ flock I’ve gently suggested that Liam sleep there instead to prevent any nocturnal warfare between him and Duke. As always, where Liam goes Lana goes too, and they are both quite satisfied with the new arrangement. Sometimes Nina will decide to stay in there with her mama, but more often than not it’s just the two of them.

Duchess is not happy about being displaced at all, but Duchess plus both of her (full-grown) babies plus two big, fluffy Shetlands (or three, with Nina) makes things rather claustrophobic in there and she usually runs back out in an indignant huff.

“This is the Shetland clubhouse, now! No silly Soays!”

That pink around the base of Liam’s horn is new growth, not blood. Or I suppose it actually is blood, technically, but it’s all inside him where it belongs. Liam is the only sheep I have with white horns so I don’t know if it’s normal, but in the spring when his horns are growing the new horn is more transparent and always looks pinkish for a while before it darkens to the yellowish-ivory color of the older growth.

The boys didn’t give me any trouble about coming in except for Barney, who had also never had any food in his life and had to sneak around me to grab a snack from the hay bales before going to bed. He does this every night, it’s a constant dance between us.

“I think I’m just gonna stay here tonight instead of going in the stalls; someone needs to keep an eye on the hay!”

Barney has an incredibly clever mind behind that unassuming face, and he’s also very stubborn. I never manage to block him from reaching the hay the same way more than once before he figures out how to out-maneuver me, so I’ve mostly stopped trying. There’s grass out there and not much hay left, so it doesn’t matter if he sneaks a few extra mouthfuls, aside from the way it gives the other boys ideas.

Once everyone was safely in their stalls, I gave them my nightly “It’s time to go to sleep now, settle down, no fighting, I love you guys, please don’t break anything before morning” speech, closed up the barn, and went back to the house so that Echo could relax from his vigilant guarding of doors and gates for people who might be persuaded to pet him.

“You’re looking at me, does that mean you want to hold my paw and pet my ears?”

And Watcher could relax from a long day of racing cars down the lane and yelling at the sheep through the fence and generally doing his self-appointed duty as the resident Farm Alarm. Even in sleep he had one paw on his beloved frisbee. It’s actually the latest in a long line of identical frisbees, but I’m not sure if he doesn’t realize or just doesn’t care that we replace it every time it gets too nasty or torn up.

“Zzzz…”

I charged the camera batteries so I hope to get some “real” pictures soon, but at the moment I think all I would get would be fleeing tails. Nova got a haircut this morning, so I’m highly unpopular out there at the moment. Sadly her fleece was hopelessly felted and had to go in the garbage, but at least she looks a lot more comfortable and isn’t carrying around all that nasty shaggy mess anymore. Hopefully they will have forgiven me by tonight, or maybe tomorrow.

Sticks and Stones

Now that everything is no longer frozen to the ground, Mira has resumed her one-sheep war on all the sticks and rocks she can find. This is a very long standing feud going back to when she was just a wee lambie in a turtleneck sweater.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

“Look at this stick I caught, Mommy!”

Now that she’s grown, she maintains a collection that she hoards obsessively in the upper corner of the field until she gets bored and forgets about it. Then I can clear out the debris without her losing her mind at me, and a few months later she can start all over. Right now she’s just started on her latest collection.

“This stick is not where it goes, who moved my stick?”

She has amassed quite a collection of sticks in her corner already, where she can push them around and rearrange them however she likes. She gets very distressed if anyone else touches her sticks. I had to wait until she was in bed for the night before I could take a picture without her getting upset.

Sticks she likes to collect in one pile, but rocks she likes to spread out over as wide an area as possible. It is an ongoing struggle trying to keep the lava rock in the landscaping where it goes, since she is determined that the rocks should be anywhere else but there. We regularly find them up to eight feet away from where they are supposed to be.

There is a small pile of rocks and chunks of broken cinderblocks up by the barn that she is always trying to dismantle as well.

“This rock does not go here, it’s driving me crazy!”

I’ve been using that particular rock as a doorstop to keep the barn door propped open so the barn can air out during the day (with a wire gate across the doorway to keep the woollies from raiding the barn) and every day Mira drags the rock off to some other position that better suits her sheepy feng shui.

“Every day I get this rock exactly where it goes, and then someone comes along and messes it up. Why are you sabotaging me like this, Mommy?”

She is more stubborn than I am, today I just gave up and left the rock where she put it yesterday. Somehow I am still in trouble, even though I didn’t touch it. The Right Spot yesterday isn’t the Right Spot today, I suppose. And this is clearly my fault.

“This place would be an absolute mess if it wasn’t for me!”

Whatever keeps her entertained is all right, I suppose. I’m glad she has a hobby. I do wish she’d leave the lava rock alone, though.

The Face That Launched A Thousand Ships

Usually that’s my nickname for the ever-glamorous Duchess, but this week the title goes to her granddaughter Angel. Drama is apparently a highly heritable trait. Angel, like her (biological) mother Mira and her grandmother Duchess, gets very quarrelsome when she’s in heat. Unlike her relatives, she doesn’t restrict her hormone-fueled aggression to her romantic rivals, but shares it with everyone in her vicinity.

Two days ago, when the first signs of heat appeared, she decided to fight Danny, Clover and Neo all at once. Three wethers vs one ewe might have ended badly for any other ewe, but not the Mighty Angel. (Though I did keep an eye on them for a while, just to be sure.)

Angel was helped in her goal of beating up the boys by the boys themselves, who hit each other at least as often as Angel did. This led to some very funny four-way standoffs.

“Alright, who’s going to hit who first?”

And some unfortunate collisions when two pairs tried to charge through the same space at the same time, leading to poor Danny getting accidentally punched from both sides at once. Or at least I think it was accidental.

“Wow, this is easier than I thought. They’re beating each other up for me!”

Of course it’s also possible that Neo and Clover both decided to punch Dandelion as he went by. Danny must have been particularly annoying that morning, because most of Angel’s ire seemed focused on him. And gentle Neo did take the chance to butt his little brother while Clover was taking a breather by the gate.

“Charge!”

“I’m the toughest!”

“Ow! No fair, Neo!”

I’m not sure why Flynn wasn’t joining in the scuffle, since he’s usually Angel’s most devoted admirer, but he stayed out of the way this time. Neo and Clover both eventually decided to choose the better part of valor and ran off, and Angel kept chasing Danny around for about two hours before she decided she’d made her point and lost interest.

Yesterday, when she was properly in heat, she decided for some reason known only to herself that Liam was going to be her boyfriend, and spent a great deal of time following him around and making a pest of herself. I don’t have pictures of that because I was at work for most of it, but I’m told Liam was very alarmed and annoyed by the whole thing.

Duke must have decided that Liam was violating their unofficial agreement Liam has Lana and Duke has all the other girls, because in the evening when I went out to put everyone up for the night he was trying to run Liam off and stop him from coming in the barn. I could tell that between Duke and Angel Liam was clinging to the very last shreds of his patience, so I decided the two former rams had better sleep in separate stalls, both so Liam could get some peace and so Duke wouldn’t get himself killed.

“I could have taken him!”

The thing Duke doesn’t seem to understand about Liam is that his motivation doesn’t come from being particularly timid or aggressive. His most defining trait is that he is exceedingly lazy. Therefore he decides between fight and flight, not based on how scary his opponent is or any desire to prove how tough he is, but based on which option seems like less work at the moment.

What this means is that he would really rather not fight, because fighting takes a lot of energy, but he will fight if someone is persistent enough that avoiding them becomes more work than fighting them. And when he decides to fight he generally wins because he’s a) very big, b) very strong, and c) very focused on finishing the fight as quickly as possible so he can go back to being lazy. He has been known to knock boards off the side of the barn when he’s gotten in fights during the night. It is therefore my considered opinion that it would not have ended well for Duke if he’d managed to push Liam into fighting him.

Fortunately there is no evidence that anyone tried to fight through the stall wall last night, and Angel is back to her usual self this morning so the war has been averted. For now, at least. Liam is enjoying not being harassed and last I checked was settled down to a nice peaceful breakfast.

Granted “peace” is a relative term when one’s flock is full of Soay drama queens, and Liam’s breakfast was mostly peaceful because he is a) very big, b) very strong, and c) very focused on his food so he didn’t notice the dozen other sheep pushing and shoving at the feeder around him like turbulent water flowing around a large, steady boulder.

“Ah yes, peace and quiet at last.”

I’m not sure if everyone was mobbing the extra feeder because they always think the extra hay is the best, or because Duke and Angel were both up at the main feeder and they wanted to give them a wide berth. Either way, the breakfast rush is a daily routine that basically counts as peaceful, I suppose.

I’ve told the girls they’re free to stop cycling any time they like since the breeding season ended months ago, but so far they haven’t listened to me. I think the spring weather has made them worse; the boys over in the other field have also been fighting more than usual this week. I’d rather they didn’t fight so much, but I’m glad they’re feeling energetic and (mostly) happy in this little break we’re having between the late winter ice we’ve just gone through and the spring rains that will soon turn everything into soupy mud.

I Expected Better For Some Reason

After seven years of good behavior, (or at least six, he was a pretty bratty lamb) Neo has suddenly decided for some reason he needs to beat up Clover. I am willing to blame Duke, though he’s actually been behaving himself pretty well lately.

I went out to take pictures of this unusual behavior, but of course when the flock saw me coming they broke off and came running to see if I had treats. This is why so many of their shenanigans go un-photographed.

“Treats! Treats!”

And then sprinted away again the moment they realized I didn’t have any. I am under no illusions about their loyalty.

“False alarm, there’s no treats!”

Except for Mira, who hid behind my leg. I think she was hoping I would sneak her some treats once everyone else was gone.

“Good, they’re gone! Now where are my treats?”

She was extremely grumpy when treats failed to materialize.

“I said, where are my treats??”

Sometimes I think maybe she’s spoiled. Just a bit.

Once the excitement of potential treats was over, Neo went back to harassing poor little Clover. Who actually isn’t all that little anymore, but all the Soays look short next to Neo, who is unusually tall.

“I’m going to get you, Clover!”

I walked out there to tell him to behave, and he immediately stopped and tried to play innocent.

“I have nothing wrong, ever, in my life.”

I would believe him if I hadn’t been watching the whole thing. He is usually such a sweet cinnamon roll who likes having his chin scratched and will doze off in my lap if Mira doesn’t chase him off. I don’t know what’s gotten into him.

I tried appealing to Lady, telling her that she needed to teach her son some manners. She was unimpressed. I can’t blame her, she’s spent most of Neo’s life trying to stop other sheep from beating him up, not the reverse.

“It’s about time he started hitting back. I was worried about that boy.”

In other feud-related news, Lady’s horns are newly symmetrical, she’s broken the longer one off again to match the other. Actually, it was technically Daisy who broke off Lady’s horn when they were both in heat at the same time, but I digress. Lady’s horns are almost completely hollow, just the long keratin sheath with only tiny little nubs of actual bone inside, so they break off more easily and don’t bleed like normal horns would.

The flock was suspicious that I might be planning something nefarious, following them around with no treats, so they pretended to ignore me and faux-casually ambled away.

“Don’t make eye contact, she can smell fear!”

Since I never have much luck breaking up fights for more than a minute or two, I didn’t keep following them around. As of the last time I looked, Neo and Clover were both exhausted but still half-heartedly whacking each other. It shouldn’t surprise me that once Neo decided to fight somebody he’d fight like a ewe, aka to the point of collapse. Hopefully all the exercise will make them go to sleep quickly tonight and Neo will have gotten over his snit by morning.

Happy 6th Birthday, Mira!

It is Miss Miracle’s birthday today, which usually would mean it’s a day to take pictures until she gets annoyed with me, but unfortunately it is a frozen wasteland out there and I don’t want to freeze my fingers off trying to take pictures. Also the ice and snow is not very photogenic after two dozen sheep have spent over a week dropping hay and other less pleasant things all over it.

This is the first birthday since Mira was born that comes close to the snowmageddon that we were dealing with when she made her entrance into the world in 2015. It’s not as deep as the 15″ of snow we had that year, but the ice layered through the snow more than makes up for it. One of the hoop houses collapsed under the weight of the ice a few days ago, which was scary but at least no one was under it at the time.

It’s supposed to get warmer over the weekend, so I might get some belated-birthday pictures next week, but for now I’ll have to make do with a picture of baby Mira’s first night, when she finally started getting warm between her doggie sweater, a belly full of warm colostrum, and being snuggled in my lap for the first of many times. She got significantly more sleep than I did that night, and for many nights afterwards as well.

And I also have a short video recorded the next morning, proving that the minute the poor little mite had the energy to move she started loudly complaining at me, also for the first of many times.

Keeping Miss Mira happy is a full time job, but she’s very cute and sweet so I don’t mind spoiling her. She is currently not very happy with me about the weather, but she was happy with the birthday crunchies she got this morning. She will be a lot happier when the snow melts I think.

Happy birthday, Mira!

New Normal

Duke is quite happy with his new situation in the ewe flock. Having all of his girlfriends is apparently a good trade off for not having his small army of sons anymore. The other boys in the ewe flock are not happy at all. Duke doesn’t want them around his girlfriends. He does not want them around his hay. He isn’t beating anybody up yet, but he is going to find himself booted back to the ram field if he gets any more aggressive. Neo and Jeb have both had quite enough head trauma for a lifetime, thank you very much.

“Woe is us. Why is Duke in This Field instead of That Field where he belongs? ShepherdPerson has the worst ideas.”

I don’t think Liam is really scared of Duke, but he doesn’t like the stress of conflict and prefers to avoid him. Jeb and Neo are definitely nervous, and I don’t blame them. I’m splitting the hay into three different feeders now, so Duke can’t keep them away from all three at the same time. It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s working for now.

“Yay, our own private hay! Peace at last!”

Their peace only lasted as long as it took for Duke to notice them and decide that the hay they were eating looked better than the hay he was eating. He set off to chase them away, until he noticed me leaning on the fence looking at him.

“Who do those guys think they are, eating my hay? I’ll teach them to… hey, there’s ShepherdPerson! She might have crunchies!”

The gate between the two small fields is open, he could have walked about 20 feet to the left and gone through the gate to reach me, but the sheep seem to know that pushing their faces through the fence looks sadder and hungrier.

“I’m so sad and hungry and everyone is mean to me, I need crunchies!”

He’s lucky he’s so cute. How can an approximately ten year old former breeding ram who’s such a bully be so cute? Of course he’s not the only cute beggar around, so sneaking Duke a piece of Chex means a half dozen other sad, hungry sheep in desperate need of treats immediately converge on both sides of the fence. Duke knows the futility of trying to chase off a whole group of determined ewes (and also probably wants to stay on their good side) so he gave up on mooching for treats and went back to his mission of chasing the other boys away from the hay.

“We saw you give him a treat! Where’s our treats? We need treats, too!”

“Stop eating my hay! All the hay is mine!”

Liam and Neo cleared out when they saw Duke coming, but Mr Dandelion has never shared a field with his father before and was highly offended by Duke assuming he had the right of way. Duke doesn’t seem to mind sharing a feeder with the youngest set of boys so he probably wasn’t actually trying to chase Danny off, but that didn’t stop Danny from taking offense.

“You can’t tell me what to do! I’m tough! If you hit me I’ll hit you back!”

Danny is Duke’s ninth son on the farm, not counting daughters or grandsons. Duke has had a lot of experience by now with youngsters trying to prove how tough they are. He may not have been able to handle six other boys ganging up on him in the ram flock, but he is not at all impressed by Danny’s posturing. He ignored all of the baby antics and started eating hay.

“Yeah, yeah, kid. Whatever.”

It’s always so funny watching the boys deflate when they’re all ready to fight and then their opponent won’t engage. They know how to handle fight or flight, they’re never sure what to do with being ignored. They get vaguely embarrassed and shuffle away like they hope no one saw. I don’t usually see the same thing happen with ewes, mostly because when a ewe gets mad she tends to go straight to punching without all the formalities of glaring and posturing and giving her opponent the chance to back down like the boys do.

I moved over to the yard to see if there would be any more excitement once I wasn’t standing right behind them, but they settled down pretty quickly. Lady noticed me standing there and came over to try her luck at the staring-mournfully-through-the-fence trick.

“I need extra treats, it’s not easy being queen!”

Duke followed her but I think he was more interested in seeing if she wanted to be his girlfriend than in treats. Lady was definitely only interested in treats.

“Where are my treats? I’m licking my lips, I can’t wait!”

Trying to get close enough to take pictures through the fence without the wires getting in the way is difficult when the subject you’re trying to photograph would rather try to eat the camera than back up a few steps.

“I said, where are my treats??”

I gave Lady her treats and talked to her through the fence about the state of her realm, until the dogs started physically shoving themselves between us, insisting that when I am in their yard it means it’s their turn to get all the attention. Lady wandered off back to the hay feeders with Duke in tow and I had to sit on the cold ground and let dogs trample over my lap and give me their paws and stick their noses in my face until they were mollified.

Thanks to Mira, I’m usually pretty good at holding the camera backwards at arm’s length to take pictures of animals on my lap, but the clearest one I got today was Echo nibbling on my hat while Watcher nibbled on Echo’s ears.

If I’d had a hand free I could have started ruffling Watcher’s ears, and made it a full circle of slightly annoying gestures of affection. As it was I settled for letting them escort me back to the house before my jeans froze to the ground. Next week is supposed to be even colder, and I’m not looking forward to it.

Winter Wonderland

We have the perfect amount of snow outside today, enough to look pretty and make grazing impossible but not enough to make it hard for the sheep to walk. The sheep disagree of course, any amount of snow is too much in their minds. Everyone ran for the hay feeders, except for the two bottle babies, Angel and Mira. They both turned around and ran back to me to demand their breakfast.

“Mommy! Where’s our food!”

And they helpfully followed me back to the barn and reminded me where the hay is, just in case I forgot since yesterday.

“It’s in here, you just have to open this latch!”

I live in dread of the day they figure out how to work the barn door latch.

Since there are now seventeen(!) sheep in the girls’ pen, the big hay rack is a bit too crowded, even with the one small feeder relieving some of the crowing. I decided to toss some extra hay into one of the other seldom-used feeders hanging on the fences, thinking that the two or three sheep that get squeezed out could eat there. Of course I ended up with two sheep at the small rack they share with the boys…

… three sheep at the big rack (count the legs)…

… which according to my math left twelve sheep either mobbing the extra feeder I decided to fill or pawing at my legs in frustration because they’ve been pushed away from the extra feeder. Because that hay is clearly much better.

“This is the best hay ever!”

It all came from the same bale, there shouldn’t be any difference. Sheep are very clever but they can also be so silly.

Watcher was waiting at the gate to escort me back to the house in case I got lost due to the snow, or in case I forgot the way since yesterday. Sometimes all these animals “helping” me makes me suspect they think I have a shockingly bad memory. They seem to like me anyway, so I suppose it doesn’t matter.

“Are you ready to go back now? My paws are cold!”

One has to admire Watcher’s loyalty, waiting out in the snow for me to finish with the sheep. He always loves running around and playing in the snow, but not so much standing around or sitting in it.

Echo waited on the nice dry porch, but did come running to meet us when we were on our way back. I think he heard me praising Watcher for being so helpful and got jealous. He is firmly of the opinion that he is the only dog around here who should be petted and made a fuss over.

“Wait for me! I’m a good boy, too!”

Watcher took this as a sign that Echo really wanted to play chase in the snow.

“Here I come!”

“I got you!”

Then they had to race each other back to me, while I took pictures as fast as the camera could shoot. Watcher may have cheated just a bit, play-biting at Echo’s ears and ruff at every opportunity.

Here they come!

Almost there!

The next picture on the camera’s storage is a picture of the ground I took on accident as two collies collided with my legs, and then I had no free hands for picture taking. It’s difficult to walk with the two of them going around and occasionally between my legs, Watcher trying to get Echo to play by jumping on him and chewing on his ears, and Echo trying to push Watcher away and insisting I pet him with both hands instead of petting each of them with one hand. It takes at least two hands to properly pet a collie, in Echo’s opinion.

The snow is already starting to melt so I don’t think it will last long, but it was fun while it lasted. If it was deep enough to give the sheep trouble I would be complaining, but this thin layer of snow was just enough to give everyone a nice change of pace this morning.

Well. A nice change of pace according to everyone except the sheep. But they will survive until the snow melts, despite their own expectations. They always do.

Dark Clouds, Silver Lining

It looks like the pictures of the boys I took at Christmas were the last pictures I’ll get of that particular group, at least for a while. A few days after New Year’s about six of the boys all ganged up on Duke and made a fair attempt at killing him. I knew Duke was getting on in years and likely wouldn’t be “boss” forever, but I didn’t expect a reenactment of Julius Caesar. Normally I try to let them work these things out themselves, but six on one isn’t a fair fight even for a young sheep, and I wasn’t willing to risk a repeat of Lady’s recent injury. It looked like Barney and the two crossbreds were the main instigators, with the Dukelings just bouncing around thinking the whole thing was a Splendid Game, but a lack of malice doesn’t mean they couldn’t have hurt Duke without necessarily meaning to.

Dad and I had to chase the sillies around the field for over an hour before we managed to get Duke off into the small field, with Jeb to keep him company since Jeb wasn’t involved in the murder plot and doesn’t have an aggressive bone in his body as far as I’ve seen. Barney is usually Duke’s designated buddy, but since he was one of the most determined of the attackers that wouldn’t have worked very well this time.

“Hi, ShepherdPerson! Are you here to give us treats?”

These are nine very naughty sheep who do not deserve any treats and ought to be ashamed of themselves. Even Barney, standing off to the side trying to look innocent. Et tu, Barney? I suppose after all these years living with Duke he finally snapped.

I left Duke and Jeb off on their own for a day or two before putting them back, hoping that the feud would blow over, but it didn’t. Rescue attempt #2 put Jeb and Duke back in protective custody.

“How come we’re in jail when we didn’t do anything wrong?”

Since the small field is not enough for even two sheep long-term and I really didn’t want to start trying to maintain three separate flocks, the only alternative was to put Duke with the girls. Since Duke has been pushing that idea for years, I knew he wouldn’t complain. Since he can’t make lambs anymore, the only thing I was worried about was whether Liam might take exception to another former breeding ram hanging out on “his” turf. I decided to let both groups out in the yard, hoping it would be enough of a distraction to prevent any serious fighting.

“Freedom!!”

In hindsight I should have recorded Duke running across the field towards the girls, played it in slow motion, and dubbed some dramatic, triumphant music over it. Oh well. It’s easy enough to imagine.

“Wait for us!”

Everything went surprisingly smoothly, no real fighting at all, and they all moseyed off towards the top of the yard together. I think it took about five minutes for Duke and Liam to even notice each other. It was definitely obvious when Duke realized one of his new pasture mates was Not Like The Others. The coup over in the boys’ field doesn’t seem to have dented Duke’s ego much and he immediately started posturing and gearing up to fight.

“What’s this? A Bitter Rival?”

This I should have recorded and dubbed over with music from a Western showdown. Everyone subtly ducked out of the direct line between the two former rams, apparently recognizing the signs of an imminent duel.

“This yard isn’t big enough for the both of us, FluffyWhiteRival!”

Liam was a bit befuddled by Duke’s unexpected challenge.

“Is he serious, ShepherdPerson?”

“You and me, foreheads at ten paces, right now!”

“Nah, I don’t think so.”

“Hey, where are you going?”

Liam wandered off without either fighting or running and now it was Duke’s turn to be befuddled. He didn’t know that was an option. He wandered off with the girls and started grazing again, so I suppose he was counting it as a win. Or perhaps he was embarrassed. It’s hard to suitably impress his new girlfriends when no one will fight him. I’ve never noticed that the girls find watching rams fight all that interesting, let alone impressive, but that doesn’t stop the boys from trying.

“You stay away from my girls, Jeb!”

Liam did briefly chase Jeb in circles a few times, just to make sure he didn’t get any ideas. Poor Jeb had no interest at all in impressing girls and didn’t deserve such harassment. I have no idea why Liam only sees other Shetlands as rivals, but apparently it still holds true. Either my trick to distract them with yard grass worked or Liam realized Jeb wasn’t interested, because once Jeb stopped going in circles and set off in a straight line Liam quickly gave up on chasing him.

“Come back here and– oh never mind, just stay away from my girls.”

He did seem keen to keep Lana and Nina away from the rest of the flock for a while, though.

“Crazy Soays, always wanting to fight. Let’s stay over here on our own.”

Duke shadowed the rest of the flock off in the other direction, apparently satisfied to let Liam have Lana and Nina as long as the rest of the girls were “his.”

“Crazy Shetlands, don’t even know how to fight. Let’s go this way and leave them alone.”

Both groups were contentedly grazing together tonight when I put them up, but I shuffled Duke and Jeb into the “private” stall for the night anyway, just in case being in close quarters made the two former rams more willing to duel.

Bran and Johnny seem to be the main contenders for new “boss” in the boys’ field. Some of the Dukelings are sporadically jumping into the fight too, but no one is taking them seriously. They’re not even taking each other seriously. I think they’re still convinced it’s all a Splendid Game and everything will soon go back to normal. I don’t know if this new arrangement will be permanent, but as long as Duke keeps behaving I don’t see why he can’t stay where he is. It’s a bit sad that he’s been displaced from top spot in the boys’ flock after so many years, but if it means he finally gets to stay with the girls I imagine it’s a trade he would have been happy to make.