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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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

A match made in heaven.

It’s Hard to be Sneaky

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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

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

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*Munch-munch-munch*

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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head

It has been dark and rainy off and on the last few days. There’s a popular conspiracy theory among the sheep that rain is something I thought up in one of my more sadistic moods specifically to make them miserable. It’s an offshoot of the conspiracy theory that everything I do is designed to make them miserable.

I would argue that giving them crunchies generally makes them pretty happy, but sheep have selective memories when they’re grumpy.

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“Look at us poor, wet, miserable ragamuffins. How could you be so mean to us?”

I spy with my little eye something in the background that explains why they’re wet and miserable. And I had nothing to do with it.

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Boys, boys, boys, what am I going to do with you? That doesn’t even count as windows anymore. The ram lambs made a Splendid Game out of jumping up, latching onto the edge of the tarp, then tearing strips of it off on the way down, and now there’s no more tarp. Maybe I could get some nasty-flavored tarps? If the tarps don’t taste nasty enough already I’m not sure what the boys would consider nasty.

Anyone interested in a cute pet Dukeling or two? I know where some are available!

 

Love and War

Tonight putting everyone to bed was delayed, due to Neo and Will determinedly attempting to kill each other. All in a spirit of brotherly love, of course.

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“Chaaarge!”

Quite a few minutes later, the gladiators pause for breath…

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“Give up, Will?”

“Never!”

“Boys are so silly, aren’t they, ShepherdPerson?”

They are indeed, Duchess. Even wethers aren’t above showing off in front of the girls. All male sheep are convinced that bonking their heads together really hard is the best way to get a ewe’s attention, but I’ve never detected that the ewes are overly impressed by a male’s head-bonking prowess.

Holly was very excited by this mortal combat Splendid Game her big brothers were playing, and kept bouncing around egging them both on, until she got so wound up she ran off to pick a fight with Mira. All in a sense of half-sisterly love, of course.

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“Fight me!”

“OK, but you started it!”

Mira finished it. She was not feeling the half-sisterly love. Then she saw me taking pictures, and came strutting over to me all proud of herself and her exceptional toughness, while Holly bounced back off to Lady and spent the rest of her energy vanquishing invisible opponents that didn’t hit back quite so hard.

Will and Neo were so impressed by Mira’s exceptional head-bonking skills that they forgot they were trying to kill each other. It may not do much for the ewes, but apparently the boys are very impressed by a good duel of foreheads at ten paces.

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“Whoa, did you see that??”

“I think I’m in love…”

I think Mira’s going to end up with as many boyfriends as Duchess.

Not Morning People

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“Zzzz…”

The little ram lambs are sleepyheads. I think it’s sweet how they always sleep together in a pile, like so many puppies. I think it’s even sweeter that Duke is always bedded down nearby, keeping drowsy watch over his boys.

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“Maybe it’s not so bad, having all these sons…”

I’ve taken to calling the boys the Dukelings, given the way they follow him everywhere and imitate him. I think maybe he likes having fans. He’ll probably like it less as the days get shorter, hormone levels get higher, and other males go from his pasture buddies to his Bitter Rivals. It’s fun to watch them for now, though.

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“Can the days just get shorter in the morning, so I can sleep later?”

I asked him who would save all the damsels in distress if Prince Charming slept the day away, but he didn’t seem too concerned. At his age, his interest in damsels is still a sort of vague and nebulous thing in the back of his brain. And I imagine any of my girls would probably be highly offended to be called a damsel in distress.

Every One to His/Her Own Way

It seems there is no one left in the flock bossy enough to keep all those conflicting personalities together, so the breed divide seems to be at least semi-permanent for now.

Every morning lately the Shetland (and half-Shetland) group wanders off thisaway and grazes peacefully together…

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“The flock that grazes together, stays-es together!”

…While the Soays wander off thataway and argue about it…

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“What are Lady and Duchess fighting about now, Nova?”

“I have no idea, Neo.”

… And Mira stays right by me to make sure no one infringes on her lap-sitting rights.

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“This is MY mommy’s lap. Mine. Only I can sit here. No Apples or Novas allowed!”

After giving her her morning tribute of petting, it’s back to the house where Watcher drinks from the faucet “helps” me fill the water bucket, soaking everything in a four foot radius. He then follows the bucket me all the way out to the field, hopping and craning his neck trying to lap at the water, usually causing me to slosh quite a bit of it over both of us.

There’s a nice, stationary bowl of water for him and Echo on the porch, but apparently it’s more fun to drink from a moving target.

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“It tastes better if you can make the water go everywhere while you’re drinking!”

Meanwhile Echo stays on the patio, sniffing the clover flowers and keeping his paws out of the wet grass as much as possible. He follows me down to the fence in the evenings when the grass is dry, but in the mornings it’s a 50/50 chance he’ll decide to keep an eye on me from a distance rather than get wet.

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“I’m just going to wait here, it’s awfully wet out there.”

I think my whole farm is a study in contrasts.