Dashing Through the Snow

We had snow again this morning, which meant the sheep had to chase each other all around the field. Since this isn’t the first snow of the year their running and fighting was more playful than serious, but Liam still hid by the lamb-cave tree until the Soays (and Nina, who despite appearances is Obviously a Soay) got the excitement out of their systems and calmed down.

(Video may not display in email, click through to the blog if it doesn’t show up.)

The snow is quickly melting away now, but it was fun while it lasted!

Birthday Girl

It is once again Miss Miracle’s birthday! We have neither rain nor ice today, which I suppose is the best weather one can hope for in February. The two of us had her birthday party in the barn when Mira was ‘helping’ me choose which bale of hay to open today. I was trying to be sneaky because otherwise the whole flock wants to join in and Mira gets very huffy and upset when too many people come to her birthday party.

“Extra crunchies??”

The light is not good for picture-taking in the barn, and hiding in there to give Mira her birthday treats didn’t last long before everyone else came barging back into the barn to see why breakfast was taking so long, so I decided I’d go ahead and feed everyone else and then we’d do cuddles and pictures.

This was a miscalculation on my part, because I didn’t take into account that once Mira ‘helps’ me put all the hay out, she completely loses interest in me, crunchies or no crunchies.

“I don’t have time to pose, Mommy! I have to get my fair share of breakfast!”

One could get the impression she’s only interested in me for food, but I try not to take it personally. Sometimes she does want petted and fussed over, just not at breakfast. Breakfast is a serious competitive sport around here, even though there’s plenty to go around.

Lady is a clever girl and has figured out that if I’m calling “Mira!” there are probably treats to be had, so she came running when I was trying to get Mira’s attention.

“We don’t know when my birthday is, so today might be my birthday, too! Can I have birthday crunchies?”

The only information the farm Lady came from had on her birthday was “the lambs mostly came in the second half of February,” and it does happen to be the second half of February, so I gave Lady some of the treats. (Not that she wouldn’t have gotten treats anyway, she has a very cute face and she is the queen after all.) I hoped Mira would get jealous and come over, but no such luck. She was buried up to her ears in hay and didn’t see me feeding someone else.

*Munch-munch-munch*

Holly and Marigold are eating next to her, and you don’t see that mother-daughter pair letting breakfast get between them and their desire to always stay as close to each other as possible. Though that’s possibly because they eat the same thing for breakfast and Mira and I do not.

So I didn’t get the birthday pictures I wanted, but after some thought I decided that burying her face up to her ears in food is probably Mira’s favorite activity, so as long as she’s happy that’s the main point.

Happy birthday, little Miracle girl!

Doing Things the Hard Way

We had another ice storm, which I once again failed to document in a timely fashion. The front barn door was frozen to the ground for days. The only notable picture I got was this one of Angel straining to out of the top of the hay feeder:

“If only there was an easier way to reach the hay!”

Someone needs to invent a feeder with holes in the sides, so she doesn’t have to go up on her tiptoes and crane her neck like that that. Oh, wait.

This morning was brisk, but it’s supposed to get fairly warm by this afternoon. Future warmth isn’t much comfort first thing in the morning when I’m letting the sheep out.

They’ve knocked this hay feeder half off the fence for approximately the seventh day in a row. That’s not because they’ve only started breaking it in the past week, it’s because I’ve only started bothering to put it back recently and they keep knocking it loose again. I’m trying to divide their hay across all the feeders I have so that hopefully no one gets squeezed out.

“I think we should open this bale next, Mommy!”

Mira helps me feed the boys, taste-testing the hay when I open the bale and testing it again once it’s in the hay rack, just to be sure the quality didn’t suffer in transit. For a little girl who still whines at me about how bullied she is every time someone shoulders her out at the girls’ hay rack, she has no trouble forcing her way in at the boys’.

“Hmm, which bale do I want to choose?”

Angel usually takes over taste-testing for the girls’ hay. I don’t know why they trade off like that, but it’s what they do more often than not.

“If only the hay was easier to reach!”

Angel’s taste in hay is at least predictable. The harder to reach, the better.

Liam, on the other hand, prefers whichever feeder lets him best avoid any Soay nonsense.

Liam is why I have to fill all the feeders now, I used to just fill one for Lady, but once Liam realized semi-private dining was an option he stared monopolizing it. He doesn’t mean to, he’s never aggressive about pushing anyone else away, he’s just so big and solid he takes up half the room at a feeder by himself and he doesn’t notice a little sheep like Lady trying to push her way in. Now I divide the extra hay across multiple feeders and it seems to work better.

Neo left his buddy Liam to his breakfast and followed me down to the fence with Nova, hoping for treats at the gate. Usually it’s Nova and Lady, but Lady must have been distracted by something else.

“I’m hiding behind this fence post so Nova won’t see me and chase me away!”

Nova and Neo were the very first lambs to be born here, so Neo has a lifetime’s experience in avoiding provoking her. She may have only been physically larger than him for about two weeks, but she made sure to leave a lasting impression. She isn’t Princess’s daughter for nothing, after all.

“Hi, ShepherdPerson! Mama’s busy, so she said it was all right if I got the gate tribute crunchies today!”

Lady finally noticed I’d sneaked off behind her back and came running to disabuse me of any notion I could get away with gate-tribute-evasion.

“I said no such thing! Gate crunchies are all mine!”

Angel’s there too, I tossed a treat in her direction so the sheep at the fence would get a turn, so she was still busy looking for it in the grass.

“Where do you think you’re going without paying tribute to the queen??”

It’s a good thing I’d just refilled the treat pocket in the ever-popular magic barn coat, so I had enough for everyone.

The First Snow

Now that all of the snow and resulting snowmelt floods have been gone for a week, I can look at the pictures without getting depressed. Last Thursday around noon the snow started…

… and by Friday morning everything was covered.

The sheep have a yearly ritual where the first snow sets off a panic that there will never be any more food ever, leading to a lot of fighting over what is left. Fortunately they got all that out of their systems Thursday afternoon, so I didn’t get knocked down trying to carry hay out Friday morning and there was only a moderately higher than normal level of pushing and shoving.

“We’re saved!”

If you’ve ever been curious about the insulating quality of wool, the snow stopped Thursday night and the sheep had just come out of the barn in these pictures, so the amount of snow on their backs is how much sat on their backs overnight without melting.

The boys were also worried there wouldn’t be enough food, even though there are only nine of them versus seventeen in the girls’ field.

The little feeder, as always, has the best hay according to both groups.

“Yummy special hay!”

Liam, in the background of this picture, has noticed lately that Lady gets private, drama-free breakfasts down the fence and has started hanging around her feeder waiting for me to fill it instead of pushing in at the more crowded feeders. With all the snow it took me a little longer than usual to get everything filled, so he eventually came back to see what the hold up was.

“Hey, where’s breakfast? I’m starving and all the grass is gone!”

It’s clear from his slim figure that he hasn’t been getting enough hay, poor guy. Granted some of his spherical shape comes from wool, but I’m pretty sure he isn’t starving.

Once everyone was fed Lady followed me down to the gate to get her “tribute” of treats. It’s a long standing tradition all the way from Princess’ reign that you can’t go through the gate without paying a toll to the queen.

“Pay up, ShepherdPerson!”

And then once she’d gotten her crunchies she ran back to her no-longer-very-private feeder to complain at Liam (and everyone who followed Liam) for stealing her breakfast.

“Hey! Stop eating that! That’s MINE!”

Today, a balmy, snowless, thirty-something degree day, the sheep got to come and eat yard grass for a while, which made them very happy.

*munch-munch-munch*

Except Nova, who wandered off on her own again to complain that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. She seems to have decided that if yard grass is better than field grass, front yard grass must be the best grass of all.

“Hey ShepherdPerson, there’s a whole lot of grass over there with no sheep eating it! It’s going to waste!”

Unfortunately the front yard is not fenced, so Nova will just have to make do with “only” the hay and the yard grass.

Christmas Dinner

Actually it’s Christmas Eve breakfast, but you wouldn’t know it judging by the weather. Fifty degrees at eight in the morning on Christmas Eve!

Like every morning, Mira helped me pick out which bale of hay to open and followed me out to help feed the boys. Unlike every morning, the boys pulled half of their breakfast back out of the feeder as soon as I’d put it in, the better to fight over it and kick it around and waste as much of it as possible.

“Hay in the mud is the best!”

It took long enough for me to sort that out (even with Mira helping!) that when we got back to the barn Clover had come back inside to see what the hold up was on his breakfast.

“Why are you so slow, ShepherdPerson? I thought I was going to starve!”

I worry sometimes about making sure Clover gets enough to eat, since he doesn’t have big horns and he was the smallest wether on the farm when he was a lamb. I remember labeling him my “Tiny Tim” his first Christmas. But even though he will forever be that lamb in my mind, now that he’s (theoretically) an adult he isn’t actually that much smaller than the others, and when he isn’t using his “I’m small and pitiful” routine to manipulate me he does all right for himself. Even when he gets to they hay feeder last because he detoured back into the barn to check on complain at me.

“Hey Flynn, is there room here for me to eat, too?”

“No! Wait your turn!”

“Maybe there’s room at the other end?”

Duke was down at that end. He’s mellowed out a lot over the years or he’d be trying to keep the whole feeder to himself, but he still usually insists on a fair amount of elbow room. Clover wasn’t going to have any luck there. With Duke on one end and Clover’s favorite former babysitter Holly in the middle, Clover decided that Flynn was the one who’d have to go.

“OK, I waited! My turn now!

“Hey! I wasn’t finished!”

“Finally! Breakfast!”

“I’m telling Mama you’re being mean to me!”

Flynn did in fact go find his mother, but Nova was much more interested in deciding if she wanted to bug me for treats or push her way back in at one of the feeders. Nova lost interest in helping Flynn win fights when he was still a baby, mostly I think because he kept starting fights with Angel and expecting Nova to finish them.

“Clover’s being mean to me!”

“Don’t bother me now, I’m watching to see if ShepherdPerson’s hand moves towards the treat pocket!”

Lady, being a middle-aged matriarch and not quite as steady on her feet as she used to be, doesn’t like all the shoving around the main feeder and takes her breakfast separately at the far hay rack on the divider fence between the little fields and the big field. Two of her “babies,” Neo and Danny, came down to have breakfast with her this morning, which was a nice thing for them to do at Christmas.

“ShepherdPerson, we’re going to need more breakfast down here!”

And of course she followed me down to the gate to collect the rightful tribute due to the flock queen.

“Hurry up and give me my treats, those boys of mine are going to eat all of my hay while I’m gone!”

She hinted very strongly that she would rather have yard grass for breakfast instead of hay, but I told her the dogs had to have their turn first.

*blows raspberries* “Mean old ShepherdPerson!”

She got her own personal treats and toddled back to her own personal hay feeder when she accepted I wasn’t going to open the gate, so I don’t think she’s too mistreated. They might get to come in the yard later today, when the dogs come in for a nap. If it doesn’t get too windy or rainy, I might even take a chair out and sit with them a while. If we’re going to have highs near 60 for Christmas, I might as well make the most of it!

When Help isn’t Helpful

Yesterday we started replacing the tarps on the hoop houses getting them ready for winter (and getting rid of all the “windows,” which were getting inconveniently large.) We let the girls into the yard while we were working to keep them out from underfoot, but of course after a while Mira had to come investigate why we were paying attention to things-that-are-not-her, and stuck around to mooch treats steal things supervise.

“Excuse me, what are you doing, and why are you not paying attention to me and giving me treats instead?

About halfway through Dad had to go back to the house for something, and the rest of the flock decided that meant we were taking a lunch break. That is to say, a break to feed sheep lunch. They all came back in from the yard to pester me for treats and check out the new tarps.

“Hey! Do you have any treats? We haven’t had anything all day except hay and grass and leaves this morning and now yard grass and more leaves from the yard! We’re starving!”

“Where are my treats?”

“Any treats at all?

Mira did not like me paying attention to sheep-that-are-not-her, and tried to run everyone else off. Once she’d gotten her fair tribute, Lady was less concerned about treats and more concerned about the sudden lack of windows in the hoop house.

“Stay away from my mommy!”

“Forget ShepherdPerson, what happened to all of our windows? We worked hard on those!”

Angel decided to go with the strategy that no one could steal ‘her’ treats if she stole them all first.

“These pockets are not very convenient for me to help myself to treats, you need better pockets!

Everyone (except Mira) ran off again once the break was over, and despite her help we did manage to successfully get it covered.

“OK, it’s covered, all the windows are gone. Now are you going to pay attention to me??”

You can tell by the irritable angle of her ears that she was very cranky by the time we were done. After years of being a sheep-mother, I’ve almost perfected the ability to keep up a running conversation with her and frequently pet her head while working on something else, and I think it’s given her unreasonable expectations for other humans. She lost her temper and butted Dad’s leg, so she didn’t get invited to help us with the boys’ shelter. (I wouldn’t have let her in the boys’ field anyway, but that’s beside the point.) She pouted at us through the gate for a while before giving up and wandering off with everyone else.

“Well you’re not going to do it right without my help, that’s for certain.”

The boys contented themselves with keeping an eye on things from the far end of the field, so we had no ovine assistance for the second hoop house. We somehow managed to get it done regardless. If the weather cooperates we’re aiming to get the last hoop house covered tomorrow.

The sheep may be a bit disconcerted by the lack of windows, but they will be a lot happier not getting wet the next time it rains. Not that I’m expecting them to connect “lack of windows = shade = staying dry,” but there’s always hope.

Seasonal Treats

It’s the time of year now where instead of marching down to the sycamore tree at the far end of the pasture every morning, the flock stays up by the barn to eat all the tasty leaves that fall from the treeline.

“Why can’t we have leaves every morning like this all year?”

It’s also the time of year where Duke spends a lot of time trying to chase his sons away from the girls, though he’s not running himself into the ground doing it the way he used to before he got “tutored.” He can’t keep the little guys from coming back for more than a minute or two, but he can still send them scattering when he charges at them, which is highly entertaining.

The third notable thing about this time of year is that it’s when I start wearing The Barn Coat, which is well known to spontaneously produce treats. Even after all of the pockets have been thoroughly investigated, they must still be checked at regular intervals to see if the treats have replenished yet.

Mira was ignoring me today in favor of the delicious leaves, so instead I had all of Lady’s children (except Will, who’s over with the boys) insisting on monopolizing coat-checking duty.

“Do you have any treats for me?”

Cute, funny Dandelion.

“No, I’m the big brother, all the treats should be for me!

Sweet, gentle Neo.

“No, me! I’m the sister!”

Pretty, dainty Holly.

They eventually gave up and ran off to get their share of the leaves, but they still kept an eye on me to make sure I wasn’t smuggling any contraband treats.

Marigold helped her mama, Holly, keep an eye on me, but stayed well back and always kept Holly between us. Just in case I decided to snatch her. She’s now older than Holly was when Marigold was born, but she is still A Baby (the best baby ever, says Holly) and you can never be too careful.

“There must be treats, why would ShepherdPerson be wearing The Barn Coat if not to carry treats?”

Why indeed? The sheep carry their own insulation and don’t understand what freezing temperatures have to do with my wardrobe choices.

You Can Lead A Sheep To Pasture

But they’ll still just want to eat mud. We’ve kept the sheep out of the yard for several months because they wouldn’t quit eating holes in the ground where the salt got spilled. I can’t imagine how there’s any salt left, but grass refuses to grow over that spot even after months of no sheep bothering it, so I suppose there must still be a certain amount left in the dirt.

The season of hormones is in full swing, and everyone is more combative than usual. When things got so heated that my gentle Neo(!) managed to annoy ever-patient Liam(!!) enough that Liam actually broke into a trot to chase him away(!!!) I decided they needed a field trip to the yard to distract them before things got even more out of hand. I thought after so many months maybe the sheep would have forgotten, but alas. No sooner was the yard gate opened than they all made a beeline for the salt mine.

“At last, our favorite mud patch!”

I chased them all off and parked myself over the mud patch, telling them to go eat grass. They were highly indignant. The girls took turns trying to sneak past me one by one. On the plus side, I got a lot of good pictures of the girls every time I got in their way, even if they were annoyed.

“What is the point of being in the yard if we’re not allowed to eat mud??”

I kind of thought that all that nice green grass might be of interest, but apparently not.

“Why are you against us having fun?”

Nova has enough of her mother’s temperament I’m never quite sure if she’s going to try to go around me or through me. Or over me. I don’t think she’d care or notice much as long as she got her way.

“Rules are for sheep, I’m not a sheep I’m a baby!”

Silly, spoiled Mira. Whenever she doesn’t get her way she throws a little fit and then stomps off and gives me the cold shoulder. With frequent looks back to make sure I notice how firmly she’s ignoring me.

“I am unloved and mistreated and neglected. Worst mommy ever. I’m going to go over here and eat grass and ignore you, just to teach you a lesson!”

Lady was particularly persistent. I think being the queen for so long has gone to her head. Either that, or she genuinely thought that walking sideways past me while maintaining constant eye contact was sneaky. It’s sometimes hard to tell with sheep, they’re very hit or miss on the concept of stealth.

“I am the Queen, you are just the butler! I’m supposed to call the shots, not you!”

I’m not sure which was worse, the offended baby or the offended matriarch. At least neither of them have Nova’s horns. Or her tendency to bite. Eventually they all gave up and stormed off in a huff to eat grass, which was what I wanted them to do in the first place.

“Ugh, first time we get in the yard for months and all we get to do is eat a lot of green grass. Such a letdown.”

Though they still kept a not-subtle eye on me, waiting for the coast to clear. At least it kept them working together instead of fighting.

“She’s still there, pretend you’re not looking!”

Eventually I did have to go back into the house. I hadn’t even made it to the back door before they all ran straight back to their mud hole.

“Uh, guys? I think ShepherdPerson can see us from up there on the porch!”

I wish I knew how to get salt out of dirt, because this is very annoying. But at least if they’re eating dirt they’re not fighting, I suppose that’s as much as I can hope for in October.

Just the Headlines

The weather has been too miserable to take a coherent series of pictures, so here’s a highlight reel of recent snapshots:

Protests Continue Against Unauthorized Telephone Pole, Over One Year After Installation!

“I’m sure if I hit it hard enough I can knock it down!” says Angel, noted expert at knocking things down. Angel’s grandfather, Duke, a long-time authority in the field of knocking things down, offers encouragement from sidelines.

Possible Heavy Traffic On Main Roads for Morning Commute Due To Slow-Moving Vehicles Pasturemates!

“Shetlands, always holding up traffic!” says Mira, who once again loitered around begging and got stuck at the end of the queue.

Local Sheep Unhappy With Recent Heat Wave, Claim ShepherdPerson Is At Fault!

“Can we at least get some air conditioning in these hoop houses?” say local sheep in group petition.

Famous Stick Collector Hits Jackpot, Claims Ownership of Large Brush Pile

“All these sticks are only mine now!” said Mira, adding that she was wiling to tolerate sharing with Neo for the moment since he is very polite.

Recent Study by Collie Scientist Shows Exposure to Wet Grass May Be Very Dangerous to Collie Paws!

“It’s fine for you, you have rubber boots!” says Echo, known opponent of collies getting their toes wet.

Shetlands Threaten Bedtime Strike If Access to Private Stall Away From Soays Not Reinstated!

“Look at me, I’m totally a Shetland!” says Flynn, who is totally not a Shetland but likes protesting bedtime anyway.

Local Sheep Has Never Gotten Treats Ever, Says Local Sheep!

“I’m so hungry and sad and pitiful…” says Duke, perfectly healthy middle-aged former breeding ram.

Fall will be here soon, hopefully there will be some nice weather so I can take the “real” camera out and take good pictures. (Says local ShepherdPerson, who keeps saying that but hasn’t touched her “real” camera in months.)

Out and Back In Again

The sheep are very much creatures of habit (except when they’re not) and tend to follow the same routes with enough precision to wear footpaths through the grass. One of these footpaths leads from the barn to the gate, where the sheep walk out single file to eat sycamore leaves every morning in the spring and summer. For some reason once they pass the first gate they don’t have to observe the single file rule anymore.

“Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go!”

Jeb appears to be off the beaten path, but he’s actually walking on the second, fainter path that serves as a “passing zone” the sheep take when the main path is moving too slowly or when they want to avoid walking too close to a pasturemate they happen not to like at the moment.

Holly and Marigold also seem to be breaking traffic laws by walking side by side instead of single file, but there’s actually a loophole saying joined-at-the-hip mama-daughter pairs only count as one and are allowed to make exceptions.

“Everybody follow me!”

Duchess and Daisy also employed the mama-daughter loophole as Angel led the way for the sheep who decided to wait around the barn for me. All except for Mira, who was rubbing her face against my leg and sulking because she tried to go first and Angel butted her from behind. Which is clearly a terribly unfair and cowardly thing to do. (Unless it’s Mira herself doing it, in which case it’s just good tactics.)

That second group (and a few from the first that doubled back) followed me down to the gate, having mass-hallucinated at some point last night that I promised they could come in the yard this morning. Which I did not, they have not been let into the yard in weeks because we’re trying to get grass to grow over their favorite mud patch and they kept pulling up the new grass and digging more holes in the mud.

“Ok, we’re ready for you to open the gate!”

They were miffed when I did not let them out despite the promise I hadn’t made, but quickly got over it and ran off to catch up with the rest of the flock by the sycamore tree. I’ve had to start chaining the gate closed again since they were exiled from the yard, because otherwise they keep letting themselves out. I haven’t caught them in the act to see how they’re doing it, but they have to be doing something, it’s happened too many times lately for it to just be me not latching the gate all the way.

This evening at bedtime, Barney understandably wasn’t keen on being locked in with the Dukelings and less understandably decided to try a new strategy for getting out of it.

Barney is a master tactician (for a sheep anyway) but I have always had a higher opinion of his intelligence than he seems to have of mine. He decided instead of his usual routine of balking at the door and refusing to come in unless he gets an extra treat, he would sprint around the side of the barn and stand in front of the window, presumably hoping I would see him through the window and think he was inside. It was too dark at bedtime for phone pictures to turn out well, but it was so funny I had to try anyway.

“What are you doing out there, Barney?”

Hush, Chestnut! If ShepherdPerson looks in the stall and sees me, she’ll think I’m inside!”

“ShepherdPerson, I think there’s some shenanigans going on around here!”

Me too, Chestnut. Though I think Chestnut, like Mira earlier, would have thought it a perfectly acceptable idea if it had been him doing it instead of Barney. Sigh. Sheep. It’s fortunate I (usually) find their antics more entertaining than annoying.

I went out and chased Barney in, much to his annoyance, but running in ahead of me meant he could run past the stall door and grab a snack from the winter’s hay before bed, so he wasn’t completely unsuccessful. Actually I wouldn’t rule out the whole rigmarole being an elaborate ruse to get at the hay, knowing Barney. Interacting with Barney always feels like playing a game of chess, except for shearing time when it’s more like a professional MMA tournament.

I was eventually able to get everyone in and settled down, where hopefully there will be no more clever ideas before morning.