Herding the Sheep Flock
Sheep keep eating pasture; shepherds must keep it available for them. For us, it has been a great growing season. (We know a sheep farmer east of here who hasn’t had measurable rain in over two months who has to start selling some of the flock.)
We own land, and we lease a great deal more land, much of which we’ve fenced; all of which we’ve improved. We want a field to be thoroughly grazed, so not just the favorite grasses and legumes are taken, leaving less favorite plants to reseed, but we don’t want them hungry.
We have to move our flock regularly.
Not all the leased fields are adjacent. Thus, sheep drives, as the fields are often only accessible via the roads.
We used to use an army of kids and adults on bicycles and on foot, asking our neighbours to keep dogs in and to stand at their laneway or flowerbeds to help us protect their space, reinforcing the temporary fencing we erect then tear down. Often we’re the best entertainment in town, and folks will pile out in their jammies, holding coffee and cell phones to take videos of the action. Now we are able to afford ATVs, (which handle ditches and fields rather better than did bicycles) but still we need the people.
Our goal is to maintain a flock of healthy happy sheep, living outdoors year round. This produces great lamb and also quality wool which we sell online and at the Wool Shed.
We avoid the heat of the day to lessen stress on the sheep. We time our planned departure according to the ferry schedule, not wanting to delay a neighbour’s rush to the boat. We send the ATVs around the back of the field, to try to gently move the flock towards the exit gate, hopefully keeping ewes and lambs together. (The lamb’s instinct is to circle back to where they last saw mama, and they are difficult to herd, alone.)
One drive recently, of about 1300, got half the flock out on the road, 2 ATVs went ahead, and the other two shepherds couldn’t get the rest of the group out of the trees. After several futile attempts, we closed the gate, took the first group a km up the road, then went back for the second bunch. The neighbours and visiting artists from the Lodge loved it; sheep and farmers were glad that move was done.
After weaning we moved the entire flock of lambs across about 5 fields to the safety of the Predator Resistant Fence. They don’t herd, they whirlpool. It took an hour and a half and much patience, but the job got done. Everyone is eating, safe and content.