Monday, August 20, 2007

Can't Catch a Break.. Or a Sheep!

I could tell right away that she was going to be trouble. I just didn't suspect how MUCH. After all, how big a headache can an adorable 40-lb. lamb cause, right?

It was the very last phase of my sheep delivery trip. All had gone relatively well up until that point.

My drive to Tennessee with four sheep in the back of the Outback had been fairly uneventful. I stayed with my friends Randy and Nyxana in Pegram, outside of Nashville. They had set aside a spot in their yard for me to set up my temporary sheep pen (four 8-foot rigid metal goat panels, clipped together at the corners with carabiners), so my lambs had a shady place to stay during the sweltering 100 degree weather.

The day after I arrived, I met my friend Monica of Small Meadow Farm, who was my partner in this great sheep-delivery scheme, and gave her the lamb that she was going to deliver to his new owner who would take him home to Wisconsin.

While I waited, spending a few days visiting Randy and Nyx, Monica continued on to the Michigan Fiber Festival. There she picked up the lamb I was getting from a breeder there as a replacement for the one I'd gotten from them last year that turned out to be a hermaphrodite.

When the festival was over, Monica met me again in Tennessee. I gave her one lamb she'd purchased for herself plus the other two that she was delivering to another buyer in Georgia, and she gave me my lamb from Michigan.

Because it was already early evening when Monica arrived, I'd planned to spend one more night with Randy and Nyx before setting out on my 9-hour drive home to Virginia. So, with my new black lamb in the back of the car, I drove back to Pegram.

That's when I started to realize that this sheep was going to be a problem. She was an adorable little thing, with thick chocolate-black wool, pointy horns, and a delicate, sensitive face. Sheep are flock animals, so she was naturally upset to suddenly be separated from the others, and hauled off alone by strangers. I was not surprised that she bleated a lot on the way. But I was surprised by how loudly and persistently she bleated. By the end of the half-hour drive my ears were ringing and I had a headache from the constant decibels of "BAAAAAA!!! BAAAAAAA!!!"

It wasn't just the noise, either. Her eyes were bugging out of her head, and with each bleat, she jerked her head up and down in tight, nervous, mechanical gestures. She was more wound up than any sheep I'd seen.

I was worried that she'd swelter in the car if I left her in there overnight. So when I got back to Pegram, I put her in the little temporary pen, gave her food and water, and left her alone to calm down.

She didn't.

She bleated constantly, all night long. If I even went out next to the pen to look at her, she crashed around in terror, trying to find a way to jump over the 4-foot fence panels.

When it came time to leave the next morning, I loaded my belongings in the car and went to catch the wild lamb. "Clip the gate closed behind me," I told Randy as I stepped into the pen. "She's going to try and bolt."

As I approached, the lamb scrambled frantically around the pen. She crashed into one corner of the fence, then another, then tried unsuccessfully to leap out over the panel that towered over her head. Finally, she dove toward another corner, shoved her nose into the 4 by 12 inch gap at the bottom where the panels were clipped together, heaved the panels up over her head and squirmed out the hole before I could grab her.

She paused for about three seconds, surveying her newfound freedom. Then off she went.

We chased her briefly, but ultimately there was no hope. All around were miles of brushy, wooded mountains and creeks on every side, a sheepy paradise where no human could possibly hope to catch or corner her. $650 worth of sheep vanished into the bushes and was simply GONE.

Lately it just seems like one piece of bizarre bad luck after another. The sheep with the rattlesnake bite, the puppy with the broken leg, and now this. The farm is teetering on the brink with money problems, and somehow I managed to lose an expensive breeding ewe. I might as well have just flushed $650 down the toilet. I didn't know whether to curse or cry.

In the end, there was nothing I could do but go home without her. Those woods are full of coyotes and bobcats, so it's possible that she never even made it through her first night of freedom. Randy called his neighbors and animal control, putting out the word if anyone sees her.

But even if someone catches her and returns her, I'm not sure I would be able to take her back. My farm is in the federal Scrapie Certification Program, which requires precise tracking of where each sheep comes from and where it goes. I am two years into the five-year certification process. If I brought a sheep onto the farm that had been in contact with any other sheep that were not at least that far along in the process, my own status would be degraded. I'm not willing to lose two years of progress towards certification over one runaway sheep.

I doubt she'll ever be caught, but if she is, I think I'll just try to sell her cheap to someone in Tennessee, without ever bringing her home.


Ness said...

Oh Nancy - I don't even know what to say to this one. Is/was Mercury in retrograde? Seriously, wtf.

Julian's blog said...

Hi there!
I love the shot of that horse at the top of the blog page.