Until the spring grass grows at a rate faster than the flock can eat it, which should be in early May if temperatures reach the mid 70’s and stay there, the sheep will stay in acre-sized yards and have big round bales of hay to eat.
The bales are 5 feet in diameter and 4 feet in length; they weigh about 700 lbs. Often the sheep eat around the middle of a bale to shape it like an hourglass; top heavy, the bale can topple on the sheep injuring or killing them. When I see top heavy bales I push them over before they go over on their own.
Yesterday when Poem and I drove up to the ram yard, I saw that a bale had toppled, and there appeared to be a mound the size of a sheep under the hay next to the bale. I got out of the truck and quickly walked to the yard that is surrounded by a 34” high electric fence that pulses with 9600 volts of electricity. Not wanting to take the time to unplug the fence charger on the other side of the barn, I hopped over the fence. The hop is really a straddle and must be executed perfectly. First the right leg then the left. If you touch the fence while airborne you’re OK, but touching the fence while touching the ground will shock you. The horror of horrors is to slip on take-off and come down crotch-first on the hot wire.
There was no sheep under the hay, a good false alarm. Poem had followed me to the fence; I told her to sit before I hopped over it and she did. But when I was digging through the hay she started nosing around and into the fence, “Eeee-a-how-wow-eee…” she yelped as she ran as fast as she could around the barn. “Poem,” I called after her but she would not hear me. I felt sorry for my young little dog, I couldn't help but smile too—growing up is mean. Poem will respect the fence as the coyotes do now.
A shepherd must look at his sheep everyday. Oddly this ram sauntered over from his breeding group to have a look back at me. It's rare that sheep who haven't been turned into pets will approach humans; truthfully I felt honored to be considered inhuman by this non-human. On my way back to the barn, I noticed the electric line between the charger and the net fence was down. The feed truck must have hit it earlier in the week; the sheep had been in a un-electrified enclosure for 2 days and nights. Dangerous because at night the coyotes are close in, but they've been stung by the fence and keep a respectful distance; even more dangerous because a ram, believing “the grass is greener…” can easily tangle his horns in an un-electrified net fence that he no longer respects as he sticks his snout through the opening for a frozen blade or two. Struggling to free himself he will take the net fence down opening the flock to the coyotes. I like to look at sheep, it’s the best part of my job.