Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Taming of the Sheep

It's not as if we have a huge flock to herd around.  I mean - it's only two sheep!  How hard can that be?
Hmmm - with zero shepherding experience between us - okay, John had a summer holiday job on a hill farm in 1971 but .... the nearest we normally get to our pair of lovely ladies is shown above.
Sometimes, though, you have to get a bit closer - feet have to be inspected, drenches have to be given, and fleeces have to be sheared. So, after several months of a semi-wild existence, it was time get them used to being herded and handled.

Observing a neighbour being followed by her large herd of Hebridean sheep, I asked how she had managed that feat. She said it was all done with a bucket of barley meal.  Off we went to the Crofter's co-op and returned with a fine red trug and a bag of barley.  Mixing a handful in with some of their hay, we headed down the field.  They were intrigued - definitely!  Slowly they approached, then Maddie Mor cautiously went to investigate - closer -  slowly -  is she going to....nope - she's off!

But we came two or three times a day, with our red barley bucket, left it in the same place, and departed - no pressure girls.  And pretty soon, they came running up when we climbed the fence, and happily tucked in.  Always Maddie Mor first - sussing out the menu, then stepping back to allow Maddie Beag a taste.
Once they were happy with these arrangement, we introduced a set of hurdles - very cunning.  But they seemed to accept these new additions to the field decor, and ignored them.  Success - now it was time for some action! A liver fluke drench has to be given at this time of year, so on Monday morning we headed down to the croft with a dosing gun and a determined air.

 Merrily they came trotting up and soon busied themselves in the barley.  Softly, softly we closed the gate. They looked up, concerned, and started to look around for the way out.  We looked at each other nervously with a "What do we do now?" expression (you can't see that in the shadow, but I'm sure you can imagine).
"We can do this - we are health professionals" said the bold John, as he louped the fence and tried to catch hold of what were now white blurry streaks whirling round and round the pen. I stood by helplessly waving the syringe around, waiting...
But not for long.  It may have been 40 years ago, but the shepherd boy is still in there.  And, like giving your first injection, the second one is always easier!  Phew -we had done it - another step along the road. Can't wait until shearing time now.  Well - thereby will hang another tale :)

And they are still talking to us, so no hard feelings.  Aren't they gorgeous girls?


  1. I'm very impressed, Jacqui! They are very pretty sheep, with a definite air of intelligence. I've found, with my limited experience of sheep, that they usually run away from strangers (presumably thinking a stranger must be a vet?). But I was once mobbed by sheep trying to cross a field in Benbecula. The friends I was staying with just looked on and laughed! They said my jacket was the same colour as the sheep's owner's, and the sheep had thought that I was bringing them food. What a great job you are doing of your crofting venture.

  2. Oh LOL how wonderful! Love your stories. :)

  3. Lovely, and well done both of you x
    Is John going to have a go at shearing them when the time comes? Or you maybe? I remember when you got them you mentioned wanting to try yourselves.

    They are a lovely couple of sheep x

  4. The picture of John catching the sheep made me smile, a vision of him trying to control the sheep, and you taking photos!! ;)

    Lovely that they are becoming more trusting of you all, but I can imagine it is a pretty steep learning curve!

  5. What pretty faces. When I was a teenager, I used to look after a small herd of neighbours sheep while they were on holiday. (The neighbours not the sheep.) It didn't take long for them to recognise the routine and the feed bucket. They'd run along the fence when they saw me. Then again I wasn't trying to inject them!

  6. Lol - I do get a bit carried away with the photography - i just so much want to capture everything we are doing, so that was a one handed iphone shot :) A bit more Comedy of Errors, really.
    We will be having a go at the shearing ourselves - more than likley John will be wielding the clippers - easier to photograph that way.
    I wasn't injecting them! That was really a reference to my past life. They were getting an oral drench, so luckily I managed to squirt the contents in the right direction. And they didn't seem to mind the taste. :)

  7. Oh my, you are going to have fun and games with those two girls.They are bonny lassies though and look as if they know exactly what they are about!

  8. what a fantastic treat to share this with you, loved reading it, a small taste of being there with you
    hugs xxx

  9. Love this day in the life of a sheep herder! Lovely lovely sheep-

  10. *giggle* this makes me remember our sheep handling class in tech school....little ol' me trying to heft a ginormous ewe up onto her backside so i could give her an injection...a comedy of errors indeed.

    ah...good times!

    well done indeed!!

  11. what fun!! Jacqui what do their names mean? Lovely post x

  12. Lovely, lovely post - well done on your shepherding xxxx

  13. HAha Mel, I am imagining that scene.
    The names were chosen by James. Maddie Mor - Big Maddie, and Maddie Beag - Little Maddie :)

  14. Well this is a crofting goddess post if ever I've read one. I'm so impressed. Your sheep herd looks quite content. My aunts dog on the island of Gotland in Sweden is a sheep herding dog and when the sold the herd the poor dog was so beside himself that he started herding the five cats on the farm. These sheep remind me of our sheep on Gotland and that funny dog. Be well my crofting friend.

  15. Those two are quite gorgeous

  16. totally thrilling.
    do you know this wonderful lady? she knows ever so much about sheep and shearing and caring for fleeces and spinning and and and....


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