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walking with sheep

Posted 04-02-2012 at 08:50 AM by doina percival
As I zig-zag behind the scattered sheep, to group them into a flock, steer them my desired way, I wonder - is this really a sensible activity for an untrained human? One person and his dog would take minutes to get the sheep from where they are to where they are wanted. It takes me an hour.

Multi-tasking, the body working, the brain concerned with something else, is not an option. Sunday morning I brooded on why T.S. Eliot decided that it should be 'lilacs' that were forced out of the dead land by the cruel month of April as opposed to any other of the spring flowering bushes. Perhaps lilac referred back to 'dead land' because it was a colour in the stages of formal Victorian mourning. Possibly, he used it because 'lilac' has a hard, plosive sound. Somehow, breeding 'viburnum', or 'forsythia' out of the dead land is not impressive. He chose 'lilac'.

By the time I stopped ruminating on this non-problem, two ewes and their respective twins, had managed to get behind me. They were busy on a patch of particularly delicious grass with daisies. So, after a wide circle round them, waving outstretched arms, I urged them to join the others. Once, before the Wonderful Arnold was with us full-time, the sheep knew my voice. I only had to yell - 'come on les filles' - and they would duly come.

Nowadays the whole operation works on a balance of power basis. I want them out, into a particular field to 'mow' that fairway. They just want out. But with arms and a lot of patience, I get them near yesterday's field. Suddenly they remember that there is where they want to be, rush through the open gate. The lambs mostly follow. Chaos follows if one of the lambs gets left behind. Lamb panics, cannot see the open gate, hurls itself at the fence. Fingers crossed that mother ewe comes to fetch it before its head gets stuck in the fencing. Lambs have sharp little hooves that make great bruises. Ewes have been known to head-butt anyone helping with their off-spring.

On the return, the balance of power is much more in my favour. Towards the end of the day, the ewes realise that they would like assorted grains and lucerne served in a nice manger. They stand grouped at the gate, bawling. With luck they don't panic when they see me rather than Arnold. They walk more or less steadily towards the barn, calling their offspring. The racket is appalling. They still get distracted; a good back scratch under the twisted pear tree, a drink from a different water tub, a patch of grass that was missed on the way down has to be eaten now.

Then, o bliss, they are in the run to the barn. I close that barrier and hurry to close the barn doors before one does an about turn and tries to go out again. The first comers are munching their grain, yelling with their mouths full for lambs to come, now! I close and tie up the inner gates. Why don't I get a sheep dog? Well, I don't like hairy dogs, no longer have the patience to learn another language, am in enough trouble with Spanish and Catalan as it is.
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