Tara and Easter

Tara and Easter
"Aw, mom"

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Love and Fences

Some calves are born naughty.  Some develop naughty little habits over time.  On our farm, I believe we unwittingly groomed a rebellious group of Dexter calves that sought adventure and excitement beyond the confines of their fields.  Their dreams were as big as the skies above and no silly, aged, barbed wire fence would stop them.  The fence in question is on the leased portion of the farm.  It's rumored that the first Spanish settlers in Florida were patching this same stretch of fence 450 years ago.  Sometimes the patchwork design, such as in a quilt, will create unique patterns of folk art.  Sadly, patchwork fences, with strands of barbed wire from several different manufacturers over many decades, and posts of various shapes and sizes, do not inspire the same sense of awe and charm.

When the naughty calves met the fence, they first showed it proper respect, as one should do to the elderly.  However, it wasn't long before, perhaps by mere accident, a weakness was found and exploited.  Was it a tasty bit on the other side that caused the first tentative push?  Or, maybe a rude shove from an irritated mama cow on a hot day when baby just won't settle down and nap?  Whatever it was, it was a significant moment in the herd's history.  The calves met in secret, while their elders chewed their cud under the oaks trees, and egged each other on, as youths do.  Before long, there were tardy appearances at feeding times as calves wiggled back through the loosened fences to causally stroll back into the herd as if all was normal.  They developed a taste for Spanish moss and stole into the woods to snatch some from the trees before coming back to their bawling mamas.  These short forays still contained the calves because of the perimeter fencing around the woods.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (ha!) we decided to separate a few of the heifers from the herd, to prevent unwanted breeding by our bull.  When the bull realized a few of his herd members were absent, he was certain that we had made a terrible mistake and the only thing he could do to rectify the problem was to climb over the so called "no climb" fence.  We found him, the next morning, in with the heifers and politely asking to return to the main herd.  We reunited the herd and carefully planned our next move.  Meanwhile, the heifers decided to stage another push through the fence and our bull, now sensitive to their absence, pushed HIS way through the fence.  Fence staples popped like popcorn as he leaned his weight in between the second and third strand of the barbed wire until the fence sagged like the back of a sway backed horse.  Luckily, there was a perimeter fence to stop them from leaving the property, but we were spooked enough to build a bull pen for our bull.  He tested the boards for about 30 minutes and then settled down with his favorite cow as his companion.  No one ever wants a bull outside of his fences, no matter how gentle he seems to be.

Meanwhile, I breathed a sigh of relief, we patched up the fence, once again, and everything seemed fine until I got THE CALL.  All farmers know which one I'm talking about.  The dreaded "Your cows are out" call.  For reasons beyond my understanding, several of my cows, along with the aforementioned naughty calves, perhaps feeling the desire for salvation, pushed through the pasture fence, followed by the perimeter fence, and invaded the Baptist church yard next door.  When I showed up, these lovely people had already returned the wandering beasts to their pasture.  An enthusiastic motorist also joined in the fun.  Since we go to the Catholic church, I suppose you could call it a nice, ecumenical, moment of loving one's neighbor.  We put all the cows and calves into the "time out" corral.  Then, the following day, our son and I walked next door with a bucket and manure fork to remove the remains of their visit.  We thanked the church members profusely and assured them that we would prevent any future attempts by our animals to stage an impromptu live nativity scene.

The herd is now locked up until we replace the patchwork, folk art, fencing with something more secure.

The bull pen.




Adventures with Sheep, Chapter One

A few years ago, I came up with the bright idea that Florida native sheep, known for their browsing abilities, would make good weed eaters, and thus remove the thorny blackberry bushes that the cattle and horses ignore.  I dreamed of frolicking in lovely, thorn-free pastures.  In fact, I daydreamed that they would take a liking to other noxious plants, such as hogweed and soda apple.  With these happy thoughts, I approached a sheep breeder.  We worked out a deal and I loaded up a ewe and her two wether (castrated male) lambs.  The first thing I noticed about our new additions was that they were suspicious of my every move and not interested in being friends.  The breeder explained that native sheep are naturally independent and flighty.  That's fine, as long as they run off and independently munch up on yucky, thorny, plants.

To my delight, our new browsers did nibble at a few leaves of the blackberry bush, but they also demanded expensive peanut hay and good feed.  They very soon forgot all about the blackberry bushes and wanted more of the tasty stuff.  Perhaps I spoiled them.

I made no inroads into becoming a shepherdess.  They didn't trust any more than they trusted your average coyote or wolf.  They still regarded me as dangerous, despite the fact that I fed them, smiled at them, called them nice names (to their faces) and never made any offensive jokes (in front of them).

The only slight bit of affection the sheep ever had for me was upon meeting our eager German Shepherd.  The ewe almost leaned on me, but stopped herself and threw a proud, indifferent, look in my direction instead.  Our dog is a lovely creature, with absolute loyalty, devotion, and a sense of duty.  Well, his 'sense of duty' indeed kicked in when he saw the sheep.  His gratitude at what he thought was a gift for him and him alone was apparent in his eyes as he perked his ears so high that they almost touched.  He whined and rubbed against me as if to thank me for his own, life-sized, genuine, sheep flavored, chew toys.  He was absolutely beside himself with a desire to 'help'.  His eyes pleaded for a chance to 'play' with our newest additions.  Never was a dog so disappointed.  Although he had a few lessons in sheep herding, he was far from fully trained.  On the few occasions I did allow him to help me move the sheep, he spent most of the time in a down-stay, panting and whining.

As the temperature increased, I realized that shearing the sheep was necessary.  I thought that surely a $14 pair of sheep shears would do the trick for only three sheep.  I failed to consider that these sheep were originally kept in a crowded pen at the breeder's farm, which meant their wool had many dirty patches, especially the closer I got to their skin.  Four hours later, on that steamy hot day in May, I had one sheared sheep with a new look that would have earned me expulsion from even the lowest rated beautician school, and a grumpy, but cooler sheep.  I managed not to actually nick her, but she did have some pink spots where I came very close.  Meanwhile, I was covered from head to toe with grime, sweat, and lanolin.

This experiment was a failure.  Since they weren't even friendly, we never bonded with our sheep so we decided to sell the ewe and her two nearly full grown lambs.  An ad brought a quick response from a gentleman with a heavy Middle Eastern accent.  I understood that his truck was in the shop, but he would come and get the sheep anyway.

A four door sedan came to our farm later that day.  A large blanket was draped over the back seat and the gentleman (originally from Jordan) told me about his young family and their small flock.  He was pleased with the sheep and didn't even laugh at my shearing job (it had grown out a little).  His plans for the ewe were to breed her to his ram and he told me about how his children gentled all the lambs.  After we shook hands, he grabbed hold of the ewe and slid her into the back seat.  She was in the sitting position and pretty much stayed where he put her, though she did let us know her displeasure (Baa!).  In went the two lambs, one after the other until all three were seated on their butts in the back seat with their front legs up in the air. He shut the door and the nearest sheep fogged up the window slightly with his breath.  "Baa, baa, baa.." went the sheep in the car.  The gentleman had to drive to another town.  I wondered if three sheep in the back of a sedan (which actually looked like his wife's car because of the little knickknacks hanging from the rear view mirror) would cause a significant disruption in traffic.  My fingers twitched at the thought of a picture for prosperity, but it would have been rude.  Plus, the gentleman was in a hurry.  Perhaps to make sure he could return the car to his dearest undefiled and unsheeped before she was the wiser.  He seemed to be a nice man, I do hope his wife didn't make him sleep in the barn that night.

Finding myself suddenly sheepless, I actually missed their pleasant noises, despite their disdain for me.

It would be several years before I tried sheep again.  This time, it would be lovely, affectionate sheep that can live here as long as they like, whether or not they ever nibble a single leaf of a thorny bush.  But that story will have to wait until next time.  :)