So today was sheep chore day. This is something that really should not be attempted without a working stock dog, but mine is in training just now in North Carolina, so I'll have to do it the fool's way - without a dog.
First I went to Wildwood, to meet up with S and R, who have a stock trailer that we'll use to go get the last two ewes. R greets me with a cheery smile.
"Want to come see our new goats?" she asks. The answer to this is Yes, I really DO want to, since they've just that morning gotten a new doe and a buck. Now, I've been hearing for months how truly stinky the bucks are. At different times, both Dr. P and Dr. J have independently regaled me with the story of how they went one day to a farm to castrate a boar. A six hundred POUND boar, mind you, an enormous smelly kind of beast, who was kept in a barn (which does tend to concentrate the fumes.) There was also a buck in the barn. Both Dr. P and Dr. J - each without the other there to put words in their mouths, nor to egg each other on - told me that the smell actually burned their eyes. Literally an eye-watering stench. They also both said that the goat smelled so bad you couldn't even tell there was a hog in the barn, even if he was 600 pounds.
Anyway, at Wildwood we go on down to the pens. I can see the buck, but I don't smell a thing. Oh, wait a minute. I DO smell something, and I'm still 30 or so feet from the pen. Upwind, I might add. Urk. He does kind of stink. He smells like some kind of really rank, stinky cheese that has gone off - so not only is it even stinkier, but it's a really revolting sort of stink. And there's also an undertone of something else, maybe slightly sewer-like, or perhaps.... well, it defies description. Oh, well. He won't be around long (just long enough to breed the does), so I figure it's not really THAT bad a thing to deal with.
We climb back up the hill and S and I load up to pick up the last two sheep I'm adding to my flock for the winter. These are two moorits, so now, quite by accident, I have two of each of the colors I own: two moorit, two silver, two black, two white. The white are Trinity, the ram, and Gigantor, this year's ewe lamb. The moorit are Chanel and Olivia. The two black are Jacinto and Mesquite. The silver are Priscilla and (unimaginatively, perhaps) Silver.
I will defend the choice of "Silver" a little, though it's akin to naming a black dog "Blackie". I decided to name the three dog-broke ewes after towns in Nevada (in honor of the person I bought them from). Mesquite is near the Utah border, and perhaps not an inappropriate name for a ewe that's black as charcoal. San Jacinto is the name of one of my all-time favorite Peter Gabriel songs, so I named my favorite black ewe that (favorite because she's calm and pleasant, and is missing a little sliver off the edge of her right ear, which for some reason I find endearing.) Silver is for Silver City, which may not be creative but it'll be easy to pick out who I'm talking about (in part because Priscilla is a dark sooty grey, and Silver is really - well, silver.) But I digress.
S and I drive to the farm where my last two ewes await. The owner gathers the ewes up in a pen, and I help her and her son hoik them over the fence. The new ewes don't want to go into the trailer. They try to lay down at the threshold, folding their knees and trying to wedge them under the back of the trailer (or maybe that was just coincidental), requiring us to lift them up into the back. Once there, they're highly motivated to escape, and squirming yourself out the gate whilst leaving the ewe in the trailer isn't as easy as it sounds. These ewes are fast and a little wild, and extremely opportunistic. They're also fairly small, being Shetlands, so they don't need much of a gap to get out of the trailer, and once they hit escape velocity, they're not easy to hold onto. But the trailer is divided, so we use the partition to hold one ewe secure while we wrestle the other.
Loaded up, we trundle on back to Wildwood. Here's where it gets interesting. It's snowed recently, and the driveways are a bit slippery. I'm going to have to walk my ewes down the hill to the pen (S not wanting to take the heavy trailer backwards down the steep hill, and I can't really blame her.) I have Dave's partly-trained stock dog with me, but these sheep are not dog-broke in the slightest degree, and I can just picture them rocketing off in opposite directions into the woods, never to be seen again. It seems wiser to have them under some control, and we have a little stock halter. They won't lead, precisely -they're no more trained for that than they are dog-broke - but with a person in front and one behind we can pull and shove them down the hill. Probably. In my mind I'm picturing the ewe darting forward, slamming into my knees from behind, running over my prostrate form and then - if I haven't managed to drop the lead - dragging me on my face down the hill.
I'm SO looking forward to this.
As I contemplate my fate, I pause. What's that smell?
Oh, yeah. The buck. Now that the light breeze has died, it becomes apparent that his powers of stench are vastly superior to anything I have imagined them to be. In the time our trip took, I have forgotten the exact aroma, and moreover, I have seriously underestimated his ability to Make His Presence Known. The very air seems faintly sludgy with his rotten-cheese scent. No wonder S and R are eager to have him move along... or else to castrate him, once he has put his testicles to the use which God intended.
Oh, well. At least it's taken my mind off of my imminent demise: Death by sheep.
I manage to get the halter on the first ewe, Olivia. Olivia is strong and canny, and a willful wee bitch, and makes several attempts to escape during this maneuver. She is thwarted by the fact that I have a death-grip on her wool. We quickly apply a topical wormer while I hold her against the side of the trailer, and then we open the gate and point her outwards. Naturally, as soon as the halter is on, the very LAST thing she wants is to leave the trailer, but we shove her out unceremoniously, slipping on the thin ice on the drive. I find a patch of exposed gravel lickety-split and dig in while we adjust the halter, which is showing an inclination to slip off over her right ear. Now we make a halting, lurch-and-stop sort of progress down the hill, me on the lead rope, S's daughter YS pushing from behind, and S (who has injured her back and should probably be lying down) coming along to operate the gates.
We manage to get Olivia into the pen without either choking her to death by accident, hyper extending any joints, falling down or letting go. We release her into the pen, where she immediately joins the other sheep, seeking comfort. Back up the hill. Next is Chanel, who is calmer, and once caught, less inclined to try to rocket away. She is, unfortunately, less inclined to move at all, and in self defense we try using Pepper to see if she'll push Chanel forward. But Pepper wants to head her, not drive from behind, which isn't really helping us (unless we intend to walk her backwards the entire way). About this time R comes to the rescue, roaring up on her six-wheeler, and we heave Chanel into the bed, where YS holds Chanel balanced up on her woolly rump, all four legs pointing uselessly out, thwarting escape attempts. Resistance is futile, little sheep. You are becoming a member of the hive. Er, flock.
Well, that wasn't too bad. However. Now we have to worm the rest of the sheep. This means we have to catch the rest of the sheep. I did mention something about March hares, didn't I?
We have a strategy based on the combination of greed, guile and Pepper. We have food, and the dog broke sheep are (relatively) easily caught and wormed. That just leaves us Priscilla and Giagantor in the ewe pen. Unfortunately, there are five other ewes and four does in the pen, and they all want to split up and go different directions. YS and Pepper and I start quartering the pen, pushing Priscilla into the small enclosed area. She escapes at least twice, but we finally get her (and about 6 other animals) into the enclosure. Priscilla has been there before, however, and she makes a running start from the back of it, knocking other animals aside like tenpins. I run to the exit (this hasn't been that easy, and if she gets loose it'll be that much harder) and make a dive. At the same moment, Priscilla, now going approximately fast enough to escape the atmosphere of the earth, tucks her head into ramming position and puts on a last burst of speed. I grab wool just about the same instant as her skull makes contact with my shin. That pretty much drops me on the spot - but it drops me on Priscilla, and I don't let go.
"Son of a bitch!" I exclaim. "MAN, that hurts!" [Here I should perhaps point out that, having groomed race horses for several years - not to mention having hung out with pilots for a lot more years - I have a mouth on me that would make a longshoreman blush. Mostly, I keep it in check, but every once in a while you really need a good, pithy curse to vent your feelings. "Oh, golly!" wasn't going to cut it.]
"I know," says S, applying our topical wormer as quickly as possible. "It's amazing how much they can hurt you, isn't it? I got kicked in the shin by a sheep one year - and that doesn't sound like anything, does it, just a little kick from a sheep. They're not that big. It hurt for a year." She finishes with the wormer and I let go of Priscilla, who hops up and canters jauntily away. Me? It's two minutes before I can stand.
I go limping out to help corral the last of our ewes, little Gigantor. (Okay, she was giant as a lamb, but she's not even a year old, so she's littler than the other ewes.) Several times we have her trying to go into the protection of the enclosure, only to have Peanut - one of the does, with a pert little set of parallel horns sticking strait up on the top of her head like antennae - drop her head and make menacing thrusts with her horns, convincing Gigantor to pass the opening of the enclosure and race perilously by me. At last we manage to scoot her on in there - with almost everyone else. YS - an intrepid lass - wades in amongst the animals, trying to strategically place herself to corner and catch Gigantor. She's doing a good job, too, but at the last second Gigantor makes a quick feint to the right and YS's fingers just miss a grip on her. Luckily, other animals block her from veering left again and I manage to dart in and field her neatly, just as she's making a leap to clear the goat blockade. Once caught, she gives in with good grace and we worm and release her.
Phew. That's all the girls done. Now it's just Trinity. He, however, is a piece of cake. He's as greedy as they come, and he trots right up to YS when she arrives with a bit of grain. He's also conveniently equipped with handles - two large, beautifully curved handles - and once we have his horns in hand he stands placidly while we worm him. I don't trust him this time of year - he's a bit of a bastard lately, and his testes are about twice the size they were a month ago, hanging like a large woolly persimmon, impressively large and low now that they're reawakened to their mission, with the fall rut - so I make sure everyone is behind him before I let go. He ignores us all completely and walks calmly over to eat his dinner.
We walk past the buck, Truffles, to go back up the hill. The air seems thick and unbreathable with his rank scent. S tells me he started urinating on his face immediately on arrival (this is a normal, if completely disgusting, behavior), and described him choking while he was doing it. I theorized it was from the smell, but S disabuses me of this notion, because he was urinating up his own nostrils.
I am SO glad I am not a goat. But evidently the does are enchanted by him, pointing their noses skyward to catch his scent (as if they could miss it), flipping their upper lips backwards the better to funnel his stench - I means, his aroma - into their nostrils. I think I'll take my sheep, thanks. Even in rut Trinity doesn't stink, and he's never urinated up his own nose.
So now I am home, ice packing a rather spectacular bruise (which I dread to look at tomorrow). I have a probably-related cramp in that calf, and my hands smell faintly, and not unpleasantly, of sheep. However, everyone is wormed and de-loused, I have 30 bales of hay in the shed, I did not have to toboggan down the hill face-first at the end of a shank with sheep heels flying inches from my eyes, and all is more or less right with the world. However, even though I didn't actually touch the buck, my clothes smell faintly of rotting cheese, and something else I can't quite describe. I'm almost afraid to wash them with any other clothes, lest they all come out smelling like that.
Oh, well. I think I'll go make some tea with honey and whiskey in it - strictly for medicinal purposes, you understand. But meanwhile.... what is that smell?