THE COUNT IS REAL

I discovered my first moment of livestock neurosis 2 years ago, after showing up at the pasture and barn I was grazing that year.

My ram Mike was on his side, looking bloated and still, I had never seen him "resting" that way.  So I panicked, I dropped my grain bucket and went running to him, calling his name louder as I got closed to him.  No movement, no ear or tail twitches, until I put my hand against his side and he jerked his head around.  His eyes, said “dumbass”, and asked why I was bothering his food nap.  My own eyes had water in them, and then I was annoyed I let my anxiety build up like that, so I said "ya dingus" and walked away. 

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That one experience spiraled into months and now years of worrying whether or not sheep would get eaten while I was away over night, whether or not I was over feeding them in the winter, or moving their pastures too slowly in the summer, whether the storm would take out their fencing early in the morning before I could get to them, etc, whatever.  By the time I moved the herd to greener pastures at Virtue Cider in Fennville, I was a tired wreck. 

My herd life started with a whole lot of reading, a few hobby farm house-sitting gigs and a whole lot of heart for a quad troop of sad looking, neglected Icelandic sheep that I found on craigslist.  I did everything backwards (minus the reading part) - I had no land, no barn, no truck or trailer, just four Charlie-Brown-christmas-tree-looking-ruminants.  The ram was great, the girls didn't want anything to do with fences or people. 

My free-time became about ways to gain their trust, ways to understand their flight response based on how I moved around them, ways to get theme to move with me instead of away from me.  Simultaneously, I caught on to the fact that if I was letting stress or a lack of self-care takeover my life, they'd absorb that and escape the next day.  They were like weird feedback on my internal stressors.  So I learned to manage me a little more, in order to keep the sheep happier, to keep them closer.  I set routines for us all, and while the triggers for all of us (the herd) haven't changed, the way we move with them has.  Like, now I know when Mike (the ram) takes side sprawl naps not to get hysterical and he knows to get up when I call.  I know when storms come to check the fencers and lines, and that next year I want to build a storm proof pen.  I also know sheep will get out, but as long as they respect or trust you, they'll always stick around.  I love when I say "Hey Sheep!" they'll stand to attention, call back and get closer to me so I can count them.