Sorting Sheep


Sheep corralled ready for hoof trimming
Creative Commons License photo credit: trackranger

We spent the morning sorting sheep. Or rather, we were trying to sort sheep. The sheep, as sheep so often do, had other ideas. The fact that one of the ewes was going into heat—getting ready to breed—meant that the three rams in the bunch were suddenly schizophrenically crazy. Males do tend to get that way in the presence of a willing female. Problem being, the ewe who was coming into heat was the mother of the most senior ram, and we really didn’t consider that a match made in heaven. Inbreeding is not the ideal way to raise more sheep. Second problem being, there had been a cougar in the area and the sheep were understandably skittish.

We were further limited by the fact that our son-in-law injured his arm a while back and is recovering from surgery, so there were only three adults. Although it is possible to man/womanhandle a sheep, our sheep are pretty good-sized, due to both breed and good nutrition. Our sheep are Katahdins, a breed originally developed by Michael Piel of Maine, and named for the mountain in that state. As a breed, they are quite young; the first flock was selected and named by Piel in the 1970s and the breed registry was not created until 1985. Since they were developed from a variety of breeds, their genetic diversity is fairly high, which I consider to be a very good thing. And since they are a hair sheep, we don’t need to worry about shearing, one of the most thankless tasks of being a shepherd. Being Katahdins, they are not that easy to just pick up and move.

We were dealing with three rams and three ewes. Two of the rams are unrelated to any of the ewes, so ideally we would have sorted out the oldest ram and left him by himself. Sheep tend not to like the solitary life, however, so we knew that plan was doomed from the start. Failing that, we would put the oldest ram – whose name is Pogo – with the one ewe to which he is not related, and the other rams in with the remaining ewes. We started with the idea of gently moving the whole group together and then sorting out Pogo and his potential mate. As soon as we put the bunch together, however, Pogo’s mother made it clear she was in heat. After considerable shuffling, gate maneuvering, swearing and baaing, we finally decided the only possible route to success was to rope Pogo and sort the rest while he was restrained. My husband the cowboy did the honors, and we got the job done as planned. Three minutes later, both Pogo and his intended bride jumped the fence and were back with their buddies.

Life with animals – never a dull moment!

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