Before the Chicken Disaster, we also trained our sheep to go out to the pasture every day - a humbling, and time frustrating and often hilarious experience. It involved much useless chasing after sheep until we learned to kind of let them find their own way to where they were supposed to go. Just two days after we had settled the chickens down in their new home, three new sheep arrived and chaos ensued in the barn.
August 2, 2021 - Babydoll arrival and Shetland mayhem
From the point of view of our five shetland sheep, and in particular, the ram, Rammetje, the last four days have been complete and utter chaos. First, four days ago, their hoop house was invaded by 61 cackling little underfootlings that got in the shady spots, made a crap ton of noise, and were, quite frankly, everywhere.
Then, yesterday, these three new sheep arrived. Whaaahh!!!
Babette went to pick up the three Babydoll sheep from southern Massachusetts from a nice couple, Judy and Ed. They were taken from their moms (no goodbye) and put into the back of the car with some hay and some sweet pellets. The entire ride they stood in the back looking out the rearview window. Did they think of their mommies? Meanwhile, I, Babette, was thinking up plans of how to get them from the car into the hoophouse. It was about 50 meters, and I had put up a temporary fence pathway to guide them. “I will carry the mid-size one into the little pen that I set up inside the hoop house, and then I have only two to deal with. I know the littlest one always sticks with the big one, so all I need to do is to guide the big one patiently down the path. When they are all in, I will go get the Shetland sheep and all the sheep will meet through the gate of the little pen”. OK. Good plan. Once arrived, I left the Babydolls in the car and quickly made the last-minute touch ups - add some hay to the manger I had built the day before, fresh water, ok, ready to go… when from the corner of my eye I spotted five bounding shapes heading my way: the Shetlands had decided not to wait and were running over to the hoophouse! What a mess up! I decided to carry all three Babydoll sheep in since there was no time for patiently going down the path. It was all I could do to get them in the door without chicken or Shetland escapes, and then everyone was together in a grand melee, no polite greetings through the gate of the little pen. The Shetlands were butting the Babydolls, the little Ram tried to mount them, and the chickens were running around like chickens cackling and flapping their wings. Good god!
Time to make dinner. Sometimes animals sort it out between themselves.
And they did. After dinner, Josephine and I went out and found the three little Babydolls huddled, herded into a tiny corner (who knew sheep could herd?). That was not the sorting out we had hoped for! We took the Babydolls out and started to get them into their little pen, where they would not be harassed. The little Ram was furious, he was backing up and charging incessantly. What a pain in the rear end! Anyway, we managed to get the little ones into their pen, to get out of the hoophouse walking backwards to ward off the ram, and called it a night.
Next day, the plan was to move the Shetlands out to pasture, then feed the chickens and the Babydolls, and maybe take the Babydolls out to their own little pasture in the afternoon for a supervised hour. Good plan. I let the Shetlands out. Only three of the five came, but they were out, and running to the pasture paddock, so I had to follow them and shut the fence there. I did not turn on the electricity because I still had to get the other two. Ran back, and started to herd those two to the paddock. Because I was distracted I forgot to close the door and as I was shoo-ing the wayward two I saw a stream of chickens flow out of the hoop house into the meadow. OK, I guess we have free-range chickens now. Then from the other side, I saw the three Shetlands that had been in the paddock, running through the meadow towards me. Drats! They got out of course, because the electric fence was off! Now half of the chickens and all five Shetlands are running around in the meadow. Before I could figure out what to do, the five Shetlands scurried back into the hoop house (they probably thought the Babydoll sheep were going to get something good, which was right). I closed the door. OK, sheep all in. But what about the chickens? And feeding the Babydolls? I got some hay and went into the hoop house to put it in the manger. The Ram was furious again, walking back, charging, walking back, charging. He hit my thumb in a bad way. I finally figured out if I walk forward when he walks back that is confusing and he can’t charge, but doing this dance, it takes a long time to shimmy over to the little pen to put the hay in the manger.
Now the chickens… I figure if I put in a half door that swings in, I can leave that closed but the main door open and the chickens will be able to hop back in when they want to, while the sheep can’t escape. I happen to have a half door from one of last year’s projects that got taken apart. I go to the hardware store to get hinges and a hook to close it inside. I come back, put the half door in place. The Ram runs over, sure I’m up to no good again, and starts to ram and rub against the door, making it impossible to screw the hinges on. I wait until he is finished. Quickly screw the hinges in and the hook to close the door. Voila! Unfortunately, most of the chickens did not figure out this tidy arrangement on this day (maybe they will another time); Josephine and I had to catch them one by one and lift them through the opening. Dumb birds.
The chickens also did not figure out the half door I had made in the little cage around their feeding tray (the sheep are not supposed to eat the chicken feed, but they love it, it’s like chocolate to them, hence the cage). The whole day, the chickens just walked around the cage from all angles, unhappy and hungry. Nobody flew up the one meter to get over the half door, despite the fact that they can easily fly up two meters to get to their roost. Something about the enclosed space? Josephine came up with the idea to solve this problem: the little cage is made up of cattle panels with strong wire and 6x8” openings - too small for sheep but comfy for a chicken -- and covered with hardware cloth with thinner wire and smaller openings ½ x ½”. “Why don’t you open the hardware cloth part of the way so the chickens can go through the cattle panels?” Clever: what one animal can do, another might not, and this difference may be useful to the farmer!
I decided to leave all the sheep in the hoop house all day to get them to calm down. I collected and scythed two large wheelbarrows full of tree fodder and meadow herbs, and fed these to them in the double-sided manger (one side for the Babydolls and the other for the Shetlands). A lot of things went wrong, but at least I built this double-sided manger!
By the end of the day, all the chickens were back in the hoop house and able to get to their food; the Babydolls had their quiet space; all the sheep had food and water; and Josephine and I had also covered a part of the hoop house with a tarp to provide rain and sun protection. It’s the same place we were yesterday, but with some useful changes to the hoophouse, and with some more experience about animal behavior. Tomorrow they all stay in the hoop house for some extra quieting-down time, then I will figure out a new plan.
August 4, 2021 - Rest day for everybody
Yesterday, we all had a rest day. The Babydolls were in their little pen all day with food and water; the Shetlands were in the hoop house with the chickens rather than going out to pasture. And me, I took a hike with Josephine! We drove out to Mt Greylock the tallest mountain in Massachusetts and had an absolutely fabulous day - very cordial, chatty, perfect hiking weather, pretty quiet trails, ahhhhhh!!!!! Take me to the woods to heal my soul! After the hike we took a little detour to the Cummington Coop for maple icecream. Too yummy. As Josephine said “it totally feels like we had a little vacation in just one day”. Yes, it did!
This morning, we started again, refreshed. I set up a paddock closer to the hoop house so it would be easier for the Shetlands to get to. I opened the main door to the hoop house, but left the half door closed until they were all five gathered and ready to head out. Then I opened the door and we all slowly made our way to the paddock where a bucket of grain reward was waiting for them. Closed the fence and turned on the electricity. They seemed content and back to their old ways, so I could take my time to give the Babydolls their bit of grain and pet them while they were eating to get them used to me. Gave them hay, checked chicken feed, added grass to the chicken egg boxes, and refreshed the water containers. All according to plan. Yes.
August 6 - Babydoll zen
Today, the Babydoll sheep went out onto their own little pasture around the hoop house. The Shetlands were in a rotational paddock about 50 meters away. It was sunny out, I was sitting in a chair designing the bard hoop house, and watching the three brown little sheep. They stay together. They did put their noses in the fence a few times and get a little zap and they would jump back and shake their heads. They did do it a few times, so they did not immediately associate fence=zap. Hopefully when the Babydolls go out tomorrow they will avoid the fence (that is the idea). In the evening, I will not put the three Babydolls into the separate pen, and hopefully the five sheep will be OK together and able to all go out to pasture together the day after..
It was nice to just have the time to design the hoop house. There are a lot of things to think about having learned more about what animals and materials do. Some examples:
August 8, 2021 - Sheep integration
We had another sheep and chicken escape yesterday, but were much more zen about it, and got it fixed with minimal effort. Truitje, the yearling Shetland ewe, got out of the paddock and we could not get her in with the other Shetlands, so she spent the day with the Babydolls in their paddock, which was just as well as introductions go.
In the evening, the sheep were all left in the hoop house together, (for the second time - the first being the disaster when the Babydolls first arrived a week ago). At first all eight sheep crowded around the large feeding pan together to get grains, and when that was done, the two Shetland ewes and the two lambs were pretty chill about the Babydolls. However, the little ram was not; he immediately set about showing the Babydolls their place, mounting Newt, the whether, and in the end herding them into a little corner again. By morning, the three Babydolls were still in the corner, and the little ram was standing guard to make sure they stayed there. Grrr.
Anyway, the Babydolls got a break during the day - with the Shetlands in their own paddock again, and the Babydolls in theirs. I am getting a little tired of setting out all these double paddocks, plus resetting the electric fence around the hoop house every day. (That’s setting out an electric fence thrice instead of once. Takes too much time! Not efficient on the farm.). And the Babydolls also were much better about all running into the hoop house at the end of the day - yeah! They are getting trained!
When the Shetlands also came in, there was first the little crowding around the grain pan. Then, the ram started getting ready to chase the Babydolls around again and the little wether ran straight to the corner and stood there. The ram kind of strutted around a bit, but with nobody to challenge, his strutting was a bit pointless and I believe he settled down. How clever these animals are! Maybe, by letting the ram know he’s the boss, the wether will be allowed to have a peaceful spot in the flock. We will see the next few days!
August 9, 2021
Not quite the peaceful spot yet. This morning, the three Babydolls were still in the corner, and the wether was stuck furthest back - it was hard to get him out, because he could not turn, being big and chunky. So they spent the day in separate paddocks again. In the evening, when the Shetlands joined the Babydolls in the hoop house, the little ram pushed them into the corner again (rather, he started to push, and the Babydolls all went over - like “we know the drill”). After a second or two though, the smallest one - she is two months younger than the others - came out again. “This is my place too, I get to wander around here” She was followed by the other two and when I left them, all eight sheep were out and digging through the manger for some left-over hay. So will the littlest one be the integration key?
August 11, 2021
The Babydolls are now fully integrated into the flock. They rank lowest on the social order, but they get to hang out with the others, and mostly do what the others are doing. They do still go in and out of the paddock somewhat separately, but they are in the same paddock with the other sheep and everyone is eating and resting in the shade (it is hot today).
Today, we had a big team: five folks! Pretty cool. Two Olin students, Jerry and Linda, helped.
August 25, 2021 - Finding some rhythm
It is good to write about our progress, and how slow it feels, because, then once something starts to require less effort, we forget how difficult it used to be.
Rereading some of the earlier entries, I see that there was a lot of time spent on sheep integration and training, and getting chickens back into the hoop house if they wandered out. No longer. In the morning - after I fertilize/water a row of the berry plants with the daily bucket of watered down urine - I get together two or three new five gallon buckets of water and bring them over to the barn. I bring one fresh bucket and a yoghurt container full of grain with me to the sheep paddock. If it is a day to move the sheep to a new paddock (at least half of the days), I will reset the electric fence, otherwise, I just put the fresh water and grain in the paddock. On days when I do move the fence, it's quick. I have gotten proficient at gathering up the stakes without tangling, and setting them out so the shape of the paddock comes out pretty well with the length of the fence. I give it a second go around - re-setting stakes a bit to use exactly the length of the fence (the ends need to come together so the entire paddock is enclosed), and laying down the grass and herbs underneath the fence netting so it goes all the way to the ground. This now takes probably 10 or 15 minutes; down from an hour a month ago. Then it’s time to get the sheep. They come crowding at the door of the hoop house, but if one is taking longer, I wait for them all to be at the door together, focused on getting to the paddock, so that they will move as a flock. Then, I open the door, and there is a boisterous, fun run down to the paddock. Currently I have some fence netting set to make a path, but eventually, I would like to get to where there is a tall flag in their paddock that they look for and run towards. I follow the sheep, close the fence, and turn it on. Then it’s just a matter of getting the chickens their fresh water, some grain if they need it, and we’re done.
The evening is even simpler: go to the chicken coop with a bucket of food scraps - these buckets are collected by the house -, give the chickens food scraps, grains, possibly more water, and collect the eggs in a basket. Get a yoghurt container of grain and pour it into two shallow feeding containers for the sheep. Then I go to the paddock, open it up, and the sheep all do the same mad rush as the morning in reverse direction; with the ram pushing open the swinging gate to let everyone in. I follow, and spend a few moments watching the happy scene: chickens clucking over their food scraps, chasing each other if one has a particularly tasty morsel, and sheep gorging on their grains or wandering about a bit. I gather up my egg basket and go back inside to clean the eggs and put them into their dozen egg containers for our clients.
Sometimes, there are glitches, but with me understanding the sheep a little better and the sheep knowing their way around more, these have been easier to solve. Yesterday at the end of the day, when I had finished the chicken chores, I went out and found the three Babydoll sheep had already decided to leave the paddock on their own and come to the hoop house. Two of them came in when I opened the gate. The littlest one was confused and could not find her way to the gate (sheep have odd holes in their abilities). But I figured she would not wander far. So I went to the paddock where I found the Shetlands patiently waiting for me in the grass, despite the fact I had forgotten to turn the electricity on in the morning. I opened the paddock and everyone ran to the hoop house - and, once the other sheep were there, the last little Babydoll followed them in also.
There have also been a few days when the chickens have gotten out in the morning because I forget to chose the gate after the sheep leave. They then get to free-range for the day, and by the afternoon, it is fairly easy to shoo them towards the hoop house gate, where someone who is hiding behind it, opens it up and they just walk in. This is still a two person job; if I try to open the gate once I have shoo’d them towards it, they run away again.
These weeks there is a little additional chore in the form of feeding and watering our latest set of baby chicks - ten Welsummers who will give us dark brown eggs and hopefully have a better survival instinct than the Marans (most of whom were eaten by the predator in the Chicken Distaster).