Last week, I ran to my recently established sheep pen to find a little ewe, two hours old.
Jumping up and down a bit, I climbed in and checked if she’d eaten. She was a healthy lamb, friendly and enthusiastic.
Five minutes after taking this photo, I nearly collapsed and relied on great support to make it back to the car and eventually to my bed. I slept for four hours with no dreams, unusual for me.
But after that, I had a little lamb to visit. I named her Dahlia, after the flower. Her mother’s name is Daisy, and the dahlia flower is in the same family as the daisy.
Plastic chairs sit right next to the sheep pen so that I can watch the three amigos live life and browse peacefully through the hay.
In all the time I’ve kept this blog (six years last month!), I have not kept sheep.
(And apparently, I’ve talked about sheep a lot because when I searched for posts that contained the word “sheep,” there were a lot of posts.)
Despite this, it’s been several years since I last raised sheep. A traveling lifestyle filled with graduate studies and backpacking adventures led me to wait for the woolly creatures.
But now, in a corner of the barn I grew up in, three lovely animals greet me in the evenings.
It took a year and a half after returning home for me to regain my footing financially. Once I did, I started thinking about how I could regenerate my livestock herds. In high school, I managed a flock of around 20 ewes.
I want to do that again…times ten.
Unfortunately, I missed several spring and early summer sales and pondered where to buy sheep. In the midst of my pondering, my parents received an announcement for the production sale of esteemed Shropshire breeders I had known since I was a teenager. I’d thought for a while that if their farm ever hosted a production sale, I wanted to be there.
I sorted through the sale catalogue entries, marking the ewes I liked based on their picture, write-up, and genetics. The significant otter had just purchased a new (to him) Honda CR-V, picking it up from the dealership the day before the sale. The seats folded down. During the four-hour road trip to the sale, I glanced to the back, eyeing the dimensions of the space.
“You think she’ll fit back there?”
I quickly looked forward again. “Um….wow, you knew exactly what I was thinking.”
The farm was much changed from what I remembered by a tornado that had recently passed through. A long hoop house stood where the wooden barns used to be. The sheep gathered in fresh straw, watching us warily.
Close evaluations began. I would only bid on sheep I really liked; if I bought a ewe, she would be the cornerstone of my new flock, and she needed to be good.
I sorted through the bred yearlings, constantly referring to my list. But as I placed stars next to the numbers of the ewes I liked and marked a line through the numbers I didn’t need, I realized that one ewe I hadn’t marked on paper continually caught my eye in person. She was the smallest in the group but still held her own.
I added her number to the list and moved on, analyzing older ewes and rams.
I continually returned to that pen to double and triple check that I was right: she was the one to bid on.
But when she appeared in the auctioneer’s ring, I froze. Is this really the right sheep?
“1,000!” the auctioneer cried. “1,000!”
What if something actually is wrong with her?
How long do I wait before jumping in?
The price crept down, and someone gained the bid at $300.
I just stared.
The ring man watched me closely, and he watched as my S.O. leaned over and said, “You’re seconds away from losing her.”
Jerked into action, I caught the ring man’s eye. I held up my thumb and index finger and mouthed, “325.”
He pumped his right fist in the air. “Hup!”
I had the bid. I waited anxiously for the gavel to fall, and when it did, I was so overcome that S.O. had to hold up my bidder’s number for me.
It was the first time I’d ever bid at an auction, and the first time I’d ever won.
And I was back in the sheep business.
Rather than carry Daisy home in the CR-V, I asked a long-time family friend to transport her halfway across the state in the back of his truck. A couple of weeks later, after building a pen for her, we traveled to his farm to pick her up. On the way home, we drove through Indianapolis, stopping at IHOP for supper.
Hearing her bleat at stoplights with the city nightlife surrounding us was a lot of fun.
Sheep need buddies, so I started to seek out companions for Daisy the Shropshire. I grew up with Shropshires, but I also admired Shetland sheep, which made a regular appearance at the Indiana State Fair. I would laugh as the lively creatures hopped down the aisle after their owners, who could easily scoop them up into their arms.
Through the Indiana Sheep Association, I met some Shetland breeders and visited their farm after spending three days at this year’s State Fair.
Strangely, at the farm, I couldn’t differentiate one Shetland from another. They were smaller and much woollier than the sheep I was used to, and it took me a couple of hours to acclimate to their unique characteristics.
Once my eyes had adjusted, I created a sorting pen in the barn with the help of the shepherd and picked out several sheep I liked so that I could narrow down my selections.
One was a black ewe with white markings on her tail and shoulder. As I had walked around the pasture, she had stayed close to my heels. When I stopped, she looked up at me expectantly.
I’d reach down, give her a little scratch on the chin, and walk on.
Then, I’d stop, she’d sidle to my side, and she’d wait for her reward for being a good sheep.
In the sorting pen, I narrowed down my selection. The friendly ewe, Szarlota, continued to follow me as I carefully looked over each sheep.
“She’s doing your best marketing!” I told the farmer.
Szarlota nuzzled my elbow.
And that sealed the deal.
The decision made, the farmer trimmed Szarlota’s hooves. I gave him a check, placed a halter around her head, and then loaded the ewe.
In the back of the CR-V.
So Daisy now had a buddy, plus she expected an October lamb.
Two soon became three, a great increase in my flock size.
It all is truly a dream come true. I’d been waiting a long, long time for that day in July when I won my first bid. I’d planned pens, researched breeds, and schemed up production systems. I’d learned from the best in New Zealand and Australia, and I’d observed farms from a distance in Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Everything was ready for this new journey.
And it definitely didn’t hurt to be dating someone who is okay with putting sheep in his new car.