Shepherding in NC in steamy July

Amazing! It’s already July 4, and it’s been months since I entered a note in this blog!  Since then, we’ve lost one of our oldest sheep, 13-year-old Leah, our white Romney, who has been with us since our second year with sheep. All of our sheep are aging, along with us, and it is so hard to let them go when they become feeble, and can no longer “be sheep,” and walk around the pasture, seek out the nicest stands of clover and delicious grass from the seed we spread around last fall and spring, and butt other sheep out of their food dish. Spot, another very elderly sheep with severe arthritis, will soon follow Leah across that Rainbow Bridge.

•One of the hazards of “nursing” such an elderly sheep is the routine trips at bedtime, in the dark, out to the barn. I love hearing the Katydids loudly singing in the trees, and the fireflies all around. I love the longing eyes of my Great Pyrenees dog, Emily, as I near the pasture gate with a treat for her, and a few scratches under her ears. I dread the large spider webs that are beginning to appear in my path to the barn, and always carry a long branch which makes ongoing figure-8’s in the air to clear my way, both to keep the webs out of my face, and to sweep the spiders off the gate latches that a few hours ago were free of webs! Even mid-day I get surprises. Yesterday when I was just moving to open the barn gate, I quickly scanned the floor–and saw what I was hoping not to see–a copperhead snake with his head up in strike position! As I froze there, outside the gate, about 4 ft. from the snake, with my hand still on the chain I’d just unhitched to open it, my mind jumped to where the closest shovel was–the other side of the snake from where I was standing… When I froze, the snake seized the opportunity to melt quickly through the fence and under the hay feeder and out of sight. This copperhead was only half the size of the one I saw in the barn last year at sunset, so we have a family there… but they do control rodents, of which there are always more than necessary in a barn with hay. It amazes me, how the Great Pyrenees dogs ignore black snakes, garter snakes, black racers, but when there’s a copperhead around, they’re suddenly in “guardian” mode:  alert, lunging at the snake to hold it in position, never close enough to get bitten, holding it (or them) in place until I get there, as I listen all the while to a very high-pitched and aggressive bark they use for nothing else but, “Warning–poisonous snake!!” They often appear on the soft clay in the center of our path down to the pasture, right at dusk. There have been up to three at a time lying there, soaking up the last of the warmth from the summer day, where our feet will be stepping within a few minutes. Thank goodness for these very intelligent guardian dogs, who protect us, as well as the sheep!

• I’m now spinning some blue yarn from Leah’s fleece, dyed in a series of workshops over the past few years. I really do need to decrease some of this huge stash of lovely soft fiber by making it into yarn. This lovely light blue will become warm socks for my husband’s mother, now in her 70’s, to sleep in. She tells me the ones I gave her last year are wearing out, she has used them so continuously since Christmas! I make the sole with a stand of polyester or nylon thread plied with the yarn for durability, then knit in finely drafted wool roving every other stitch, to make a very soft, fuzzy and warm foot for these socks. The part above the heel is wool, knitted in ribbing, a little smaller than the foot, to hold them snug. She says the greatest thing about these warm socks is that she no longer has foot cramps at night, which, since she’s diabetic, has long plagued her. Now she can sleep through the night.

•The last week here has been deliciously cool, after record-breaking high temperatures over the month of June–most days with a heat index of 100 degrees or more. For sheep, if the temp. is over 85, we’re in the hazard zone, so you can understand my concern with my old sheep having whatever support I can provide them, to get through such stressful weather. There’s a fan in the barn, I freeze quart-containers of water and put 2 of them in the water bucket I have inside the barn in the shade, so they have cool water to drink twice a day, for as long as the coolness lasts. There’s a fan in the barn, also I pour water on the brick walkway outside the barn door, just behind and in front of that fan, to cool the air a little from evaporation. The sheep have about 1.5″ of wool on them now, so they’re insulated. Sheep don’t sweat like cows do, so they’re more at risk from the heat. I also put minerals made especially for sheep, as well as some table salt, out for them to nibble, and in the worst heat, sprinkle a couple tablespoons down over the hay to make sure they have some encouragement to drink more water. There’s also a large tub of water in the barnyard with a float valve, so it always stays full.

• Soon I’ll pull out the string bean plants, which have given us many delicious meals, but now have finished bearing, and the sheep will enjoy eating them–just like they do when they get out of their fence and ramble, occasionally! Their real favorite is my sweet green pepper plants, however! I make a serious attempt to fence them out of the garden… Also because that’s where the azelias are, and that’s a poisonous plant for them. It’s a very serious situation if they eat azelias. I nearly lost a lamb 12 years ago from a small azelia bush I had covered with a bucket with a big rock on top (which they tipped over)… but he survived with some major supportive care that day, and he ‘s still with us, making lovely fleeces each year. The sunflowers are also being gradually eaten by the goldfinches, and when the seeds are gone, I’ll feed the stalks to the sheep, as well. Recycling has a rather unique flavor here! Then the manure makes the garden grow for next year’s vegetables, and makes increasingly large patches of very rich soil in a pasture mainly of clay, which will grow a great crop of grass and clover. Also since poison ivy is one of their favorite weeds, I don’t need to deal with it turning up in the lawn or pasture!

•And now I wish for you to go and smell a sunflower, or a marigold, and watch the butterflies on the buddelia, and the hummingbirds on the trumpet vine and their feeders. Enjoy!

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Filed under dogs, gardening, sheep, spinning

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