So I have this idea of making more sheep. There is a tried and true method for this. But, like most everything in my life, it is a little more complicated than that. Kam had borrowed a pedigreed Dorper ram to use on her own ewes, the three remaining after the major cull over the summer. They were all big fat Dorpers as well. She also had some butcher lambs, a couple pet lambs, and maybe some replacement lambs stashed somewhere, all of which she didn't want to get bred, so they had to be penned up. She suggested that if I put her breeding ewes and ram in with my six ewes, I could get my sheep bred, and she could let her lambs out to graze, I could have some lighter sheep to work, and I could get her sheep a little more dogged.
Normally, her sheep spend the night in pens near her house, across the field from my arena where my sheep live with their donkey. How to get four completely undogbroke sheep across a forty acre field, was the little challenge. I felt sure the sheep would indeed, eventually end up in my arena, but, it would be rather too exciting for everyone. So Kam suggested putting them in my truck and driving them across, as I had done originally with my own sheep. At the moment there is no shell on the truck bed so we would have to make do with dog crates.
I have hoisted enough sheep into my pickup to know that it is not a piece of cake, and the heavier and less tame the sheep are, the less cakelike it becomes. But I agreed.
Intertwined with this enterprise was my increasingly inexcusable inability to get up the nerve to take Ty out into that same big field with my own sheep. If it had been a flat field, that would different. But at least half of this field consists of a nearly-too-steep-to-climb-without-using-your-hands hillside, and a swampy creek at the bottom of a ravine, plus emus. Just hitting the high points.
I'd been working hard on Ty's 'get out', and his gathers, but I didn't trust him not to default to sheep bowling if he panicked. A dog can run right through his sheep in an arena, get to the other side and gather them up again. It is ugly, but he will only momentarily lose his sheep. Not true in an open field.
This was exactly the difficulty with Ty. He was smart enough to have long ago figured out that he could rely on the fence to turn them or stop them, so he wasn't exerting himself to cover his stock the way he needed to all the time. The only way I could think of to prove to him that he had to work harder was to get him out where the fences weren't. But, I was afraid of the learning curve. Hence, the pickup truck solution.
The first sign that things were not going to go quite my way, was when I drove in and found no one home. They'd left the sheep in the home pens for me, but then, for some ridiculous reason such as not knowing when I'd show up, they'd gone about their business. Ty and I moved the sheep (and the goats, which hadn't been turned out either, although they had no part to play) into the smallest pen without anything else in it, and then I drove my truck up as close as it would go. I arranged a half oil drum as a stepstool in front of the tailgate. I fetched a lead rope from the barn. Ty cornered them for me, so I could get the rope on one. The tamest was the young ram, who was also the lightest. I dragged him over to the truck and tried to get him aboard.
I tried for awhile.
Eventually it came to me that if I couldn't get the smallest sheep packed up, I was wasting my time, as the biggest and most overweight ewe must be pushing a hundred and seventy-five pounds, maybe even two hundred. In fact it seemed doubtful to me that I could squash these massive ladies into those extra-large dog crates, even if by some miracle they floated up to my truck bed. So, with my usual intrepidity, I just gave up. I hiked out to my own sheep, hayed them, topped up their water tub, and thought about how, if my dog had great control of my own sheep out in the open field, I could just take mine over to Kam's sheep, mix them together, and walk them back, with my doggier sheep as a settling influence. If I had been proactive and had been out there doing walkabouts for weeks now, I wouldn't be stuck trying to attempt the hot, sweaty, backstraining impossible. My dog would do it for me, the whole entire point of, well, everything I'm doing here.
So I did a little warm-up fetching and then opened the drive gate into the open field, and walked through it. The sheep shot out in every direction, and Ty shot right out after them. Four he managed to get on the other side of, and those ran back into the arena, while another missed the opening and ran along the outside of the fence. The final sheep was the ill-fated Black Matilda, who has had enough of a mind of her own that she is always on Ty's Bad Sheep list. Off she went, straight away, and Ty closed his ears and went straight away after her. And, of course, so did I.
They disappeared. I was calling, of course. And calling, and calling, and finally I found Ty, who had driven poor Matilda across the creek and up a bank, where she couldn't go any farther, and was holding her there. Nor had he any discernable intention to stop holding her there, even when I came running up telling him in a very unpleasant voice that he was going to be sorry he was ever born.
There was nothing for it but to go fetch my other sheep to the single, I was surely not going to pry her out of there any other way. So I called my horrible dog and off we trudged back to the arena, which was now full of horses and emus. The ewe who'd gotten on the other side of the fence had found her own way back to the flock, and they were, as I'd expected, clustered around their donkey, who was penned. I put Ty up, shooed the sheep into the round pen and the extraneous livestock out, came back for Ty, gathered up the sheep, and opened the gate on the other side this time. And, the sheep shot out again and went straight up the hill. Ty made a valiant effort but I saw he wasn't going to catch them any time soon, so I called him back to me. He had never gathered from such a distance, and never in such terrain. I was going to have to figure out a way for him to be successful.
I took Ty up the mountain so as to come out at the top far enough away from where I thought the sheep were, that we wouldn't spook them. I made a good enough guess; when the sheep saw us they stood still, uncertain. I laid Ty down and walked out to where I figured it would be easiest for him to move them toward me. I asked him for a go bye, and he made a cautious, square flank, stopping on his own when he saw they were going correctly. He was a quite a wary dog now. I let the sheep settle for about five minutes. Then I turned my back and started walking. Ty was rating very well. I went down the mountain and around the arena and up along the creek, looking for Matilda. Turned out she hadn't moved an inch. She didn't look she was ever going to, either. I brought the rest of the flock down as close as I could get to her, but she didn't move. Ty, meanwhile, had observed how tight the quarters were, and had stopped a generous distance away, watching.
Nothing happened for about ten minutes, and then I got impatient. I asked Ty for a go-bye to see if he would come down off the ravine edge to the creek, maybe giving Matilda a tiny push. Ty didn't budge. I then said, "Go to water", and he gratefully climbed down and stood in the creek drinking. He was really hot and thirsty. Matilda didn't move. I asked Ty to 'walk up', and then 'come in' but he wouldn't come toward me. He was about sixty feet away or so now. I could tell he wanted to get back up on the high ground where he could block either way the sheep could go. There was a real marsh at the bottom of the ravine between him and us, so I also thought it was possible he was afraid to go through it. So I let him get back up above. Then I asked him to walk up.
As soon as he'd come in about ten feet, the sheep exploded out of the creek bed and took off. Didn't they ever do anything else? There was a long line of interior fencing open at both ends, that blocked Ty from going wide to catch them, no doubt another thing that had made him reluctant. By this time the closest draw was Kam's home pens where her Dorpers still languished along with my truck full of dog crates. Two of my sheep, including the chastened Matilda, ran there. Another took off along the fence; Ty headed her back toward the pair, but meanwhile the other three started off toward the mountain. I yelled at Ty to look back but his look-back is much weaker than Bonnie's especially in the heat of a moment like this. He didn't look. So I yelled, "Go by! Get out!" and as he swung farther out he caught sight of the disappearing trio, dashed after them and got them turned back to the rest. Whew. I was really not wanting to hike up that damn mountain again.
We all walked back to the arena uneventfully. Matilda, an unprepossessing sheep at the best of times, was not improved in appearance by a decoration of algae. I parked my sheep, let the donkey out with them, and hiked back with Ty to Kam's pens, where there was at last some possible help.
Lifting sheep into trucks is one of those activities where people with a more highly developed upper body musculature shine. That is to say, male type people. Kam's hired hand Alejandro and I roped, dragged, hoisted, and shoved each sheep into its box (and yes, the crates looked like overfilled muffin tins once we were all done) for the quarter mile ride. One ewe on the verge of successful cratedom decided she would rather go over the top of me, ripping the rope out of my hand and grinding me into the dirt, which is where I got my bitten lip and sandy teeth, but her freedom was shortlived.
Alejandro looked at me over the back of the last obstinate sheep and said, "You know, this is really too hard. You have a dog, why don't you just take them across with your dog?"