As anyone who has ever kept sheep will lose no opportunity to tell you, sheep are the Houdinis of the animal world. They are escape artists par excellence. This field has had a new gate and new fencing installed recently. We’ll see how long it takes them to find their way out. Once the sheep realise that the all the tasty stuff is actually in the field with them, however, they knuckle down and focus on the job of keeping the grass clipped as short as possible. But this realisation dawns slowly.
For the first few months, especially, the lure of the wild blue yonder is too strong to be denied, or may be it’s just that the grass has to be greener on the other side of the fence, they’ve read it on Facebook – it had twenty thousand ‘Likes’ – so it must be true.
Driving around at this time of year becomes increasingly hazardous as the lambs become more adventuresome and bolder. Some have taken the trouble to plan their escape route ahead of an emergency, others haven’t. When you drive down the lane, those on ‘Red Alert’ immediately take evasive action and head straight for the hole in the hedge they made on their way out of the field. Those happy-go-lucky types, for whom forward planning is an anathema, scuttle up and down the verge or run along the road in front of the car. Many times I have had to wind the car window down and lecture a bunch who belie Bo Peep’s belief.
We’ve been away. I’ve been off to a local rest and recuperation centre. He has been down south visiting relatives. We synchronised our existence again today – and went off for our walk, just as if nothing had happened. I think it’s pretty safe to say, nothing had happened.
I left a few posts in strategic places as we went on our rounds but, from the fragrance of the moment, life seems to have been wandering on, in pretty much the aimless manner it did when I was here to oversee things. I suppose that in winter (or are we still in autumn?) you can’t really expect dramatic developments on a daily basis. The cows have all moved on to greener pastures – or at least a comfortable cowshed with all mod cons to see them through the cold and wet months. The cow I spoke to about this was very emphatic this was an important part of their work ethic, to say nothing of their hooves rotting away in the mud.
The sheep don’t seem to be quite as picky about a little cold and damp. They are out there in their dozens, filling up the fields so recently vacated by their, more delicate, bovine relations. I don’t mind sheep – but I do wish they wouldn’t stand at the gates of the fields and stare at you.
Oh, yes. And did you notice? They’ve put the Christmas decorations up.
“Look, look. I think that’s him again. He went past here yesterday, remember? I know you said he was just another human, but I’m not sure, I’ve not noticed another human with that black box thing growing out of their fore legs. Why on earth they walk round on their hind legs all the time like that is beyond me. Wouldn’t you think they would have worked out by now how much simpler it is to walk on all four feet. And his language! Well, if you can call it that. He hardly seems able to string two words together to make a recognisable sentence. Remember yesterday? We went over to the gate and really concentrated, trying to make some sense out of what he was saying, and it was just impossible. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s been talking to that Stephen Hipperson in Yorkshire. They’re very isolated down there in Yorkshire you know. It’s not at all like living in Cumbria. It’s all ‘So tha says’ and ‘Hey up!’ down there, whereas here, well, I mean we’re all bilingual up here, aren’t we? Good grief I mean, I’ve spoken both Scotch and Cumbrian all my life. Yes, I’m fairly sure he’s a foreigner of some kind, probably from Down South. They’re a funny bunch down there you know. And, come to think of it he does have a really weird sort of accent. Doesn’t he?
Sheepdogs are a breed apart, they don’t just herd sheep, although that’s what they like to do most of all, it gives them immense satisfaction to gather a scattered flock together and push them gently in the right direction, sheepdogs care for sheep in much the same way that the shepherd cares for them. To the shepherd the sheep represent his income and the continued survival of his way of life, to the sheepdog the sheep represent his or her life’s work.
To the sheep, the dog will often be someone they have grown up with and in many ways someone they trust. The Dog and I have stood and watched in awe as a small flock of sheep actually followed a sheepdog from one field, down the lane and into another field while the shepherd stood by his parked truck and whistled his instructions. As soon as the sheep where safely ensconced in the field with the gate closed, dog and shepherd jumped into the truck and drove off.
Quad bikes, of course, are the new thing and they do for a farmer what a good horse did for the cowboy in the wild west, they make it possible to compete with the animals on their own terms – something we fragile bipeds can’t hope to do.
But a quad bike will never care about sheep the way a sheepdog does.
Now that the animals aren’t indoors any more,
some of the more adventurous are keen to explore.
It will come as no surprise that your five fruit and veg,
are that much tastier on the other side of the hedge.
“If the tastiest grass is our focus and goal,
then all that we need is to find a small hole.
Just follow me, I’ll show you how to do it
and if anyone comes, we can scramble back through it.”