Lilian’s angry temper tantrum on Sunday morning was almost comical to watch, as I worked to shuffle the sheep fencing across the pasture. If you’ve never seen a sheep in a temper-tantrum, you should, “these things are fun, and fun is good…” Personally, I might have found more humor in the ewe’s dramatics if I weren’t sweaty and frazzled from having to chase and capture her twice already.
Lilian is new to the Runamuk flock, replacing Lily─the second Romney that Runamuk had been gifted last fall. During the winter Lily suffered an injury to her knee that she never recovered from, and I ended up having to put her down back in July. That left Runamuk with 3 sheep: 2 boys and a girl. It also left me with something of a problem…
If I wanted any control over the timing of lambing season, I needed to separate my rams from my ewe. To exacerbate matters, Lucy is a little on the small side, and because of that I’ve decided to wait til next year to breed her─allowing her body time to fully mature. The problem was that sheep are gregarious─meaning they don’t do well as solitary creatures. With Lily gone, I’d need another ewe to pair with Lucy in order to separate her from the rams.
Finances here are tight, but Pam and Kelby Young at Olde Haven Farm were willing to take payments from Runamuk (thank you, Pam and Kelby!!!). That softened the blow of the unexpected expense, and last Monday I made the trek to Chelsea to pick out a breedable ewe for the Runamuk flock. I came home with Lilian: a 2 year old ewe that Pam thought would make a good alpha-ewe for a smaller flock.
Lilian has certainly settled into that role, and I think she rather enjoys life at Runamuk. She butted heads (quite literally) with Pippin and Ghirardelli the first day or so, but things settled down once they realized she wasn’t going to tolerate any shenanigans, and the four sheep were all very cozy.
But it couldn’t last. The two sexes needed to be separated.
“You can visit on November 1st!” I told Lilian from outside the fenced enclosure.
She charged the fence at full sheep-speed, then─and very dramatically, I might add─Lilian stomped all four hoofed-feet to slow herself, stopping just short of actually hitting the fence. And she glared at me. Ears cocked, eyes very pointedly glaring at me in displeasure. Then she turned and charged across the pasture in the opposite direction, again stomping her feet very angrily, stopping short before whirling around to glare at me some more. Every parent knows what a temper-tantrum looks like, and Lilian’s behavior sure fit the bill!
I was in the middle of the Sunday morning fence-shuffle─in which I maneuver the fiberglass fence poles and the electric net-fencing across the landscape to open up fresh grazing─all while keeping the animals inside the enclosure. It’s quite a trick, and the job has gotten to be more and more rigorous the more critter-tractors and additional lengths of fencing I add to my operation.
Seeing the renewed vigor of plant-life upon the soil, however, following the sheep and chickens’ grazing regimen has been inspiring, and that fuels me through the work. Everywhere the animals have been, the grasses, which had been sparse before, have come back as a thick green thatch. I can see the difference we’re making here.
Normally this kind of behavior does not happen during the fence-shuffle, but because I also separated the rams from the ewes, I was having to face Lilian’s wrath as I attempted to put more distance between the ewe enclosure and the rams’.
The trouble was Lilian had been studying me as I shuffled the fence around─watching for the net fencing to get slack enough that she might easily jump or run over it. Hence the 2 escapes─and with every breach of the fence, the young and impressionable Lucy went with her.
To keep her inside the enclosure, I had to keep the lengths of net-fencing taught as I moved them to prevent any more escapes. Even then Lilian charged the fence a couple of times, and I would have to dash around the fence to get in front of her to hold the line. When she realized that the fence wasn’t being charged while I shuffled it, she attempted to push her way right through the netting. She got herself caught up in the fencing and took several poles out of the ground as she tried to evade the netting, but only succeeded in dragging it with her across the pasture.
“Hey!” I exclaimed, lunging to grab hold of the entangled animal. Patiently I untangled Lilian from the fence, muttering, “I just got that fence up….”
I managed to get the fence back up (with Lilian and Lucy inside the thing), and decided that instead of trying to push the girls farther back onto the field right then, I’d better give Lilian some time to cool down. I turned the charger on and stood there with arms crossed in stubborn defiance, waiting for her to test the fence again.
Testing the Fence
Lilian stood there inside the fenced enclosure staring across the pasture at the boy’s camp. Ghirardelli and Pippin were happy as could be with their new truck-cap sheep-shed. It didn’t seem to matter to the boys that Lilian and Lucy were no longer by their side. They grazed happily on the fresh forage I’d just made available to them.
It certainly mattered to Lilian, though. Her gaze shifted from Ghirardelli, to me, and then back to the fence that prevented her from joining the boys. She made to charge the fence and I stood my ground: watching and waiting.
She stopped short, glaring at men then eyed the fence. Her sensitive ears picked up the clicking of the electric charger and the sound seemed to penetrate the angry haze, drawing some level of recognition. Lilian approached the fence more cautiously this time.
“Go ahead,” I taunted. “Test it, I dare ya.”
She did, received a little zap and jumped back, trotting away a few yards. The ewe turned around, stomped her hoof, and we started again with the intent staring at Ghirardelli. Once again Lilian’s gaze shifted to me, before going back to the fence, and she came forward, more slowly this time. The ewe stood close enough to the fence that she could touch it if she wanted, but this time she hesitated, listening to the clicking of the electric charger, flinching slightly with each click.
She looked at me with her pale amber eyes.
“I’m the farmer here, Lilian. I’m in charge.” I told her sternly. “And I mean business.”
Lilian sniffed at the fence, wanting to be sure that it really was on. She gingerly touched her moist nose to one of the lines, got zapped again and ran back to the safety of the sheep-tractor. And there she stayed.
It’s been a couple of days now since Lilian’s temper-tantrum. Sometimes she stands inside the tractor and stares intently across the pasture to where Ghirardelli and Pippin are. She seems resigned to the separation now, but still hasn’t forgiven me and refuses to be friendly when I come to visit. Instead, Lilian is somewhat stand-offish─just to let me know that she’s not happy with the living arrangements.
It’s okay; I love her still.
Livestock to Reinvigorate the Soil
Before my study on soil and soil health, I believed pollinators to be the key to the ecosystem. I thought that by promoting pollinators I was doing the greatest good for the whole ecosystem.
Now, following my soil-study, I’ve realized that it’s actually the soil microorganisms, and their intimate relationship with plants, that supports the whole of life on Earth. I’ve come to the conclusion that, by focusing on soil and it’s microorganisms, I can do even more for the ecosystem.
Using livestock to reinvigorate this scrappy patch of land, I can propagate soil bacteria, facilitate better nutrient recycling, and increase the organic matter in the soil. That will lead to more lush and abundant plant-growth, which benefits the insect population─including the pollinators. The benefits of soil health work their way all the way up the food chain, even allowing us to sequester greenhouse gas emissions and reverse global warming.
That’s pretty powerful farming, if you ask me, and a movement that I definitely want to be a part of. To sweeten the deal, I get to work with these super-cute and friendly sheep! What more could a girl ask for at the end of the day than dirt under her nails, a myriad of furry, feathered, and woolly comrades to share life with, and a heart full of love and gratitude?
Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer! Find Runamuk on Facebook, OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into daily life on this bee-friendly Maine farm!