Category Archives: Writing- YarnTalk

Ongoing processing of YarnTalk, an illustrated chapter book and story of SnoBelle, a lamb’s quest for a shawl

Rule #3: Be Aware

2 sheep and a dog       Besides a natural telepathy with each other, their senses are acute. Especially scent. Especially for food. Grain is the main draw, anytime, but hay must be fresh. If it’s fallen onto the ground and they step on it, well then … no longer edible.  It smells like sheep feet and they ignore it. If mimosa is cut on the far side of the pasture, they know it and come running. If grain is hidden in a closed bag where they might find access to it, they will find it. Immediately! Such as the time Ivy entered an unfamiliar classroom with me, and no sooner through the door, whipped the leash out of my hand and charged for the hamster grain at the back of the room, chowing down before I could reach her.

Other senses are just as strong. Sound carries all around from the neighbors’ dogs or an overhead plane  to my call from two acres away. All make their ears twitch and their heads turn. An amazing example is when the shearer comes, who rumbles down the dirt road in a cloud of dust, in an old pick-up. This man appears only once per year, with a definitive engine sound the sheep remember. At his approach from almost a quarter mile away, I’ve seen their heads jerk up, all eyes turn as one, and all focus together towards the road. They know who it is! And what’s coming. And they don’t like it.

Sight might not be at the top of the list, but they are very sensitive to movement. In the distance, if an unclear object moves within their near vicinity, such as another animal approaching through tall moving grasses, or a bird who flies overhead, ears will twitch, eyes will turn, all as one. Colors are not the same as ours and studies have shown a limited range – mostly in the reddish/yellowish shades. My previous dog – large and red, could jump the fence into their pasture. In the YarnTalk stories, since the sheep did not know his name, they imagined he was called “Big Arf”. Big Arf usually ignored the sheep and would explore the far corners of the pasture, stick his nose deep into old woodpiles, and bury his bones in forgotten holes under the trees. Wherever he moved, the sheep’s eyes and ears and noses would follow, raising their heads as one, pointing in his direction like a weathervane. Whenever I looked for him, I looked at them pointing the way. I called them the “Arfvane”.

Sheep have no natural defenses and must stay on top of their game to deal with predators. Their only shield is to run away, or hide. Even rams, protector of the flock, are no match for a dog, or coyote, or an angry snake. Their main “defense” is a good fence. But being hyper-aware is something to be proud of.

Rule #2: Stick With the Flock

lamb leading ewe
Ivy leads her mom on explorations into the woods.

Rule #2: STICK WITH THE FLOCK! Always!
Sheep are flock animals and have close family ties. Mothers and kids will hangout together, in all activities, in all venues, forever. They may slightly separate themselves from other family groups, but always within eyesight. When one responds to something, they all do. Their telepathy is strong, except when one zones out in her own little dream world and takes a few minutes to catch up. Ivy is one of those. When she grazes, I think the action of stepping and chewing, stepping and chewing must be very meditative. Being independent and curious, she will also venture off for a solitary nap, or explorations deeper under the trees. I sometimes call and call when ready to move them to an alternate spot and though the others come running, I often need to search for Ivy, who’s off pawing some new plant she found, distant from the flock, or asleep in a hole, behind the fallen tree, down in the woods, so completely out of sight I might step on her before she wakes.
One exception to the flock rule may be when young lambs are sleeping. They play hard, then drop and take a nap. The ewes keep grazing and gradually widen the spaces between them. Often, one ewe plays babysitter, while the other moms drift away. Then they meet up and switch roles. Other times, they all drift away and forget where they left the lambs. That’s cause for all-out shouting until the lambs wake up and they all find each other again.
But this brings up pecking orders. Even though they stick together and mimic each other, there is a separation of power and who gets to go first. Did you know the ram is not the leader of the flock? His job is to protect and bully and make little lambs. If danger threatens, he’ll face it and even though he’s no match for most predators, he’ll make a big show of it. Mostly with other rams. I personally think they’re not all that brave. They wait ’til you turn your back, then they butt you.
It’s the Head Ewe who leads the flock, decides where the best pasture is, who eats first, and who steps ahead of the line of ewes and lambs all in single file to their next location. With my small family of sheep, it’s Swee’Pea who answers my call first, leads the stampede to breakfast, and yells when the flock needs something. Swee’Pea is the daughter of the original SnoBelle from the story, and also Ivy’s mom. Though always part of the flock, their independence runs deep.

The Rules, #1: Eat Food! ALOT!

In YarnTalk, my story of the lambs and the fiber processes, Maa Dixie Belle gives 5 rules for the flock. No. 1 is “Eat Food! Alot!”
The others I’ve deduced from watching them, usually based on how they sense their world around them. The other rules are:
2. Stick with the flock!
3. Be aware!
4. Not too close!
5. Play Games!
More on those later.

#1 – EAT! seems to be written in capital letters, just for them. They’re always hungry. Though many sheep will live off forage entirely,  to me,  a barren winter pasture should have some help. My sheep are wool sheep and if they’re going to have quality wool, they need a high protein grain. So they have become accustomed to breakfast as soon as I wake up. That’s “as soon as I wake up”. Not after I’m audibly moving around, or visibly on my way to the shed. That’s from the moment I wake up, they know it. And they start yelling for breakfast. And when I appear, they stampede to the trough.

Sheep are creatures of habit ,  following  the same pattern, over and over. For instance, when lining up at the trough for any meal, they must approach in the same order, position themselves in “their” spot, and dive in. “Diving in” is important, hence their No.1 rule.  Maybe I should call it “Eat Food. Alot! NOW!” It doesn’t matter if they just had breakfast and meandered away from the shed, following the same path in the same order. If you call them again, they will stampede over and repeat the same exact pattern again, as though the first meal never happened.

Beyond their usual grain, they also like candy. Err…mimosa. For some reason my sheep have developed a big attachment to chewing these large fronds of greenery that I’ve never seen with other sheep. And they’ve passed it down through the generations, as long as I’ve been here. They may be skittish and aloof apart from coming for their meals, but if I go out to the pasture and pull down a mimosa branch, they come running. Or stampeding.  When clearing debris around the yard, they know if mimosa is involved and rush at the fence, baaing and demanding their share.

They have curious tastes. It’s a sheep thing.