The sheep had not gone in. There they were – little brown moving lumps still just visible. I was still in my work clothes, with my purse, mail and coffee cup in my hands. But I have a skilled sheep dog. I walked over and let Zeke off the run, with the instruction that we were, “going to work.” That’s his cue to behave and listen. He also knows that usually means sheep. He headed to the back hillside and I headed out to the middle of the Ram Pasture to supervise and direct. All was going well. Zeke went around the sheep and turned them into the gate like a pro. He stopped and guarded that gate just like I asked him to. Then I jinxed it. I thought, “This is neat.” Never, ever think something positive before the task is done. It’s almost as bad as saying it out loud.
Everything looked good. The sheep had made the corner through the next gate and were headed to the barn. I sent Zeke to guard the barn door. Then I saw it. A lamb had missed the second gate and was on the wrong side of the fence. He knew he wanted to be in the barn, but lambs are not exactly critical thinkers, and all he could seem to do was hit that fence trying to get through. I heaved a sigh, told Zeke to “guard” and set down my stuff (yes, it was still in my hands). Now, work clothes consist of stacked-heel boots that are not terribly high, but not exactly working boots either, slacks, and a nice sweater. Not what you would call practical for catching a lamb. But, I didn’t want to go back inside and chance that he would wander away. I really thought I could guide him back alongside the fence to the gate to where he could get into the barn. That was the plan.
The first step was to get Zeke out of the way, so I called him to me. Remember that he loves babies. He detoured to see if he could greet the lamb through the fence. The lamb was not impressed and bolted – back to the corner where he had started. I thought for a minute that his head was stuck in the fence. That would have worked for me. I could have caught him and lifted him over the fence. I was down to the creek and considering my crossing. He got free. And bolted. At some point in there I got Zeke to the middle of the pasture and laid down. That lamb ran right in front of him and out to the back corner of the pasture behind the hillside and tried to get through that fence too.
I could see the writing on the wall. We leave that back gate open because we don’t usually need to close it. The sheep are in the barn, after all. I should have closed the gate. Really, that’s what I should have done. But I have Zeke. He’s as good as a gate and easier to move. I put him in the gate with the “guard” instruction. That means don’t let the sheep past. I walk down toward the lamb to push him back towards the barn. All looks good. He responds to my presence and moves out of the corner and down the path then he turns sharply left, gives takes three steps and makes a running leap – right over Zeke’s nose and out onto the completely open back hillside. By this time, it’s full dusk and the fog is starting to set in. The lamb is exactly the color of a rock, and isn’t making any noise at all. I give up. I head inside to change into more suitable clothing and get a flashlight.
While I’m doing that, I’m secretly hoping mama will figure out she’s missing a baby and come get him while I was gone. When I came back out, it was immediately clear that hope was not to be realized. I heard a bleat out on the back hillside.
There is a tried a true technique when you can’t get a separated single to go back to the herd. Instead of trying to take the one to the many, it’s often easier to take the many to the one. So Zeke and I went into the barn to run the sheep out. We went in and to the back of the barn. Usually the sheep run right out when we do that. Of course that’s not usually right after we’ve run them in to feed. They went towards the door. And stopped. Really, you’d have thought their was a fence across the alley. They would not go any farther. They just turned and looked at me. It was back to plan A.
Zeke and I went out to the hillside. The lamb was starting to get tired, and mom was now at least looking out the door and calling. He knew where he needed to be. This time it worked. Zeke and I were able to guide the lamb along the fence line and into the gate. He just kept following the flashlight that I aimed in front of him. Thank heavens he was making noise at this point, or I’d have never found him. And yes, I closed the gates behind him as he went through.
90 minutes later I have finally finished the 20 minute job of feeding. It’s leftovers for dinner.