Flock Integration: Barnyards And Schoolyards

Flock Integration: Barnyards And Schoolyards

Three new Shetland sheep joined my flock this week: one yearling, and two lambs. Moon, the yearling, is mioget (golden-brown), and the twin of my Poppy. Beatrice is a fawn lamb, and Phoebe is a moorit (dark chocolate brown) lamb.

Shetland sheep lambs

I'd met Moon at Rhinebeck in the breed barn, and had fallen in love with her sweet disposition and her super-fine fleece. When I bought the lambs, I was happy that a yearling they were were familiar with would be coming with them. I was worried about how they would integrate with my 3 yearlings. 

The first day was rough. I had the new girls in a separate field from my old girls, but they could see and sniff one another. When I finally let them together, it was a head-butting frenzy. My Poppy must have recognized Moon on some level, because she didn't go after Moon as violently as Quin and Roobie did. 

The two lambs shadowed Moon, who wasn't particularly interested in being their surrogate mother. She let the lambs be near her, but didn't let them get too close. Beatrice, who is bold as brass, marched up to the hay feeders as if she belonged there. She let the older girls bump her, but didn't let them chase her away. Phoebe, on the other hand, skittered away from any movement. 

As I watched them, I realized that lambs aren't very different from human children. Beatrice rolled with the punches (and head-butts) and was accepted, more or less. She laid down with them, and snuck in mouthfuls of hay and water whenever she could. Phoebe was constantly jumpy, and alternated between running away and trying to snuggle up to, and even nurse from, Moon. My guess is that she hadn't been weaned for very long, and she was used to being able to hide behind her mother. I think Beatrice had been weaned longer, and had gotten used to standing up for herself. By the evening, Phoebe was a target, with all 4 yearlings chasing her and butting her relentlessly. 

I have a party trick when people come to visit. I take them to the field, and as we approach the sheep, the sheep run away. I have my visitors stand still, and I walk away at an angle between the sheep and my visitors. When I'm sure the sheep are just dying of curiosity, I turn my back on them, and start walking toward the visitors. And the sheep feel compelled to follow me. They are, after, sheep. So every time Phoebe ran from the yearlings, the yearlings chased her. Sometimes the yearlings wanted to butt her, but sometimes, they just wanted to sniff her. The less they could sniff her, the more they wanted to chase her, and the more she ran. And 'round and 'round they went.

I decided to let them all sleep together in the barn that first night. It's a big barn, but since sheep like to have eyes and noses on one another, I didn't get individual stalls. I put a basket of hay in each corner, so there wouldn't be any crowding. I stayed with them for a while, to make sure they settled down. I had some sharp words with the yearlings, as they chased after Phoebe. Sheep understand stomping, so I stood in front of Phoebe, faced the yearlings, lowered my head, and stomped my feet. They eventually got the message, and one by one, laid down to burp and chew their cud. I snuggled with the yearlings for a while, so they knew that I still loved them. I might have even sung them a lullaby or two. But since we haven't installed the camera in the new barn yet, no one can prove anything, and my sheep aren't talking.

Comments on post  (1)

Judi l says:

I couldn’t ask for a better shepherd for my Shetlands. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience with others.

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