Lost Sheep

In the afternoon on Christmas Eve I came home from running a few errands and put the sheep (lambs really, they are all sheep less than a year old) out into the back pasture that I rent. The pasture is not fenced, but I’ve done this many, many times over the past six months and the lambs know the area and where they live. Under normal circumstances, I would have my ElectroNet fencing set to contain them, but because we are in a drought, the ground is too hard to get the stakes in and the electricity doesn’t work correctly with the ground being so dry. Without a proper current running through the fence, the lambs push through it, get tangled in it and ruin it.

I went back in the house for a few minutes, then came out and was videotaping Gel’s weave pole training. While doing the video taping, I looked out into the field and didn’t see the lambs, so I cut the video taping short and went out in the back fields with Gel and the two puppies. The sheep were not in the pasture I left them in so sent Gel up towards my neighbor (Red’s) house. He was gone for a while so I started to walk up that way thinking the sheep had gone into a paddock or a building and Gel was having trouble getting them out. The sheep have the tendency to head up to Red’s because my landlord runs a Christmas tree farm there and during the season, I bring sheep and goats up there for the children who come with their parents to feed bread to. They are a big hit with the children. After the Christmas tree farm is closed for the season, I bring the livestock home, but whenever they get the chance, they go back up there looking for handouts.

Gel came back to me a couple of times after I sent him, without the sheep, and each time, I resent him thinking he got distracted while up there. When I got up to Red’s, I discovered the lambs were not there. Gel has retrieved sheep from Red’s house many, many times so I know he’s more than capable of doing it. I left Red’s and went back around through the other pastures looking for the sheep. There is about 100 acres of fields and woods behind where I live. Some of it owned and just open pasture land, the rest conservation property which abuts the South Fork River.

I walked through all the pastures and circled back up to Red’s house thinking I had missed the sheep somehow. They still weren’t there. Red pulled into the driveway the second time I arrived at his house so I asked if we could go out with his four-wheeler and look for the sheep. I put the puppies up in a run at his house and we headed out again with Gel looking for the sheep. By this time, I was starting to worry. It was full daylight so I wasn’t worrying too much about predators, but …

The last pasture we went into is the furthest one away from my house. You have to enter into the pasture via a roadway cut through woods which normally are swampy, but because of the drought, they are dry. The pasture hasn’t been mowed in several years and except for a few pathways cut through the field, is full of brush and thorns well over my head. Right about the time I sent out looking for the sheep, my landlady had gone down in the pastures to walk her dog (a Great Dane) and this is where we ran into her. As we approached my landlady, Gel ran past her into the woods, which was odd in itself because he usually greets her enthusiastically. She said he’s after something, but I thought he was simply going down to the river for a drink.

Shortly after Gel went into the woods, he returned with the sheep! How the heck they ended up there was beyond me. In thinking about it though, I’m willing to bet a single deer or herd of deer got scared out of their cover, ran through the pasture the sheep were in and the sheep followed. Where Gel found the sheep was a logical place for deer to have run. The deer would cross the river, sheep, under normal conditions, would not have.

Unfortunately, as Gel brought the sheep out of the woods, my landlady’s dog started chasing them. They went into the field (remember, brush and thorns over my head) with Gel trying to head them. My landlady managed to call her dog off and Gel got the sheep turned around so that we could head back home.

Unfortunately, while on the road that cuts through the woods out of the pasture, three of the sheep decided they’d rather go back into the woods. Gel went after them. We waited for a while for him to bring them back out. I called him numerous times, but go no response. We decided to continue on into the next pasture with the hope that Gel had come out the other side with the sheep and to make sure the rest of the flock went back home.

Gel was not to be seen so we pushed the rest of the sheep back home and into their fenced-in area.

We went back for Gel. I called and called and called, with no response. By that time, Red had to leave to go to dinner with his family. We went back to my house to see if by chance Gel had returned. He didn’t. By then, my landlady and her daughter were at my house with their golf cart. We put up the Great Dane and headed back down to find Gel. By this time, I was starting to get worried that the sheep had gone down to the river and fell in, Gel was in there with them trying to get them back out. We got to the place where Gel went into the woods after the three sheep. I went in there to try to retrace his steps while my landlady and her daughter went further up the road into the brushy field to call there. A few minutes later, Gel came out of the woods. He saw me and when I asked him where the sheep were, he immediately went back into the woods. I followed him, but had to call him back to me numerous times because he was traveling through the woods much faster than I could.

Finally we found one of the sheep. She was stuck fast in a thicket of thorns. We managed to get her untangled and carried her back to the golf cart, hog-tied her and put her in the back of the golf cart. Gel went back for the other two and brought them back out. By then, both the sheep and Gel were exhausted and trying to move two lambs (even though they are pretty well dog broke) by themselves is difficult under the best of circumstances. Instead of trying to get them back (which would have meant traveling through the field with the tall brush and thorns and then the path through the woods where they originally escaped) we caught them. By this time, Red had returned (he missed out on going to dinner with his family) and helped us catch the two sheep. We hog-tied the second sheep and put her in the back of the golf cart and I held the third in my lap. These lambs are approximately six-month old Dorpers so the one fit in my lap pretty well. Luckily, they were so exhausted that they didn’t struggle much on the way home. Luckily, the golf cart didn’t get stuck or run out of power before we got home.

Gel could have left the sheep that was suck in the thorns and returned home with the two loose ones, but he refused to leave the stuck one and somehow managed to keep the other two from leaving the proximity. I know he was trying to get the stuck sheep out, but I don’t think she could have escaped on her own. We had to cut the thorns away from her. If it were not for Gel, I don’t think I would have found those sheep. As a Border Collie, this is really all in a day’s work, but that doesn’t make me appreciate his help any less. He really is a useful dog.