Musicians Farming Sheep 3

It has been fun thinking, talking, prepping for sheep - but, as the time draws closer for the gang of ladies to actually arrive it’s time to get down to business.

The gates that open into the paddocks are in place - at the moment you can simply walk around them because the fencing is not up but…

blog sheep 3.jpg

Last week Kimberly, who is the pasture person from the UVM extension service and is also the woman from whom we are buying the sheep came at our request to check out the pasture and give advice on fence placement, etc. We put on our Mucks, giving her the impression that we had knee-deep pasture at this point, and headed down the road to the back field. Our border collies, Sam and Bronte galloped along beside us, perhaps in anticipation of sheep, or perhaps a tennis ball.  Either would do.

We wandered around the still-empty paddocks gesturing where the ladies would lunch. Since we are rotationally grazing they will move from restaurant to restaurant every three days. Kimberly told us about what plants were in our fields including sweet clover, wild strawberries, and warned us off touching a few of the wild parsnip plants peeking tentatively (as if hiding) out of the heavier underbrush. Apparently touching them gives you a third degree burn. As we finished she told us two things; that there was the possibility of another sheep, a Dorset cross yearling, to add to the group, making our starting line-up six instead of five, and that we should wait an extra week or so for the gals to arrive to give our pasture more time to “mature.” We were a bit deflated at the news: as former-mowers, our newly grown grass surely qualified as a field by now?

“The book” talked about moving ovines from one field to another and what that takes. One of our concerns was taking them off pasture that they have spent their lives grazing and moving them to new, possibly richer (that is my ego talking) grasses. We decided it might be a good idea to drop some hay for them to fill up on before releasing them into the new field… good plan… if you have hay.

I quickly called my hay dealer, Hillard, about getting a couple of bales. I use the term ‘dealer’ because what I have quickly learned is that good hay, any hay, is a precious commodity especially this year with our cool, rainy spring so my job is to make friends with Hillard. Upon calling he told me he had some very nice first cut hay: second cut would not be ready until sometime in August, if we were lucky. So I made plans to go over there the next afternoon to pick up two bales.

I arrived at 1:30 in the heat of the afternoon. It was a rare sunny, warm, early summer day. I knocked on the door and Linda, Hillard’s wife, greeted me. She was getting ready to head up into their hay fields to help with the haying so was adjusting her bucket hat as she walked out the door. We stood in the sunshine and chatted about the history of the farm. Hillard has been on this farm since he was five years old and is now seventy eight. At one time they milked over ninety head of cattle but arthritis has slowed him down and now his farming mainly consists of haying.

As we spoke she mentioned someone who had just left before me and was buying a load of hay for a start-up sheep-farming operation. She laughed as she told me that the man didn’t even know how to load his own hay and that Hillard had to do it for him. I swallowed hard as I looked over at the standing hay wagon and quickly tried to decipher what would be the tricky parts about taking hay off that wagon so that I would not suffer the same fate.

After we finished chatting a while (good farm etiquette I’ve found) it was time for the hay to be loaded into my trusty wagon- the CRV hay wagon. She offered to have someone help me but I quickly shrieked “No, no, I’ve got this!” way louder than necessary. So I began to climb up onto the bed, easier said than done if you have worn a skirt and flip flops as your farming attire. One knee, pull… other knee… pull… careful not to flash the farm family, up I go. Finally I get up there, say a small prayer that the two bales won’t be crazy-heavy, and haul them up by their twine. I throw them off the wagon and hop down. By now I am totally covered with hay but have a unique understanding of why you feed wool sheep that are standing up so that they don’t get hay stuck in their fleece. I’m careful not to brush myself off at all as I push the hay into the car. I have that casual, confident air of someone who has no sense of confidence whatsoever. I, literally, stuff the hay into the back- it’s a little large for the available space but, embarrassed that I’m not driving a truck AND that I’m dressed in a skirt and flip flops, I make sure that back hatch door closes, no matter how that happens.

Breathing hard I smile, pay her (“Bingo money”) she laughs, “blood money” I mumble, and I climb into my farm car to head home. The whole trip I’m thinking about how I’m going to get an entire winter’s worth of hay into my CRV… .and, of course, what I’m going to wear.

Melissa Perley