Homesteading and Livestock

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The Gods and the Sheep Mock Me

7/2/2013 1:33:00 PM

Tags: agrarianism, farm life, Brian Miller

pigsChildhood readings of my grandmother’s Bullfinch’s Mythology have colored my sense of how the world is ordered more so than childhood attendance at my family’s church. I tend to expect divine intervention, if there is any, to be shaped by petty, meddlesome beings acting for their own benefit.

Last week, I headed outdoors to feed before driving into town for a work-related visit. The chickens were fed, pigs fed, ducks fed, chicks fed and all watered without drama. Time for the sheep: The sheep are kept up in the barn for protection from predators at night. Each morning the 10-by-12-foot barn door is slid open to allow them into an outer corral with access to one of three small pastures. Cindy recently built a service door into the larger sliding door to make the job easier.

Opening the smaller door, I was trampled as usual by the flood of our flock surging around me to get outside and enjoy the spring weather.

Walking back to the house to get dressed I paused for a while to herd one of the lambs back into the pasture. This lamb, the smallest of the newborns, searches for freedom each day by crawling under gates. It has spent most of its short life escaping and then wandering along the fence line bleating to its mom for instructions on how to get back in with the flock. A short ten minutes of chasing it back and forth and I was back in the house.

Heading back out to my truck to leave I saw half the flock in the intended field grazing. The other half was exiting the back gate in the corral into a larger unsecured pasture. Cindy’s calming affect absent, I hurtled into action. Yelling helpful things like “Shit!” repeatedly while asking Becky, our English Shepherd, to go get them back constituted my principle plan of action.

Becky seemed a bit cowed by yelling. A great and effective dog at all farm tasks when asked politely. But when confronted with a man swinging his arms madly in all directions and shouting contradictory instructions, as the sheep scattered to the four winds, Becky did the sensible thing and retired to the barn with her dignity intact.

My default setting in a crisis is food, either for myself or for the livestock. So I sprinted back up to the barn and got a bucket of feed as the flock disappeared across a ravine and headed to the woods. Returning with the feed I ran after them shaking the bucket and yelling “baah” rather stupidly and interspersed with more expletives directed at their lineage. They ignored me. Meanwhile the horses were merrily charging in among the sheep accelerating their pace away from me.

After a few minutes of running up and down a hill my brain finally began working. Opening the gate to the upper field I called the horses.

Shaking the bucket of grain got their attention and they trotted to me in record time. Perversely, so did the sheep. It was a sprint by both to get to me and get the grain. Two of the three horses thundered through the gate before the main body of sheep–it was that close. I slammed the gate closed and was easily able to move the sheep into an adjacent pasture. I ran back to the house, changed out of my sweat soaked clothes and headed off to town.

As I drove into Knoxville, no one could have convinced me otherwise that the whole affair was not the work of that group on Olympus playing with a wicked sense of humor.

Brian farms with his partner in the hills of East Tennessee. You can read further adventures at or visit the farm at

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