I need to build up a portfolio of different practical conservation tasks for the course, and since giving up my horses have also been looking for something animally to get involved with, and as these sheep are also Out On The Chalk (which is my landscape) it seemed like the Perfect Opportunity.
I am, therefore, now an official Volunteer Shepherdess.
Queue jokes from M about crooks and bonnets and blue dresses with full skirts, which I ignored (although I am slightly worried a crook will turn up as a Christmas present).
Anyhoo, this morning was my first official Sheep Looking Day.
There are 29 sheep of varying ages out on the down and my job on my looking day is essentially to check them over and make sure they are all fit and healthy. Which means counting them, checking their water supply, making sure the fences and gates are all intact/ closed, and looking for any signs of illness or distress in the sheep.
We took the kids and Teddy and spent an hour out on the down with a bucket trying to persuade Betty (our name for her) the lead sheep that it might be a good idea for her to pause for a few seconds from gobbling all the sheep food down and let some of her sisters have a look in.
Most of the girls are Quite Nervous at the moment because they don't know me. This is not the case for Betty, who wasn't remotely concerned who stroked and petted her as long as there was a bucket of feed on the other end of her nose at the time.
|Me and Betty|
Wiltshire Horns are a sturdy breed of sheep whose fleeces moult, so to speak, and therefore they don't need much in the way of shearing. They are also perfectly suited to life on the steep hills of Chalk Downland and as such are the ideal management tool for keeping the flora under control.
This particular down has a fantastic variety of butterflies on it in the summer (something I have only just found out but intend to take full advantage of next year), and because of this I suspect it will also be good for moths. Talking to the Ranger in charge I think we may run the trap up there next year and see what we get, Exciting!
This morning there were three sheep missing, and as a couple of the younger ones have died in the last few days I feared the worse. It would have been extremely helpful to have had a sheep dog with us to round them up and contain the ones we had counted. I suggested this to Teddy, who looked at me as if I had gone mad. He does look a lot like a small sheep so perhaps this isn't such a great idea.
Anyway, the problem was solved by L (who had grumbled about having to go sheep-looking in the first place) discovering the missing three hiding in the undergrowth so all was well. He has now made friends with Betty, and that, coupled with his new found status as 'missing sheep locater extraordinaire', has encouraged him to come again next time.
One thing I learnt today is that counting sheep is harder than it sounds, particularly when they are all running about in various different directions. It's not at all as easy as when you're lying in bed and it had the absolute opposite effect of sending me to sleep. Still, we did eventually get to the right number and they all had the correct complement of legs and heads in all the right places too etc so job done.
|Betty, sticking her tongue out, which isn't very polite|
Being on The Chalk, the views around the downs are Pretty Gorgeous, so it will be a very pleasant place to be working (even in January?)....
I even managed to find some Sloes, which I have my eye on for Gin.....
We'd more or less finished Shepherding Duties when the sky suddenly darkened in the distance and Rain Threatened, so we legged it for the car...
Teddy was A Bit Squashed In with all the wellies, but this is nothing new and he took it with Good Humour on the whole (anything to be away from those enormous scary white things really)....
Doubtless there will be Further Sheep Adventures as the year goes on and I shall keep you informed of how they are all doing (especially Betty, for whom I have developed a Soft Spot).
I'm off now to put the finishing touches to my R.E. homework - 'design and make a Hindu Shrine and accompanying leaflet' - because L (whose homework it really is) can't see the point, and then to drop Cousin Dougal over to my sister who is doing 'second Dougal Duty' till Ma returns from hols.
Till next time,