Sunday, March 10, 2013


The Real Doctor and I jumped into this business of sheep and goats in a way that is both deliberate and precipitous.  The deliberation comes in how we’ve chosen most of our animals:  the Real Doctor spends hours and hours studying bloodlines and breeders, sifting and winnowing to find the best available that we can afford.  The net she has cast for quality Shetland sheep covers Oregon; bundles of desirable genes, carried both by cute little Nigerian Dwarf goats and by mysterious containers in liquid nitrogen, have arrived from all over the United States.

The pell-mell aspect of this process has been the timing.  Goat time (as previously noted) and sheep time do not pay attention to the conveniences of human time.  So, for all of the animals that we’ve gotten, there has been an absolute panic to find adequate housing in time for their arrival.  The hurly-burly has been complicated by delays in building our barn.  It is built, but not yet ready for animals, and given my work docket, it won’t be ready until the end of April.  It was supposed to be finished in March—of last year!   

There is a sort of cascade of jury-rigging, where incoming animals get shunted from one temporary accommodation to another.  Our first animals were four goat kids.  These were to be housed in what the previous owner of our property had built as a dog run, but that had decayed considerably and had no gates.  I was still assembling the gates as the Real Doctor was returning from the airport with the kids. 
The next animals were eight sheep.  The sheep were to displace the goats, who were to go out to a childrens’ play area that had just been fenced in.  But the play area had no secure pen to shut the animals in (and the predators out) over night—so we were up until 11:30 at night, working with headlights, hanging up fencing and plywood and a makeshift door to fortify what we now call “the castle” for the goats. 

The eight sheep, who we had picked up from farms in the Eugene area, spent their first night here in the horse trailer in which they’d arrived. 

We got a couple more goat kids, and we wanted to quarantine them before introducing them to the rest of the herd.  There were already sheep in the dog run, so we had to figure out where to put them.  Again, we jury-rigged a structure built by the property’s previous owner—in this case, a garden area surrounded by an eight-foot-tall corral made of steel pipes from a closed-down lumber mill.  The structure was goat-permeable, so I spent a fatiguing day stringing four-foot tall no-climb fencing over the steel-pipe framework, and erecting a sort of field shelter that would only later acquire a roof—but, amazingly, the accommodations were sort of ready the same night the animals arrived!  This was cause for heady celebration.

We’d seen examples of field shelters that were on trailers so that sheep could easily be moved from pasture to pasture.  This is facilitates “rotational grazing” (which has nothing to do with tethering the sheep to a stake so that they’d mow a spiral pattern, but rather alternating a field’s grazing between goats and sheep).  So, last summer, with the capable captaincy of the Real Doctor’s brother H., we built the Sheep Housing/Mobility Unit, or SHMU—a twenty foot trailer with a shed, barn flooring, a feeder and waterer.  As soon as it was ready, the sheep that had been festering in the narrow confines of the dog runs were moved in.  They were very happy—they were still confined, but it was like moving from a monastic cell to a decent apartment. 
It was good that these sub-optimal accommodations were vacated, because as soon as they were emptied, they were filled again with more sheep that we acquired from a woman who was shutting down her sheep operation so she could concentrate on horseback riding.  Oh well.  Those are still there, because they have been bred and we’d like to keep them separate from the youngsters. 

The garden also got vacated, and again it was a good thing; soon after the young does left to join their comrades in the castle, a pair of bucks arrived and moved in to the field shelter. 

Not to go too much into the details of animal husbandry, but the Real Doctor’s plan for the bucks involved using them for Artificial Insemination (AI), which (among other things) meant keeping them together (so they wouldn’t go insane—they’re herd animals) but separate (so they wouldn’t get—how to put this politely for a family blog—too intimate with each other).  So, hastily, I built a fence subdividing the garden.  The AI scheme also involved taking the bucks to a clinic in Washington—still separated—so, hastily, we purchased a truck topper and hastily, modified it to make the “Goatabago.”
After the AI clinic, the bucks could be together, which was a good thing, because that’s when the rams arrived.  So, we kept the subdividing fence in the garden, hastily erected another field shelter, and put the rams there.  We’ve discovered that this is not an optimal solution—fencing that is proof against 30-pound dwarf bucks is not resistant to a 110 pound ram, and a field shelter that easily contains those bucks is not resistant to two rams sorting out their dominance issues.  I posted about this earlier; this is what their shelter is like now.  I watched one of them spend a half hour on a sunny afternoon, patiently and methodically using his forehead to destroy one wall:  If it weren’t my work that I was watching being destroyed, I’d be amused. 
So, we have this recurring theme—animals, good animals and carefully selected, arriving before we are good and ready.  Hasty accommodation is thrown up, and only in the case of the castle goats, has their been any access to pasture. We have a big field, about 11 acres, with really nice fence around it, but no internal fencing.  It’s a drag to try to bring in animals for the night if they are skittish and have 11 wide-open acres over which to elude you. 

Now, thankfully, there is a fix to this problem.  We’ve gotten some easily set up, lightweight, powerful electric fencing.  I moved the SHMU, and spent a day setting things up, and now the eleven residents of the SHMU are happily—and I do mean happily—grazing and kicking their feet up in one corner of the field.  I then spent another tiring day mowing, stringing fence, making a gate, and breaking down and rebuilding a field shelter.  Now, next to the sheep, contentedly munching on some brambles, are the bucks.  I am, honestly, so happy to see these animals out in the pasture, contentedly doing what animals are supposed to do, that I find myself just standing there with them, smiling.  This is real progress. 
And none too soon.  We have two more doelings arriving in a little over a week, and they have no place to stay.