Yes, Humke Farm is joining the ranks of having feathered friends to make eggs for us. I had ordered the lovely ladies through Blain’s Farm and Fleet almost two months ago. They are Rhode Island Reds, Aracuna/Easter Eggers, Buff Orpingtons, and a few Black Australorps.
We are down the road from Kadoka by the time the clock read six am. The sheep had their water removed (it would spill all over) and another half-bale of hay given to them. South Dakota went by very quickly thanks in part to their eighty mph speed limit on the interstates. We crossed the Missouri river and stopped there for a break.
After the Missouri, the land quickly becomes less wild, more domesticated. The vistas of buttes and exposed strata of rock morphs into orderly fields of grains and tidy farmsteads surrounded by windbreaks. The further East we travel, the darker the just-planted soil becomes. The ditches become greener and the trees more numerous.
We cross over into Southern Minnesota around mid morning. It is here, when the land becomes distinctly more like home, that I start musing about hefting. Hefting is a term that applies to sheep that are naturally bonded to the place where they were born. You can take a hefted sheep away from its place and it will always try to return. The most famous hefted sheep is the Herdwick. Shepherds there don’t need to worry about their sheep wandering too far away as they really sincerely don’t like to be away from home. I’m starting to wonder if there are hefted humans too. As we moved further into territory like home I began to feel more at ease. I was nearly giddy by the time I pulled into the driveway.
C backed the trailer up to the gate (I may be ok driving the rig by now but I am still NOT ok backing it) and then we went and checked the paddock for any problems. There were only a few and they were all quickly taken care of. We grabbed some more people to help unload them. As we all waited, C opened the back gate. At first they didn’t seem to want to come out but eventually the thought of freedom won and in ones and twos they came out of the trailer. And then stop. And immediately put their heads down and start to eat like they have never had a meal in their lives. We didn’t have any trouble with them trying to bolt or anything, rather they wouldn’t move probably not realizing that there was more like that in their paddock!
I can’t really blame the sheep. Where they were born and raised is very dry. Even C was kind of taken with the sheer amount of GREEN that we have here right now. I’m sure the sheep thought that they had died and gone to heaven!
C really needed to leave as she really wanted to get back to the ranch. We loaded her up with canned goodies and bottles of honey and sent her on her way.
The sheep have already found a favorite spot to hang-out. It is in a corner where two buildings meet so it is both sunny and out of the wind. I have been watching them closely for signs of bloat or diarrhea as they did have a rather drastic change in diet. But so far, they have all been good. They even seem to be getting used to me checking on them repeatedly. And taking lots of pictures. LOTS of pictures. I think I keep taking pictures of them because it is so hard for me to believe that they are actually here.
I cannot thank all of the people who helped to make this happen enough. Deb for introducing me to C, my parents for supporting me even if they might think me a bit nuts, all the people who work with C who put in the time and effort to allow this newbie shepherd her own flock. My boyfriend, Joel, for helping me do the heavy lifting. To my friends who offered support and advice. And most of all to C for her generosity and her time. Thank you.
Both C and I are morning people, so the early morning isn’t particularly difficult for either of us. We are both up in the five o’clock hour and fully ready to go before the clock turns to six am. We go out to the truck and trailer which has already been thoughtfully provisioned with water and hay by the ranch foreman the previous evening and is parked and ready for the sheep to be loaded.
The loading goes quickly and I count the sheep as they go into the trailer to make sure that there are still twenty-three of them. The have plenty of space in the large trailer and clean straw to bed down in for the trip. Our goodbyes are brief in the brisk morning. I go to shake the foreman’s hand and he envelopes me in a hug.
We head-off down the interstate towards Helena and I am finally able to see the area we had traversed earlier only in the dark. Traveling South we make our way gradually out of Montana. There is a LOT of road construction so C drives through the worst of it. We change places after we stop for a break at Wheat Montana, a fabulous bakery that a local farmer had started after becoming disillusioned with selling a commodity. It’s a fabulous example of a farmer taking their raw ingredients and making them into a value added product that is now sold across the US.
Taking over driving the truck and trailer was a little nerve-wracking at first. I’m not really used to driving something that large to begin with and adding something even larger to the back was disconcerting. However the weather was beautiful, sunny and bright and only a little breezy. And the country that we were passing through was amazing. The colors and landscape features were mesmerizing. We drove through two Indian reservations and past the battle site of Little Big Horn (Custer’s last stand) and many, many little colorful homes of the Native American’s living there. I managed to not go over the side of the several mountains that we went over. Going up the mountains was no big deal, it was the coming down that was a little scary.
Eventually we cut through a little corner of Wyoming and make our way to South Dakota. It is here that we first see the snow from the storm system that we knew was pushing ahead of us (the same one from Denver). The further South we go, the more snow we see. We had tentatively planned on stopping in Rapid City for the night but we got there much sooner than we had anticipated and pushed on a little further down I-90, past the Badlands National Park to Kadoka. There we found many of the hotels were not yet open for the season so it made our hotel selection relatively easy. We also needed a place that was easy to get in and out of with the truck and trailer as well as a place where we could easily see the rig from our rooms.
The Rodeway Inn met all of our requirements (being open and with easy parking) and we checked in and then went to dinner. We pulled the rig back in and parked in a place easy for us to both see from our rooms and prepared to settle in for the night. We gave the sheep their water and broke up the bale of hay that had fallen out of the attic of the gooseneck trailer during a particularly bumpy part of the trip. The sheep were are pretty relaxed about the trip. It was cool out but not cold or rainy and they had hay and plenty of space to lie down if they wanted.
We all turn in for an early night.
I awoke this morning to the sound of honking geese. They were flying low near the window of the bedroom I had been sleeping in.
I peek out the windows to look and the first thing that I notice are the mountains. I’d not been able to see them the previous evening/early morning when I had arrived as it had been quite dark out. I opened the door of the room and there, in a set of picture windows, were more mountains. I know that they are not revolutionary to anyone who lives near them but to start your day off in a place so completely different (read: non-mountainous) and to wake-up the next day in the mountains, well, it will get your attention.
After getting dressed I headed outside where it was crisp but not cold and clear as can be (to me at least). C finds me and offers me breakfast. After eating we go off to tour the ranch (I nearly wrote farm. This is NOT a farm. It is a ranch.) She takes me out to where some of her crew is taking the wethers and unbred ewes and a camper for the shepherd out to a new camp where they will spend a good chunk of the summer. There is sagebrush everywhere with rocks littering the surface of the soil between clumps of grass. The dogs are working hard at keeping the sheep from stopping to much on grass they travel. We leave the caravan as it starts to go through an underpass that looks like a giant culvert under the interstate.
We then go to meet my future sheep. They are in a pasture with a long, low log shed. They quickly shy away from us and hide in the dark shed. We shoo them out so that I can take a good look at them in the bright, mountain light. Most of them are yearling ewes, but there are 3 wethers as well, their little horns and bigger size giving them away. They are an assortment of colors and patterns. They gaze back at me with a combination of fear and curiosity as I start to try to decide which four not to take back to Iowa with me. They are an assortment of colors and patterns and I know that the choice will not be easy.
C then walks me around the ranch, showing me the pasture where the ewes with the youngest lambs are being kept. She also shows me her lambing jugs and how they paint mark the lambs to make sure that the correct mother ends up with right lambs. She explains the numbering system that they use and how they keep records of all the lambs. We end-up in the pasture with the ewes and the slightly older lambs.
Quite honestly, I’ve not seen this many sheep since I left England over two years ago. I’d forgotten the cacophony of a field full of bleating ewes and frantically baa-ing lambs. And the colors! Everything from a white body with a white face to a completely, coal-black sheep to a lamb with a creamy underbelly with a black topside was to be found in that field.
We then walked down to the pasture where the rams were kept, well away from any possible female companionship. There are only a few males that service the entire ranch, though the line-up does change periodically. They were handsome and not at all aggressive towards us.
C also showed me the traditional shepherd’s trailer that she has restored. It is cosy and quite able to be heated with a simple wood stove in the corner.
After lunch we started making plans for the great sheep drive. It was decided that we would do it in two days rather than one (it would have been a LONG day). We checked the weather and road conditions and started talking about all that needed to be done still.
We went back up to check on the camp being made, actually going through the giant culvert/underpass in C’s car. There was and old timbered grainery/cabin that we passed on the way to camp that fascinated me.
We knew we were close to camp when we spotted the sheep grazing under the watchful eye of the livestock guardian dogs. The small camper was parked on a small piece of flat land amongst some pines. A small solar array was set next to it to give the shepherd at least a little electricity. The location boasted a lovely view and smelled of fresh-cut pines.
After going back down, my future sheep were rounded up and driven across the road using Emma the collie. Emma is a very good dog who sometimes really likes to be naughty. She would drive the sheep perfectly to where she was supposed to have them only to scatter them and drive them back the way they came just so that she could do it all again. To say that she is fun to watch work would be a massive understatement!
We finally get the animals across the street and into a small pen with a chute where I am to pick out the four that won’t be coming to Iowa with me. Since they are pretty crowded in the pen and I had just watched them all run, I didn’t worry too much about physical condition. One had some pinkeye that was being treated so we pulled that one. That left three to choose. I ended-up going purely on what I liked color wise. I figure that these are animals that I am going to have for many years, I should really like them right from the start. So into the pen with the pinkeye animal went a red one (it’s a hard color to match to), a black one (that had some red in its fleece, unlike the pure blacks still in the pen), and an off-white one with a black face. There was nothing wrong with the last three, I just needed to pick four! It wasn’t easy and I am still trying not to second guess myself.
We then took my flock (it seems so strange to write that) across the road again to a pen where it would be easy to load them in the morning. The sheep were watched curiously by the ranch horses as they were given some hay for the night.
C and I then went to dinner in the tiny town of Wolf Creek where we met with her office manager to finalize the paperwork for the sheep to be transferred into my name as well as legally driven through five different states. It was a little overwhelming to have all the different numbers and what they were for explained to me. I think that the ladies could see that and gave me some time to ask questions so that until I felt confident about what I was doing. At least for a few minutes:-)
After a beautiful drive home through an amazing canyon, both C and I were ready for bed, knowing that the next several days were going to be quite long ones.
Countdown May 2, 2015
In less than a week I will be flying out to Montana to get a flock of sheep. I have not had a lot of spare time to write here of late as I have started the new job and it is taking even more of my time than I thought it would. It is good to have some money coming in but it would also be nice to have a little more time to get things done around here.
I have also been trying to get things ready for the incoming sheep. This means, of course, fencing. I have put up a semi-permanent paddock for them with cattle panels and t-posts. I am also getting some electric netting that I will use to move them around the farmstead soon. This way they will be able to graze all around the farm for shorter periods of time.
Oh, and did I mention the garden????……………..