Summer pasture at Wiles Lake is pretty much the perfect life for sheep. At the end of May 2016 it seemed like time to move from Petite Riviere to Wiles Lake. One Saturday morning at the end of May a large trailer trundled into the corral at Petite Riviere at a civilized 9:00 am. Marley the lead sheep dog had been pacing around for hours waiting to get this day, and a flock of sheep, moving. The flock had been split in two with double checks to ensure all babies were with the correct mom I walked out the barn door in front of 1/2 the flock, Marley the sheep dog taking up the rear to discourage stragglers. I walked on the trailer, followed by about 20 sheep, a dividing door slid behind them and 1/2 the flock was ready to go. The same procedure was repeated for the other 1/2 flock and that was that....trailer door shut, everyone ready to roll. Twenty minutes later the trailer rolled up the Wiles Lake "cart road"to the top of a 45 acre Lunenburg Co. drumlin. The sheep dog took up her position to discourage sheep from wandering off to downtown Bridgewater and Shawn Bolivar, the great fellow helping with this move, opened the trailer door. The sheep looked for the shepherd (yup, that's me) , hopped off the 6 inch trailer deck and followed me into the designated first grazing section. It was now 9:35 am, slightly more than a half hour for the whole procedure. Shawn and Marley the sheep dog gave each other a high five and summer had begun.
A major part of "nurturing naturally" is something called rotational grazing. The flock is put in a 3.5 to 4 acre section of fresh grass. The shepherd then watches the pasture and when the pasture is grazed but not completely short, the flock is moved to a fresh section of grass that has not been grazed before this year. It takes 3 to 5 hours to take down, move and set up portable electric fencing. Portable electric fence is a major tool in the "keep the sheep moving to fresh grass" philosophy. In just a few hours it turns a field of fresh grass from this
This method of grazing keeps sheep from picking up things from...hmmmm.....
things that come out the other end of sheep.
I spend an amazing amount of time during sheep summer vacation worrying about sheep pellets....watching the sheep several times a week to ensure the pellets are "well formed", picking up sheep pellets in a disposable glove, looking at them under a microscope, transporting them to Saint Mary's University....no the sheep pellets do not get a university degree. Some science types at Saint Mary's University, Gwyneth and Kathleen, have been spending years gazing into a microscope at sheep feces looking for foreign objects that may make sheep sick. Analyzing what comes out the other end is part of a "5 point" health check that replaces the use of drugs.
1 Eye - shade of pink mucous membrane
2 Back - body condition
3 Tail - fecal soiling
4 Coat -coat condition
5 Nose/Jaw- nasal discharge/soft swelling under jaw
Once a week the flock is marched from their grazing area to a small pen that narrows down to a 19 inch chute....aptly called a "squeeze". Sheep are walked through the squeeze single file where each animal gets the 5 point check and any little scrapes and scratches have a bit of care put on them. The feet are also checked and anyone with long hooves gets a trim using my special scissors for sheep pedicure...pink scissors of course.
Wherever the flock is moved so follows water. There is one well at the summer pasture. This means that there is a long waterline that is dragged over the 45 acres. One hot summer day one of my daughters thought she would help move water line to a new grazing area....she described it as a cross between being an ox and a weight lifter as she pulled the half kilometer of 1.25 inch flexible pipe across an open field to the water tanks. After scrubbing the water tubs with natureworks cleaner to remove and prevent algae growth in the tanks, a jog downhill to the well to turn on the pump, a jog up the hill with fingers crossed that the pump does not cut out which means more aerobic hill exercise, there is nothing like the sound of running water ....
And so continues, moving, checking, watering the flock as they enjoy good health, great food and a peaceful life. The shepherd enjoys great exercise, beautiful work environment and working the sheep dogs.
During all this, the growing lambs are being nurtured naturally, with care.