The sheep bus (described in 2018 Summer begins early) has been sitting quietly near the vineyard in Wiles Lake, used as a reasonably dry storage space for tools and sheep treats during the summer.
The weather this year seems to have leaped from summer to early winter, somehow skipping those beautiful cool but not crisp fall days . I have jumped from lots of grass to frozen grass so it is time to leave the summer pasture. Leaving animals on grass that is not growing is hard on the pasture.
Now that the weather has turned off the summer switch. It is time for the vacationing ewes to head home to Petite Riviere.
Taking pity on my sorry attempts hitching and driving the sheep bus myself, the Vineyard Manager suggested it may be more time efficient if he hitches and drives the sheep bus for the few trips necessary to take the vacationing sheep back to Petite Riviere. I watched with a bit of envy as the truck just backed itself up straight onto the hitch. In no time the truck and trailer were at the top of the hill backed up to the fence where a willing group of 23 sheep were waiting in the field, bus tickets in hand. Alas the Vineyard Manager come Sheep Bus Driver thought that 23 full figured ewes who just spent 6 months eating their way through 30 acres of delicious green grass might blow the tires in the trailer. 4 bus tickets were revoked with a promise of a future trip. Even sheep can have travel plans bumped. One of the sheep, Thelma the Khatadin, maa'd in her mournful way, complaining that she had bought her ticket early and why couldn't she get on the bus yet because her twin sister, Louise, was being allowed on. I promised her she could get on the next bus.
19 sheep eagerly bustled onto the bus, the door was closed and the driver looked at the bulging tires. Just like overbooked airline flights, all sheep were given promises of wonderful things if they would voluntarily get off the bus and take a later trip. 4 sheep at the back of the sheep bus volunteered to take a later trip so off they trundled. Great, we were ready to go.
The driver started to turn the trailer around to head out of the pasture. Did I mention it had rained hard for two days before this? The trailer full of sheep with full tummies sank into the soft ground, the truck in 4 wheel drive spun. I opened the back of the trailer and explained to the 15 riders that they were going to have to get off the bus. More complaining ensued; there was some talk of using a different bus service in future, one that might even offer snacks as part of the ride. The sheep did hop off the bus but you could hear the grumbling and complaining under their breath as they wandered off in the field munching grass while they waited for a resolution to the problem.
I watched as the Vineyard Manager come Sheep Bus Driver drove the trailer sideways along the steep hill of the 20 acre field until he got it on solid ground. Then, I could barely watch as he proceeded to back the truck and empty trailer all along the field, out through the gates, along the cartroad, down the hill to the vineyard. It was, amazing to watch; I was glad I was not behind the wheel.
Now, what to do? The sheep bus is now a several minute walk in open un-fenced territory, away from the 20 acre pasture. It is time for the junior border collie, Louie, to show his talent. He has been learning a lot and I have been trusting his ability more and more, but this would be a test of his focus and understanding of the sheep words he has been learning. There is a house just a little way past where the trailer is sitting. In that house is a lady that likes cats....she does not like dogs and definitely would not like a flock of sheep parading across her yard to her lovely flowering shrubs. Trust in your dog. Something a knowledgeable sheep lady, Hilary, has told me in the past.
I open the gates, stand at the front of the small group of 15 sheep, Louie the border collie at the back. The sheep bus driver is out of sight down over the hill waiting to open/close the trailer door. It's up to Louie and I, alone. We walk off calmly. We are calm, Fiona the donkey is not. She is very upset with me taking some of her sheep. She remains inside the fenced field but eee-awws, loudly, her protest the whole time.
As soon as we go through the gate one of the sheep remembers that last year I put them in a field off to the left to graze. She hopped down off the cartroad, under a couple strands of fence set up to contain cows, obviously not sheep, and headed for the remaining green grass. Of course, in true sheep fashion the other 14 began to follow. "Louie, come bye", I said calmly, testing his sheep word vocabulary. Yup, to the left he went and stopped those traveling sheep in their tracks. They headed away from him, he gradually eased them back up on the correct path, behind me. In puppy fashion he got excited then and got just a little to close to the back of the group so they pushed past me and headed down the cart road ahead of both Louie and I. The thing about working sheep with dogs is ...be calm. Animals can feel your tension and the result is never positive. Remember, trust in your dog? As the sheep passed the sheep bus, heading for the cat ladies deliciously shrubbed property, I said a few more sheep words , which are by the way, the complete opposite of curse words and get best results when said in a warm and friendly manner. Louie darted off eagerly, in the direction he was told to go. He stopped the sheep, turned them back toward me. By this time I was standing by the open door to the sheep bus, trusting they would head toward their shepherding Boss. Yup, they did. I walked backward onto the sheep bus, followed by 15 sheep with a dog encouraging them along. The sheep bus driver closed the door behind us, I squeezed by the waiting travellers, was let out the door by the sheep bus driver and there we were, loaded and ready to go.
I was so pleased with young Louie's work that the next day when preparing for the next trip, the sheep bus driver just parked the trailer at the unfenced vineyard parking area again. I went to the pasture to choose 15 more sheep for the drive today. Thelma began her maawing, reminding me that I promised she could be on this trip to go be with her twin sister, Louise. Fiona the donkey understands what I am doing and tries to stop me from splitting the flock to let 15 sheep out. Ears back, head snaking she threatens to turn and kick me. Yeah, right, Fiona. I am the Boss. She knows it and only does all that a safe distance from me. I ignore her and go about my work of choosing the next group of vacationers to head home. Thelma is the first one through the gate, waving her ticket; she is not missing this bus. Louie also understands exactly what we are doing today and cuts the sheep off just as they are considering heading into the grassy field and again as they start to pass the sheep bus. Fiona the donkey is standing in the field yelling her protest. I think she is worried she may lose her job and have to file for unemployment.
There are now 15 sheep plus one donkey left at Wiles Lake. Fiona the donkey arrived directly to the Wiles Lake pasture in May. She knows nothing about Petite Riviere and its benefits. I have no idea whether we will get her on any form of transportation but I do know that my little hand crafted sheep bus is not going to be suitable. She needs business class transportation, not economy.