Monday, January 19, 2009

Sheep Drafting Spring Spring Rock Style

I recently promised I'd tell you more about our stud ram Farrer. We have quite a few stud rams, but Farrer stands out as an individual. I wrote this last September.

I seemed to have lost nearly a whole day. Yesterday we drove to Wagga for a very quick trip to post our sale catalogues and returned home straight way. Two hours accounted for there. Then there was the sheep work, my lie down to help my back recover from the sheep work and that seemed to be all there was to the day. Now don’t get me wrong, my lie down wasn’t one of my marathon, fall asleep and lose a couple of hours type lie downs. It was a very restrained hour and a half, just get the back on track again and get up type lie down. So where did the day go? I suspect Farrer ate up most of it.

We bought Farrer and his brother William from Farrer Agricultural High School in Tamworth a couple of years ago. They didn't have names when we bought them, just numbers, but I soon fixed that ommission. Graeme suspected that Farrer was going to be trouble from the moment Farrer and I first laid eyes on each other. Farrer took one look at me and seemed to recognize a kindred spirit. While all the other rams in their pens were attempting to keep as much distance between themselves and the humans as possible, Farrer was so eager to introduce himself to me that he tried to climb out of his pen to get closer. I of course responded with lots of head scratches for him and professions of undying love. I think it was fair to say that Graeme was appalled to realise that is was actually one of the rams on his list of those he wanted. Graeme was very relieved to see that Farrer’s brother William was a standard, stand offish ram. Bidding for both rams was very heated. There was no way my new love was going to another, most likely uncaring buyer and poor Graeme realised defeat from the outset. Farrer ended up being the second top priced ram at the sale, but both Farrer and I were thrilled when we met up again to load him and William into our trailer. Each stop along the way home to check on their welfare was a chance for us to get better acquainted and we made the most of it. Graeme was heard to ask the heaven’s why I always managed to find animals like this – even amongst so called “wild” sheep flocks.

Anyway, back to yesterday. I must admit that the sheep work was made just a bit more difficult by Farrer. Farrer doesn't believe that sheep work has any other purpose than to get him into the yards so he can have lots of head scratchings and love. Consequently as soon as he spots a likely person (me) he sidles up and presents his head for scratching. It's not wise to not scratch his head. Farrer weighs around 150kgs and has a solid bone head which he's not ashamed to use in the pursuit of getting it scratched. Don't get me wrong. He doesn't get violent at all. He just mossies up to you and pushes with that hard head and soon, you have 150kgs of ram deeply embedded into the more tender parts of you anatomy. Gives you pause to think I can tell you. When you add to this the fact that I am usually concentrating on not getting knocked over by all the other rams in front of me, none of whom unlike Farrer, have eschewed violence, when Farrer sneaks up from behind, it's always from behind (sigh), and begins his gentle hints I'm usually taken unawares.

Over the years I have developed a simple strategy. As soon as I feel pressure on some part of my rear, I reach out with one hand and scratch the head administering said pressure, while continuing to encourage the other rams to head for the race. I can’t say this is the most efficient way to draft, but it works for Farrer and me.

We have had to draft the rams a lot over the last couple of weeks and Farrer has had almost daily head scratches, which is fine by him, but has also led him to become addicted to them. He just can’t get enough love and attention anymore. So, while I have developed strategies to cope with Farrer’s requests for attention, Farrer has spent the last couple of weeks refining his techniques in an effort to maximise the amount of love and attention he gets. He has tried various strategic spots to place himself in the holding yard.

A short explanation of drafting here for the uninitiated – the sheep are mustered into a large holding yard in the sheep pens which feeds into a smaller, funnel shaped yard that ends in a corrugated iron race (the race yard). The race is wide enough for just one sheep at a time to pass through - in theory; it’s quite a comedy act when two sheep try to get through at once. At the end of the race is a three way gate that sends the sheep into different yards according to which sheep we are drafting off that day. Yesterday we were drafting off ram lambs.

Farrer’s strategic spots are always in the way of doing something more productive and really slow the drafting operation. Farrer has given this some thought over time and has tried various strategies. He has been very co-operative and run into the drafting race in the first few drafts, but found that limited his scratches, because once I’ve manoeuvred him into the race and he has been drafted by Graeme he runs the chance of being drafted into a yard where he can’t reach people. Even if he lands in the same yard as Graeme, push as he might, Graeme is not going to stop drafting to scratch a large white head.

What I am sure will be his most memorable strategy surfaced yesterday. He held back to one of the later drafts, insisting on scratches and love whenever I came out to the holding yard to get another lot of rams in the race yard, but declined to go in himself. Once he actually entered the race yard he then hung around me hinting that more attention would be very welcome, until I literally pushed him inch by slow inch to the front of the draft and out the race - well almost out the race. He stood half in and half out of the gateway, with his rump in the race and his head facing Graeme, ready for scratching. To say this caused a ram traffic jam is to understate the situation. Rams in a race want nothing more than to get out of the race. It takes a fair bit of encouragement to get them into the skinny race in the first place so I'm not inclined to let them out once they are in. Now with Farrer's huge rear end in the only exit there is and all these rams wanting to leave via that exit, the ensuing chaos is best not discussed. Graeme heaved and threatened and pleaded and growled. Farrer smiled and stood firm. I advised giving him a scratch and hoping for the best. Nothing worked. Farrer had a captive audience and wasn't going to give it up lightly. In the end Graeme pushed and pulled him as far out of the race as he could so only a little bit of Farrer’s rump was in there and he, Graeme, could manipulate the gates again. Of course it was the full grown rams who had to pass Farrer - the ram lambs were being drafted through the opposite gate, but very slowly the rams worked their way through while Farrer stood blissfully unaware of the trouble he was causing. Well I say “blissfully unaware”, Graeme is of the firm opinion that Farrer meant to cause all that chaos and the smile on his little sheepy face was one of revenge for all those missed scratches.

Ahhh, I think I’ve found my lost day.


ozjane said...

Oh dear I have a sheepish grin on my face.

ozjane said...

Oh dear...if you click on ozjane it is going to take you to Snopes.
Unlike Farrar it raced through the gate before I could stop it.