Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bleat.....The Story of a Sheep

My Father and I enjoyed a good roast of lamb. We would use our own Crab Apple jelly instead of mint sauce. Add fresh new potatoes and salad from our own lettuce and we ate like kings! Of course to get the lamb we would usually have two or three sheep about the place. We would buy orphan or neglected lambs from the Hutterite colony. This was a regular event and gave us a nice supply of excellent lamb.
Baa, Bleat and Sheep were the lambs that arrived in 1983. They soon became a fixture in the yard and made themselves at home. We preferred slightly older lamb and so the sheep we had grew bigger than regular market lambs before they went into the deep freeze. These three were Suffolk. They were nice meaty sheep. They had lovely black faces and legs. I quite enjoyed having them around. The three of them kept the yard well nibbled. They were good company when we were outside.
This year though I had a problem, Bleat was a ewe lamb. Usually we preferred whethers but somehow we had ended up with a girl. She was a very nice lamb. The leader of the local 4-H sheep club said she was an excellent specimen and would make a good breeding ewe. I wish he hadn't said that. We decided we would keep her and raise some of our own lambs.
At the regular time we took Baa and Sheep to their destiny ,the butchers. This left Bleat on her own. She was bereft and lonely. She moped around the place bleating sadly, looking for her friends in all their familiar haunts. 

 It was at this time we brought the cattle home from pasture. We pulled the bulls away from the cows to maintain a short calving season. The bull pen now contained two Angus bull's, Steel and Prospector. They were lazy creatures and lounged about all day eating or sleeping. I am sure
they were dreaming of the following spring when they would got out again.
With the arrival of the bull's, Bleat had found companionship. The bulls were a bit unsure at first. They had already been at pasture when the lambs arrived, usually the lambs were gone by the time the cows came home. What was this short, fuzzy thing and why did she hang around so much?
Bleat made a decision, she moved in with the bulls. She shared their grain, ate hay with them and chewed her cud as they rested in the sun. For some reason she seemed to be totally attached to the older bull, Steel. He was a big fellow and weighed nearly 2800 pounds. Bleat was dwarfed by his mass, yet, if you wanted to find the sheep it was most likely she was with the enormous bull. If he went to drink she followed him, she ate next to him and soon it seemed the pair was inseparable.

When September came around it was time to take Bleat to get bred. A neighbor [ about 3 miles away] who raised sheep, had a very nice Suffolk ram. He had agreed to let me bring her to stay with his sheep until she was bred. I was amazed to get his phone call just two nights later, he couldn't find Bleat. She wasn't with his flock, he couldn't find any sign of coyotes and his Guardian dogs were not upset by anything. There was just no sign of my sheep. I had tagged her with her name so she could be easily spotted among his sheep. They had looked everywhere. He didn't know what else to say, he would continue to look to see if the coyotes had dragged her away. I put the phone down and told Dad the bad news.

He looked up from his book and said “Well I thought you had brought her home already, she's down in the corral with Steel.”
I didn't really believe it. I walked down to the bull pen. There she was, happily standing beside the bull, chewing on a bit of hay. I called the neighbor and told him where she was. We decided I would take her back to his place the next day. I did and the same result soon occurred, Bleat came home. When we watched her it was like she didn't like the other sheep. She stood apart and looked toward my farm. While we watched she started off, crawled through what looked like impregnable fence and headed back to her home. Trotting up the road with a purpose. We tried to leave her there 4 times but it soon became apparent she was not having anything to do with ordinary sheep.
She wanted her flock of big black “Sheep”. She loved Steel for the lack of a better description. Bleat stayed with him for the winter. When spring came and I let the bulls out with the cows, Bleat was still at his side. It was a comical sight, the huge black bull striding along a cow trail, followed by a sheep! You would see them laying together in the hot afternoon or grazing the hillsides side by side.

We held our annual branding at working corrals built on the summer pasture. In Ranch country everyone gets together for the event. Branding, tattooing and vaccinating the calves becomes a social event and is very western. There is still a bit of animosity toward sheep. I had been told time and time again that the coyotes would eat Bleat if I turned her out with the cattle. I thought maybe the coyotes would avoid the bull and they had. Bleat was doing just fine. She had not got bred to the ram and lived the life of a range sheep beside her bull. Of course this led to the man who roped for us showing off. I have seen disasters with horses and ropes before but the one that was about to develop is still talked about in our neighborhood years later.
We had finished branding and everyone was eating and relaxing when Steve shook out his lariat and went smartly after Bleat. He roped her perfectly with one cast, not knowing she had been halter trained as a lamb and led beautifully. She felt the rope and knew what to do. She turned and ran toward the person at the end of the rope. He must want her to lead.
The horse, a good solid rope horse, didn't really like sheep to start with and now here was this woolly blob running toward him. He did what any self respecting rope horse would do, he bolted! He took off at full gallop. Bleat was having trouble keeping up and she “Bleated”, a long drawn out cry for help...BAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
Steel, who had been grazing near by, heard the terrified sheep and went after her to help. The horse was bucking in a circle. Steve was trying to let go of the lariat. The sheep was still trying to lead.  It was continuing to terrify the horse. Then the bull galloped into the fray. Bleat saw her hero and headed for him. She ran directly under the stampeding and bucking horse. It was chaos of the most amazing kind. A snorting horse, cursing rider, bleating sheep and bellowing bull in a cloud of dust. The entire crowd stood and gaped. We wondered how it was all going to turn out.

Finally Steve got the rope clear and thrown to the ground, Bleat had reached Steel and was pressed up against him. Steel pawed the ground and let everyone know his sheep was safe. After the dust settled I went and removed the lariat from a very relieved Bleat. I scratched Steel where he liked it. I left the two of them there, together. It was a very chagrined Steve who rode home from our branding that year. I am afraid he was the center of some very colorful descriptions of the sheep roping at our branding.

Bleat had decided she was a cow, a short cow yes, but a cow just the same. She never did have any lambs but she lived to a good age with her lifelong companion Steel the Angus bull. They were happy as mismatched as they were. If they got separated Steel would miss his sheep as much as she would miss him. My father used to shake his head and marvel as he watched the two of them walk up to the feed trough or along a cow path. Bleat the sheep that didn't think she was a sheep!


  1. I just finished reading your Bleat and Steele post. oMgoodness, what a wonderful life. I've never witnessed a sheep and bull (or even a cow) that 'hung out' together, but I'd love to see this in person some day.
    I'm thoroughly enjoying your blog. I'm starting from your very first post and working to your current posts.
    Thank you for sharing your life with me -- you inspire me and give me the courage to get up, put one foot in front of the other to go out and work our new Farm. My husband and I are way past our middle-60s, and just bought our run-down, collapsed barn homestead that was in foreclosure (need I say more?). Our friends think we lost our marbles, are working way too hard, and will never finish what we started. Hmmmm..... I've always loved a good challenge.
    Please keep posting - you are a fantastic writer and so easy to ""see"" what you are saying. I can see Bleat in my mind's-eye in that ring with a rope around her neck.

    1. I am glad you enjoyed the tale of to getting your for closed and run down is never a bad thing to have things to work aND plan toward! Enjoy every moment both good and bad!

  2. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this story. There are just not adequate words. Hugs