The new Icelandic sheep like to roam. They scoot under a barbed wire fence like it's not even there - the barbs may snag a bit of wool, but they have such heavy coats I don't think they even feel the tug as they go under. They head out under the back fence, check out the neighbour's hay field, then wander back home. (Yes, I need to replace the barbed wire with woven wire. It's on the list of things to do.)
Yesterday, the sheep didn't come back home from their little field trip. On the school bus this morning, one of the kids told The Boy they'd seen four sheep down by the highway, so he called me from the school office and I went off in search of sheep. I did find them: they were visiting the cattle across the road! With the gracious help of the people who own the farm the sheep had decided to visit, the wanderers were chased back home. I'm glad I own a lifted 4x4 truck ... I drove through a couple of hay fields on the way back.
Late this afternoon, when I noticed the sheep were out beyond the back fence again, I decided that it was time to get the Icelandics into the small-but-more-or-less-escape-proof paddock. We'd tried this before but had no luck as the sheep are skittish and unwilling to go through a gate into a pen they know nothing about. I knew I had to be sneaky if I wanted to succeed. Natalie, the Icleandic flock leader, has a weakness for grain: a perfect opportunity for a sneak attack! I sauntered up to Natalie with a full bucket of grain and a piece of nylon rope looped casually across my arm. As I had hoped, she ignored the rope completely, perhaps assuming it to be nothing more than a fashion accessory, and settled down to eat the grain. The rope went around her neck while her head was in the bucket and - voila! - she was caught! She put up a good fight, though: getting her across the pasture took all my strength and I've now got rope burns on my hands. I was immensely grateful when my neighbour showed up to help! He pushed from behind, I pulled from the front, and eventually we each grabbed one horn and dragged her the rest of the way up the hill and into the paddock. The poor thing was exhausted when we were done, but we did manage to get her contained in a smaller pen where she could serve as bait for the others. The gate to the paddock was left open and we stood back: sure enough, within ten minutes the other Icelandics all made their way over to check on their leader, locked inside this strange chain link box. The gate was slammed shut behind them, and they were caught! Whew! No more escapes.
Neighbour was sent off with a dozen eggs as thanks for his efforts, and The Boy and I made the sheep comfortable in their new home. We moved the fenceline hay feeder into the paddock so they'll have something to eat, filled up a bucket of water, and fed them some grain.
Jack, the Southdown ram, was very interested in the ewes in the paddock (who are most likely in season right about now) so he was allowed to join them. After all, we do hope to have some lambs come spring time. :) The last time I looked, Jack was making faces at the girls, so I'll take that as a positive sign (rams make a very peculiar face when a ewe in heat is nearby: they curl up their lips and stick out their tongues - it looks tremendously goofy, but I guess it works for sheep!).
We do have fence posts up between the sheep shelter and the west fence line: I guess we'll have to get the woven wire pulled across there soon so that the sheep can all be kept in there over the winter. They'll need more space than they have now, but I don't want to be hunting through the trees for lambing ewes in the cold of January or February. A smaller pasture is definitely required. Besides, cross fencing and pasture rotation is part of good sheep management. :)
For now, at least, the sheep are safely tucked into a small but reasonably comfortable spot (with a ram for company!) and we can stop spending our afternoons chasing runaway sheep across the fields.
Knock on wood.