Sunday, January 22, 2012

Treat or trap - the purpose of a catch pen

The new flock in the catch pen around their grain feeder.
This small space enables us to handle the sheep with
a minimum of stress on both sheep and shepherd.

At 12-years-old, Thyme is rarely fooled by any trap.

We record weekly body and eye scores, as well as any
work we did with the flocks in this simple manner.
This book has the flock records back to 2009.
Catch pens - Treat and Trap

I am a shepherd. I am many things, but if I had to use one word to describe myself, it would be that one “shepherd”. I have raised sheep and goats for more than 30 years and have loved critters all my life.

As a shepherd, it is my job to care for my flocks and give them what they need to have comfortable, productive lives. Sometimes, I have to do things with my sheep that they don’t particularly like. They don’t much like the process of being sheared, but they love the result. It feels so good to them to get rid of that itchy winter wool. And, if I did not shear them, they would die in the summer heat. Sheep do not shed. Of course, I get that wonderful wool to spin and dye and felt and crochet and weave with, but the sheep could care less about that. It isn’t part of their world.

After so many years of living closely with my sheep and goats, I have developed a language for their reactions. Sheep are very curious, as opposed to goats, who are more self-centered.
Sheep love watching humans and the things they do, though as long as the humans stay out of the sheep space, the sheep are perfectly happy to just observe the silly humans we go about our farming and garden chores. Sort of like humans watching television.

However, when we enter the sheep’s space, they observe carefully and classify our behaviour in one of two ways (sheep are simple, they can only count to three). It’s either “Treat” or “Trap”. If our behaviour says Treat, their heads go down and they come over to us looking for the treats. However, if our behaviour says Trap, their tails go up, their heads get high and they trot away as fast as their legs will carry them. Ideally, we’d always be able to enter their space with treats, but that’s not always the most efficient or effective way to manage the flock.

We have a hands-on, organic way of managing our flock, which involves checking each individual sheep or goat on a weekly basis. Since we live by a human schedule of work, projects, deadlines and more work, we do this every Sunday morning and we do it as smoothly and quickly as possible. That means we Trap the sheep in a catch pen. You’d think after all these years, they’d relax about it, but, it is still a trap situation.

No comments: