Murphy, Flock Guardian


After a week of rain, it was time to tag Mab's lambs (born 4/30) and transition them into the pasture with the flock. Because I inadvertently left a gate open, the transition from lambing jug to flock was very accelerated. Mab brought her lambs up through the yard and towards the grazing flock. Once the electric fence lines were moved, Mab took her lambs into the paddock.

For Murphy, flock guardian, the lambs, especially the ram-lamb, were intruders and he got to work.  With a calculated race around the paddock, he moved his flock to the far end of the field, then with nose and hoof, shoved the ram-lamb away from Mab and her ewe-lamb. Ears back, hide quivering, Murphy looked fierce, especially next to the week old lamb. 

As the flock moved to welcome Mab back to the flock, I moved to calm Murphy. If you drove by that day, you would have seen me waving my coat to get Murphy's attention, pushing the ram-lamb towards his mother and positioning my body between lamb and donkey. (I'd like to think I was a calm, quiet shepherd; honestly, there was a wide gap between my aspirations and reality that afternoon.)

With my hand on Murphy's back, we followed the newest members of the flock around the paddock. Mab contentedly grazed, ewe-lamb by her side while Murphy followed the ram-lamb, as he wandered though the flock and occasionally sprinted away from the shock of the electric fence.

I stepped back when Murphy settled: ears turning at every sound. not pinned back; eyes following the lambs, not wide and wild; nostrils sniffing in the lambs' direction, not wide open and snorting; and hide smooth, not twitching. Murphy walked up to the ever calm Mab, sniffed her and the ewe-lamb and then followed the wandering ram-lamb into the middle of the flock. Now that the ram-lamb was not an intruder, Murphy nudged the lamb towards its ewe, and kept the flock away from the trio as they got accustomed to grazing together. 

Until dark, I saw Murphy circling the trio, repeatedly nosing that meandering ram-lamb back to Mab's side. The next day the flock was a seamless unit and Murphy's new adversaries were a few stray Guineas that appeared in our fields.



Time for Murphy to move in with the rams


As lambing season approaches, I make changes in  the pasture/barn set up to keep the ever widening ewes safe and comfortable. 

Murphy's protection is important, especially when the flock is moves across our fields during the grazing season. Murphy moves his flock around with a stomp or head swing in response to perceived and real threats. Now that the ewes are a little slower, I want to limit rushing around the round bale feeder and narrow spaces in the barnyard.

After some "how-do-you-do" head butting, the rams and Murphy have settled down.





January 11th, A Beautiful Barnyard Morning

The following post is not an effort to call out Murphy, not our donkey, and his fatalistic "Law" but to note my appreciation for a morning spent doing barnyard chores.

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On a windless morning with choretime temperatures in the midthirties, I was hatless as I feed and watered the livestock. The long black hose, that reaches all the way to the goose trough, unrolled easily without its usual frozen stiffness. With a few days of temperatures above freezing and nights not far below, the barnyard is neither an unforgiving, frozen tract nor a sucking, muddy mess making the transfer of waste hay stems to slick or muddy spots easy. While moving forkfuls of the fluffy waste I had time to watch the animals, especially the Belties and Murphy as they investigated my work and the vacated sheep pens. Today I released the wedding sheep from the goat yard. I want them to get more exercise and get accustomed to the ram because they will be penned together when the ewes go into the lambing barn. Murphy hopped into the empty goat stall through its small, barnside door and snuffled around in search of stray grain. Each of the Belties took turns watching longingly with ony room for a black curly head through the hatch. While the cattle and donkey nosed around the barnyard the wedding sheep blended easily to the flock  clustered around the hay filled round bale feeder.Hopefully without the intereference of the often present Murphy's Law, I will be able to sort the wedding sheep during evening chores and get them back in their pen for their supplement of grain.

Winter Hay Feeding

Once colder nights arrived I stopped carrying forkfuls of hay twice daily and put a round bale into the feeder.The Belties have 24 hour access to the hay. At first, the Belties and Murphy the donkey were very territorial about the hay feeder, pushing and shoving for position.  

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As the Katahdins trekked to the feeder Murphy would stand guard and a flick of his ear could dissuade the line of sheep from feeding.Now that there are mutiple circles of trampled hay waste dotting the field and the animals have accustomed themselves to eachother, the sheep eat their fill and head back to the barn for a rest.

Donkey proofing the gate

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We rely on Murphy's equine intelligence to guard our pastured animals. He prefers the Belties to the Katahdins and goats but his bray deters any aggressor's approach. With perserverence, he discovered that he could put his head between the bars of the field gate and lift it off its hinges, alllowing him to micro-manage his little kingdom.

Four well place scews, two in each hinge, hold the hinges in place and have stymied Murphy's field management efforts.