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In Memoriam

Bluff Country Skittles Bluff Country Skittles – May 7, 2003 to Summer, 2010

It is with deep regret that I inform long-time readers of this blog about the passing of one of the great Shetland rams. Bluff Country Skittles passed away in the high pastures of Colorado this past summer. Skit was a young ram, just 7 when he died, but he left a large impact, as big as he was, on many hearts during his life.

Skittles had gone up to Jared Lloyd’s ranch the summer about this time last fall. I needed new bloodlines for my small operation and Jared was very keen on adding Skittles genetics to his flock as well as “collecting” him for posterity and keeping his genetics available to future generations. Sadly, that was not to be.

One morning this summer, Jared said he walked into the sheep shed to find Skit lying down, front legs crossed and his chin resting on them the way he slept many times. But he didn’t move. When Jared went over to rouse him from his sleep, he discovered that Skit had passed on. There was no sign of trauma or markings in the dirt of a struggle or thrashing. Just Skit, asleep.

I know I will miss him. He was one of my first Shetland loves and a truly majestic ram in so very many ways. He had almost perfect conformation, was large but well-built and had personality to spare. I couldn’t have asked for a better ram to begin earnest breeding with. He had it all.

I will miss our walks around the place, Skit…and how you would gently sway me towards the apple tree for a snack of leaves if you could get away with it. You left some mighty big hooves to fill, Buddy…

…and I will miss you.

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Subtraction and Addition

Skittles left yesterday. His new home is with Jared Lloyd in Colorado. Jared has a bevy of beautiful ladies just waiting for Skit! And yes, I had a few tears in my eyes when Jared walked him into the trailer. Skittles was my first Shetland love. Oh, I loved the girls when they came with their babies, but it was Skit who turned my head and heart the Shetland direction.

What made it easier letting him go was knowing that his genes will have more of an opportunity to be best utilized at Jared’s place. The fact that Jared is interested in collecting and saving Skittles genetics (for AI) showed me that he really appreciates all Skit’s attributes. The fact was that I needed some new genes in the flock and Jared had a young up-and-comer I was interested in.

Meet soon to be named, Jehovah’s Loki. Jared had wanted me to pick out a name for this youngster and after seeing that impish look on his face, “Loki” seemed like a fit. His sire is Skeld, a top ram on the Shetland Isles. No, Skeld didn’t visit Colorado…except in a little tube. 😉 Loki is the result of an AI breeding.

All the lambs we get from Loik will probably be white. White is a color that has been lacking in my flock. I am hoping to use Loki for a few years, then he may have to do some traveling as well. When you have a very small operation, you have to make hard decisions as to whom to keep and whom not to. It’s the one aspect of this sheepy-business I really don’t like. But I do not have the luxury of having different fields in which to stockpile sheep I want to keep. We have limited space. I would never want more than two rams on this place at any one time. The fact is, it’s easier to replace the rams than the ewes, so most rams do not get to spend their lives on one farm. sigh.
Loki’s fleece feels just like soft clouds. I realize that this is his “lamb fleece”, which is always the softest fleece any sheep has, but his fleece is softer to the hand than some of the others we’ve had here. I can hardly wait to see what he throws next spring.
Normally, I don’t like using ram lambs for breeding. In fact, this will be the first time I’ve ever done it this way. We’ll just have to see how it goes. I am a believer in letting a sheep mature before breeding, usually not using them until they are a year old at least. Since we did not breed last year, and I have a growing list of people wanting lambs from us, I think this year we’ll just have to see what Loki can do.


Bye, bye, Skit, my love. I will miss you and always cherish you in my heart. I know you’ll make us proud.

Welcome aboard, Mr. Loki. Just in case you didn’t know it, you’ve got some mighty big hooves to fill.

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…’cause when you get older, you need a break now and then. 🙂

Yes, I’m still here. It has been three whirlwind, crazy, busy, beautiful, weeks around Oleo Acres. Our daughter and granddaughter were here to spend three weeks with us! WooHoo! While the original intent was to see Miss Julie before she passed, Kelly still came over to go with us to a neighborhood get-together in her memory. While she was here, we made use of her wondrous abilities to: have her help me get my new (on my lap as I write this) laptop computer up, running and connected up; set up a server for all the computers in the house (which backs up all the computers’ files every night so we’ll not lose anything again), clean out the office with a fine-tooth comb (something Hizzoner hates to do because he can not throw anything away); eat lots of Mexican food with us; and share her daughter gracefully with two beaming grandparents. I don’t think Gwen’s feet hit the ground while she was here. We loved it!
Truthfully, we did come to realize that having a baby around illustrated just how much older we’ve become. We’re not ancient by any means, but I know I could tell that bending, carrying, car-seating, buckling anything Gwen was in to actually keep her in, and going-going-going all the time did take me down a notch or two. I loved it!
Here’s just a few of the pictures I took:

Best Friends. Grandpa and Me

OK, Pixel…You’re In For It Now!

“Who? Me?”

Ninja Warrior Baby? -or- Up-and-Coming Pool Shark?

Along with everything else going on, I have been finalizing something for Sheep Thrills Farm. I haven’t really wanting to say anything yet, thinking it would jinx everything, but I am working out an exchange of sorts. It looks like Skittles will be heading for Colorado. A fellow Shetland breeder and someone appreciative of quality rams, Mr. Jared Llyod of Jehovah-jireh Sheep and Cattle LLC. , was very interested in Skittles. Would I be willing to exchange Skit for one of his rams? Jared knew I needed some new genetics and had a number of candidates for me to choose from.
While logic dictates this is a no-brainer, I have to admit that I will really miss my buddy, Skit. With the exception of breeding season when he takes on the appearance and personality of a shark in a feeding frenzy (I swear, those eyes of his would roll back in his head if a ewe in season was anywhere near), Skit has always been a big teddy-bear.
I hesitate to make friends with any ram, espousing a more “ToughLove” approach as my friend Lois, of Stonehaven Farm, calls it. Skit and I respect each other, but that never stopped him from asking for his tail to be scratched or that spot between his shoulders rubbed a bit when I let him out to pasture. He always gives me a look to say, “Thank you.”, then goes on his way. Apparently, he believes this is a duty that every shepherdess must provide when asked nicely.
It was only when Jared promised that Skittles would be used for breeding, then when he’s older, he’d be retired to a pasture with another of Jared’s beloved rams to live out his days. Skit will have more ewes, plus have a larger place to roam. He deserves that and it’s something that I cannot provide on our small place. So, I said yes. Soon Jared will arrive to pick up Skittles and deliver two ram lambs, one of them sired by a ram from Shetland. Yesterday the veterinarian came out to examine Skit and fill out his Health Certificate for travel. He’s ready to go and fit for this year’s breeding season. And I will miss him.

I don’t know if he realizes it or not, but I will have to explain to Jared how important having a “Tire Toy” will be for Skittles.
…I so hope there’s room for one in that new pasture.

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After a month of hard thinking, waffling over it and driving my DH crazy with discussions, I have decided that Skittles needs to find a new home – hopefully one with many more ewes than I have.
Skittles is one of the best rams I have ever seen! He has darned-near perfect conformation and a wonderful disposition which he passes on to his offspring.
Another plus is that his offspring all seem to keep their dark, rich coloring. The muskets do turn their brownish grays, but the colors always seem to be rich. Even Shaun, our red moorit iset wether, is keeping his rich red color with the iset frosting.

Being a very small sheep operation, we have to continuously keep genetics moving here. We don’t have the acreage to swap out rams or make different breeding pens. As we won’t be breeding this year, I don’t think it fair of me to retain the great genetics Skit passes on. And each morning I see the longing in his eyes as I let the girls out into the pasture. He should be “working” for someone, not cooling his heals.

And so, we offer:

FOR SALE

Bluff Country Skittles
NASSA Reg. #15379
$400.00
(To Approved Flock only)
Skittles carries spotting genetics when crossed with ewes also carrying spotting genes. Every single lamb he’s sired for us has been born with a white krunet (crown) or a few white fibers on the top of the head. Skit’s also a very respectful ram who only gets a bit feisty when it’s fall and the girls go over to the fence line to tease him. Even then he’s always respected the fencing.
The only caveat is that whomever would like to add Skittles to their flock must make a Tire-Toy for him. I don’t think he could live without his Most Beloved Tire-Toy!
And thank you, Skit…for everything you have done for us. I just think you’d be much happier in a bigger flock, Bud…

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When I got up Saturday morning, I immediately went to: 1. Turn the coffee pot “on”…and b. Checked the monitor in the office running “Sheep-O-Vision”. Loretta had been acting suspicious on Friday and I had wondered if she had progressed along. Well, at first I thought it was something wrong with the camera in that part of the barn, but I saw what appeared to be the beginning of something working its way out of Loretta’s posterior. To the tune of “There’s mucous! (Only another shepherd or person living with one would understand the excitement those words bring to a shepherd’s heart) She’s in labor!” I ran back to the bedroom to get dressed. I barely had time to tell my DH I was headed to the barn when I heard, “Don’t forget your phone.” from my beloved spouse.
Loretta’s labor progressed very fast, even for a first-timer. I checked on her then went about my business feeding the other sheep and making sure the others weren’t around to bother the expectant mom. After feeding, I went back in and spied two big feet where feet aren’t usually found on a sheep…but no membrane! No fluids! Oi!
Loretta was up and down. She was in the throes of deep, painful contractions without making any headway in getting this “pod-being” out of her body. By that time I noticed a nose and mouth with a big tongue hanging out of it. The tongue was pink, but if things didn’t progress along it wouldn’t be pink for long.
By that time my Dh had arrived to help anyway he could. I donned gloves. Enough time had passed and Loretta was getting weaker with each contraction. The nose was even starting to move back inside! I had forgotten how slippery these little guys can be, so I asked Hishonor to hand me a towel so I could get a good purchase on the front legs. With the next contraction, I pulled while Loretta pushed and out he came! Yes, damn it! Another HE!!!!

Above is a picture of the unnamed ram lamb Loretta presented to us. (I repeat…”Damn it!”) He had a bit of a problem finding the right spigots on Mama, the problem being that he had such tall legs. Soon he had his first meal and Loeretta continued cleaning him up.

He has the Skittles Stamp, a krunet marking, on the top of his head. And Loretta is a fierce protector of him. Her sister came close to inspect this new wind-up toy that her big sister had and Loretta tried to bash away all relations in protection of her new son.
We are almost finished lambing here for this year. But I may have to start thinking of another ram. Since we’ve had my friend, Skittles, out of ten lambs so far, only one was a ewe lamb. The rest have been carbon copies of their sire. It’s like Skittles has created his own army of Mini-Me’s running around. My talks with him have fallen on deaf ears. He’s out to create an army of rams under his control. So far, it seems to be working.

Darn it, Skit! I hope you remembered where you put your suitcase as you may be leaving…or at the very least you may have a roommate – with horns as impressive as yours! Got the word now?

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Last evening, I had to take the wethers out of the pen they were sharing with Skittles. Except for Colin, I noticed that Skit kept herding the smaller wethers into a corner at the bottom of his pen. He would not let them near the water trough, or near any of the spots I had placed hay in – trying to have separate areas that everyone would be able to eat. Somehow, Skit would keep chasing all of the others away from any of the piles of food liked some crazed fanatic. He hogged it all, trying to gorge himself with all of the food. He was getting everything plus keeping anyone else from getting much of anything at all.

What alarmed me was that he wouldn’t even share with Colin, his best buddy. I had an inkling about this and was watching his behavior for the past few days. Usually, Skit would eat his hay sharing with his buddy but keeping a wary eye on the smaller wethers as he munched. Everyone got to eat what they were supposed to. I suspect he felt he needed more, pig that he can be, which started this behavior in the first place. Then, he became hopped up on hay and timothy pellets, causing the abusive behavior.
The “last straw” for me was finding poor Ole absolutely covered in grass and hay when I went out to feed yesterday. It was very apparent that “someone” had broadsided Ole, causing him to be thrown flat to the ground and then on his back. Ole was also walking around as if stunned, just very slightly limping. He was in the far corner with his brothers, Colin placing himself between the smaller boys and Mr. Piggy, in full “I am the Protector” mode. Enough.
I opened the gate to allow the wethers into the barn-proper. Skit can still be nose to nose with them, even share hay with them through the fencing if he wants. But he can’t block them from eating. I knew it was the right thing to do when the four wethers went straight to the water and drank their fill. I then put out some hay, hay-pellets plus a pan of minerals and bicarb-buffer. After feeding the ewes and giving Skit a much smaller protion of hay I sat on the stoop watching the little boys and Colin eat in peace. As I sat there, each of the boys, in turn, came over to me, put their head in my lap (still happily munching on hay) and looked up at me as if to say, “Thanks, Mom. I was getting so very hungry and thirsty.”
I suspect that Skit will settle down when he gets back to having only his portion of feed. I will watch behaviors to see if Colin wants back in with Skit, or wants to stay with his babies. Colin loves the little ones. Yup…I think it may be that Skit will eat alone in his pen, in full view of the other sheep, until he settles back down. All the boys will still be turned loose together in the pasture where they all have room to run if need be.
Space can be a problem when you have animals in intensive farming situations. I’m sure there are a few Shetland people reading this, on small places of their own, nodding in acknowledgement of having the same problems. Whom do you put with whom and do they have enough space? How can I manage the pasture so everyone gets some pasture time without overgrazing the land? We rotate pasture areas to try to keep the grass and land healthy. This can be a very hard thing to do in Arizona. We are blessed with a stream and green grasses for about 2/3 of the year. I have even had neighbors come over and ask how I still have grass when they can’t keep any growing on their places. I try to explain the concept of rotational grazing and that it works for even small spaces, but it doesn’t seem to sink in. I explain that a horse will eat pastures down to dirt if allowed to be in an area for a long time. For some reason, they just don’t “get it”. Sigh.

On the UP side of things, we may have a shearer lined up for next Friday! I am so jazzed about the prospect of having the flock shorn! I may not have the pregnant ewes shorn even though we’re not close to lambing until mid to late April. The shearer that’s coming is a woman with much experience and is known for her gentleness and quality of work. I will defer to her judgement as to whether or not it would be safe to shear the ewes. Or she may have them stand for shearing, I’m not sure. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, I expect. Bless Katie, in Taylor, AZ, for offering to contact this person and share her with me! I will have more to tell next Friday, I’m sure! 🙂

As you can see from the above photo, snow has melted to where the hens can get out and “Talk a little, peck a little. Talk a little, peck a little.” Come to think of it, maybe everyone here at Oleo Acres is just plain ready for warmer temperatures – the snow has melted from everywhere but the north side of buildings and hills, the sun is shining, and the birds are definitely into their “Spring Songs”. But the wind is still very cold.

I think we all just have Cabin Fever. The days are lengthening and all signs point towards moving toward summer. And IF the wind dies down a bit, I think all of us will reclaim our sanity or at the very least head towards normalcy…any day now. 🙂

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Appreciating Himself

These are not the best photos I have taken of “Himself”, but I took them to show you something I noticed about Skittles that wasn’t there last winter. This all came about from letting all “The Boys” out together in the pasture yesterday. I wish I had my camera then for what did I behold, but a ram ponging and jumping around the pasture with all the rest of the boys – kicking his heels up in pure joy! I never thought “The Old Man” could move like that! 🙂

It was then I noticed it…the sun was at my back as I hung over the gate to watch and so afforded me the opportunity to see what the dull greys of winter had hid so well from sight. Can you guess what it is?

Now, in his defense, he wasn’t posed for any of these shots, but it’s still visible. It looks so much better in person, too. I just wish the camera had captured “it” as I had witnessed.

The above shot is a good one showing “it” off. Any guesses? Look closely at the LUSTROUS FLEECE The Old Man is sporting this spring! WaHoo! I have had only one shearing from Skit since I bought him from Nancy. And I have to be honest – his fleece showed the stress of shipping such a long distance plus his having to acclimate to this high altitude. The altitude will definitely take the wind out of your sails until you get used to it. Skit had only 6 weeks before breeding season that fall, very little time to adjust to all the changes in his life.
Altitude was a big concern for me…at high altitudes some strains of bulls will keel over stone-cold dead during breeding season as their heart can’t take the stress. I had never heard or read of any sheep doing that but I sure didn’t want my buddy to be the first. What a tough cookie he is.
That’s right, Skit…you guard that barn area from all comers! You’re looking awesome, Buddy! I ‘ve just got to get you a dribble bib for that hay under your chin.

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I thought I would share a few photos from the past five days here at Sheep Thrills Farm, aka “Oleo Acres – One of the Cheaper Spreads”. We started off last Friday with very cold rains. I kept watching the water level rising in the back half of our small pasture. While it was disturbing me, some of the locals found it to be delightful. Silly ducks!
Before we knew it, by Saturday morning our stream had indeed flooded its banks. And it continued to rise. These next couple of photos were taken as the stream was receding from flooding the lower end of our sheep pens near the barn. Whether or not they wanted to go in, I made sure all sheep were in the barn on Saturday night.
The picture above shows the stream receding, but in the lower right you will see two railroad ties, heavy things that they are, side-by-side. The force of this little bit of flooding was enough to float one of the ties up out of the ground and lay it beside one further down. I was glad to see this was all it had done, as a few years ago, I had to don waders and use a lasso to capture ALL of the RR ties with major flooding we had at that time.
The only problem, other than our dwindling hay amount as stated in the previsou post, was that the rain was so very cold. Shetland sheep are well known for their ability to thrive in adverse conditions, but we had winds driving this cold rain into the fleece of the adult sheep, who were outside at the start of all of this. I took off a glove and checked Skittles fleece deep down next to his skin. The wet hadn’t gotten that far, but it was just a matter of time. I mainly did it as a convenience for myself – I really didn’t want to be out in this stuff nursing a sick, shivering sheep back to health.
Here’s a shot of our deck. Tea on the deck anyone?

And it looks like I won’t be planting any cold season vegetables any time soon.
I did turn the sheep out for a while each day. After putting everyone in for the night, I happened to see that Skittles had broken trail over to his (darned) tire-toy, just to make sure it was still there as I had promised him.
By yesterday evening the sun had started to try and make an appearance again. This last photo was about 4:30 p.m., MST. You can see we’re in the shadow of the mountain, chilling down rapidly, but across the field behind us and the Interstate, rays of the sun made it through.

This morning looked as if we were going to get another 24 inches of snow. I decided at 7:30 a.m. I would have a cup of coffee before going out to the barn. The Weather Channel on TV said we were at 2 F, but I know darned well we were below 0F here. I noticed on the Sheep-O-Vision that the sheep were still sleeping or calmly chewing their cuds. Everyone was fine. Except me…I knew I was going to have to put on layers and layers of clothing to brave the cold to feed and water everyone.

That’s OK…I still wouldn’t trade them for anything! Well,…maybe a ticket to New Zealand…No, I think I’ll stay. It was fun to see the lambs’ reactions to their first real snow. I wouldn’t miss that for anything. You know how it is with us shepherds! 😉

But Shadow would like to know why I’ve been changing clothes in the basement…exchanging dry clothes for wet clothes. Well, Shad…YOU go out and shovel if you want to find out why! 🙂

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I woke up this morning to rain and high winds, plus it was so dark I thought my DH had left early and the alarm hadn’t gone off. Not so. It was dark due to the weather. By the time I got dressed, had that all-important first coffee in the morning, and headed out to the barn the rain was coming in sideways. I wondered how Skittles and the girls were fairing outside in their loafing shed.

When I got to the barn area, I found the girls to be in the loafing shed quietly chewing their cuds and gazing up at me as if to say, “What’s wrong with you this morning?” Skittles was at his tire, guarding it as if the wind were going to blow it away. With all the rain, the now soft ground gave the post and tire a definite lean. Note to self: Next spring remove said “marvelous toy”, use concrete around the base when properly righted and let concrete cure well before letting him have at it again. I felt of his fleece and noted that the wind had driven the rain very close to his skin. I didn’t want him to chill, so I moved the young sheep to the end area of the barn by the chickens and put Skit and the Girls into the end of the barn we use for lambing jugs. I kept one of the barn shutters open for good ventilation, gave them hay and their grain, and made sure I turned on the camera to watch them. This will give his fleece a chance to dry out a bit before all this wet turns to snow this afternoon. As I write this blog entry, I am watching Skit herding the girls from one end of the pen to the other, stopping to single out Ailee as I believe she may not have settled yet and is coming into season.

Since everyone seems to have settled in for a bit, this gives me a chance to re-stoke the fire in the woodburner and have something warm to drink. I was totally wet by the time I came in. Barn coat, sweatshirt, and t-shirt all damp, I’ve set up a drying rack by the fire to dry everything out before I go out again to move sheep-people around again. By this afternoon Skit and his harem will be dry enough to weather the snow. Shetland sheep are known for their hardiness and ability to withstand rough climate conditions. Their fleece is thick and warm. Many a time I have seen them standing out in a snowstorm with six inches of snow on their backs. They do much better than we humans under similar conditions. We must rely on GoreTex and Thinsulate. Maybe all we really need is a good wool coat. 🙂
But it’s the driving wind with rain that can stress a sheep. Wool will still insulate when it’s wet, but why stress the animal when I can let them get in to dry a bit while we wait for the 40 mph winds to die down? Of course, most other rams are not obsessed with tire-toys. They’d be in the dry, wind free loafing shed with the others.

Ziggy’s got the best idea…a nice warm fire, some meditation, and a snack every now and then.

Move over, Zig. Let me warm up here by the fire with you. Gee, Zig, did you ever think of getting a job as a pillow?

UPDATE: As of 4:50 pm, MST, we have had to put all sheep in the barn as flooding of our stream has come up to the bottom of the pens near the barn. With the help of my DH, we were able to get “The Chicken Side” ready for sheep. Half of this area is sheep quarters anyway, but we needed to remove some feeders to make room for the larger sheep. DH tried to get the camera working on that end, but to no avail. Something best suited for a nice dry day instead. We are in both a Flood Warning and Wind Advisory for the early evening hours. I will try to post again tomorrow with pictures.

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Yes, Folks…it’s THAT time of year again! All the promises are over and the hormones are running rampant. About all I do this time of year is stay out of the way and let Skittles do his job. 😉 I had been promising him that he would get twice as many girls this year. The poor guy thought I was tormenting him on purpose, I’m sure. But no, I just wanted lambs coming in the middle to late April next year. Most of our bad weather is over with and fly season hasn’t started – perfect weather for being born. That is except if it turns out like last year when we had terrible winds out of the NE and straight into the ewes end of the barn.

Hmmmm…Amanda is trying to figure out what this black, swingy-thing is and why Skittles doesn’t want to share it with anyone. I thought I heard her say it really didn’t taste like anything she wanted to eat, but would still lick on it if need be. Silly girl! Don’t let Skit see you messing with his tire swing, Amanda…he’s very possessive of it. You’ve been warned.


It was about this time I thought I heard Skit say, “Darn it, Amanda! Take off that stupid coaty-thing! It’s getting in MY way!” Poor Amanda.

At this time of year, rams who are normally placid, even downright sweet, turn in to demons on four legs with only one thing on their minds. Nothing will stop them in this Seasonal Drive of theirs either – or at least I should mention that you need really good fencing to make sure they stay in an area YOU want them to stay in. Many a shepherd has gone out to check sheep only to find rams not where they were supposed to be. I have known rams to go through electric fencing, welded wire fencing, well…just about any type of fencing in the need to carry out their mission in life. And a shpherd knows not to place his or herself between a ram and his ewes. In the heat of passion that’s asking for it. Yup. Cruisin’ for a bruisin’ unless you’re prepared to deal with a protective ram concerned that you’re going to take unsettled ewes (non-pregnant ewes).
Now, any time of year you should not turn your back on a ram. But especially now when they have first been put in with their chosen girls one needs a sharp eye and a good shepherd’s crook. Maybe even fast feet too! LOL In watching Skittles with his girls these past few days I find myself thinking about how much Mother Nature intended these creatures to succeed as a species in this world. Sheep are suspicious by nature with a great sense of “Fight or Flight” (mostly flight). They are also fast on their feet as many a winded shepherd might experience once or twice in their lives. And with good feed timed right, you can usually get a 200% lamb crop making sheep productive even for small farms. You can wear them, pet them, milk them…and yes, even eat them. No wonder we’ve been teamed up with sheep for hundreds of years and more.

Yes, I hear you, Skit…grunting and groaning like WhiteFang and Blacktooth talking to Soupy Sales back in the 50s. Just wait…in 6 weeks you’ll be begging me to put you back in with the boys when you’ve got 4 pregnant “wives” on your hooves. I’ll remind you…you asked for it!

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