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Sheep And Sheep-Herding
by [?]

It is my opinion, after experience of both conditions, that unherded sheep do much better than those which are closely looked after. In Australia our percentage of lambs was sometimes 104, and any squatter would think something wrong if his sheep on the plain yielded less than 90 per cent. increase. But in Texas, where the mothers are watched and helped, the increase is seldom indeed 75 in the 100, much oftener it is 60. I used to wonder whether the losses by wild animals would have equalled the loss of 25 per cent. increase which is, I believe, entirely due to the care taken of them. For herding is essentially a worrying process, even when practised by a man who understands sheep well. The mothers are never left alone, and must be driven to a corral at night. Consequently they often get separated from their lambs before they come to know them, and one of the most pitiful things seen by a shepherd is the poor distracted ewe refusing to recognise her own offspring even when it is shown to her. We used in such cases to put them together in a little pen during the night, hoping that she would “own” it by the morning. But very often she would not, and then the lamb usually died. If, indeed, it was one of a more sturdy constitution than most, it would refuse to die and became a kind of Ishmael in the flock. The milk which was necessary it took, or tried to take, from the ewe, who, for just a moment, might not know a stranger was trying to share the right of her own lamb. Such an orphan rarely grows up, and most of them die quickly, as they are knocked about and cruelly used by those who take no interest in the disinherited outcast of that selfish ovine society. And yet its real mother is in the flock, reconciled to her loss after a few days of suffering.

In spite of my present very decided disinclination to have anything to do with sheep, they are, like every other animal, very interesting when closely studied. I spent some years in their society in New South Wales and know a little about them. Shortly before I left Ennis Creek ranch in North-west Texas a very curious incident occurred, which I could never quite satisfactorily explain, for I believe the most serious fright I have ever had in all my life was caused by these same inoffensive, innocent quadrupeds. It was not inflicted on me by a ram, which is occasionally bellicose, but by ewes with their lambs, and I distinctly remember being as surprised as if the sky had fallen or something utterly opposed to all causation had confronted me. I want to meet a man, even of approved courage, who would not be shocked into fair fright by having half-a-dozen ewes suddenly turn and charge him with the fury of a bullock’s mad onset. Would he not gasp, be stricken dumb, and look wide-eyed at the customary nature about him, just as if they had broken into awful speech? I imagine he would, for I know that it shook my nerves for an hour afterwards, even though I had by that time recovered sufficient courage to experiment on them in order to see if the same result would again follow. I had about 500 ewes and lambs under my care. The day was warm, though the wind was blowing strongly, and when noon approached the flock travelled but slowly towards the place where I wished them to make their mid-day camp. To urge them on I took a large bandana handkerchief and flicked the nearest to me with it as I walked behind. As I did so the wind blew it strongly, and it suddenly occurred to me to make a sort of a flag of it in order to see if it would frighten them. I took hold of two corners and held it over my head, so that it might blow out to its full extent. Now, whether it was due to the glaring colour, or the strange attitude, or to the snapping of the outer edge of the handkerchief in the wind–and I think it was the last–I cannot say, but the hindmost ewes suddenly stopped, turned round, eyed me wildly, and then half-a-dozen made a desperate charge, struck me on the legs, threw me over, and fled precipitately as I fell. It was a reversal of experience too unexpected! I lay awhile and looked at things, expecting to see the sun blue at the least, and then I gathered myself together slowly. In all seriousness I was never so taken aback in all my life, and I was almost prepared for a ewe’s biting me. I remembered the Australian story of the rich squatter catching a man killing one of his sheep. “What are you doing that for?” he inquired as a preliminary to requesting his company home until the police could be sent for. The questioned one looked up and answered coolly, though not, I imagine, without a twinkle in his eye, “Kill it! Why am I killing it? Look here, my friend, I’ll kill any man’s sheep as bites me.” For my part, I don’t think biting would have alarmed me more. After that I made experiments on the ewes, and always found that the flying bandana simply frightened them into utter desperation when nothing else would. It was a long time before they got used to it. I should like to know if any other sheep-herders ever had the same experience at home or abroad.