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Sheep And Sheep-Herding
by [?]

In another book I spoke of lambs when they were very young taking my horse for their mother. This was in California; but in Texas I have often seen them run after a bullock or steer. One day on the prairie a lamb had been born during camping-time, and when it was about two hours old a small band of cattle came down to drink at the spring. Among these was a very big steer, with horns nearly a yard long, who came close to the mother, just then engaged in cleaning her offspring. She ran off, bleating for her lamb to follow. The little chap, however, came to the conclusion that the steer was calling it, and went tottering up to the huge animal, that towered above him like the side of a canyon, apparently much to the latter’s embarrassment. The steer eyed it carefully, and lifted his legs out of the way as the lamb ran against them, even backing a little, as if as surprised as I had been when the ewes assaulted me. Then all of a sudden he shook his head as if laughing, put one horn under the lamb, threw it about six feet over his back, and calmly walked on. I took it for granted that the unwary lamb was dead, but on going up I found it only stunned, and, being as yet all gristle, it soon recovered sufficiently to acknowledge its real mother, who had witnessed its sudden elevation, stamping with fear and anxiety.

Sheep-herding is supposed, by those who have never followed it, to be an easy, idle, lazy way of procuring a livelihood; but no man who knows as much of their ways as I do will think that. It is true that there are times when there is little or nothing to be done–when a man can sit under a tree quietly and think of all the world save his own particular charge; but for the most part, if he have a conscience, he will feel a burden of responsibility upon him which of itself, independently of the work he may have to do, will earn him his little monthly wage of twenty dollars and the rough ranch food of “hog and hominy.” For there is no ceasing of labour for the Texas herder of the plains; Sunday and week-day alike the dawning sun should see him with his flock, and even at night he is still with them as they are “bedded out” in the open. Even if he can “corral” them in a rough sort of yard, some slinking coyote may come by and scare them into breaking bounds; and when they are not corralled the bright moon may entice them to feed quietly against the wind, until at last the herder wakes to find his charge has vanished and must be anxiously sought for. In Australia, as I have said, the sheep are left to their own devices for the greater part of the year, unless there should be unusual scarcity of water; but even there, to have charge of so many thousand animals, and so many miles of fencing, makes it no enviable task, while the labour, when it does come, is hard and unremitting. In New South Wales I have often been eighteen and twenty hours in the saddle, and have reached home at last so wearied out that I could scarcely dismount. One day I used up three horses and covered over ninety miles, more than fifty of it at a hard canter or gallop–and if that be not work I should like to know what is. This, too, goes on day after day during shearing, just when the days are growing hot and hotter still, the spare herbage browning, and the water becoming scanty and scantier. And for a recompense? There is none in working with sheep. They are quiet, peaceable, stupid, illogical, incapable of exciting affection, very capable of rousing wrath; far different from the terrible excitement of a bellowing herd of long-horned cattle as they break away in a stampede, among whom is danger and sudden death and the glory of motion and conquest; or with horses thundering over the plain in hundreds, like a riderless squadron shaking the ground with waving manes, long flowing tails, and flashing eyeballs, whom one can love and delight in, and shout to with a strange, vivid joy that sends the blood tingling to the heart and brain. Were I to go back to such a life I would choose the danger, and be discontented to maunder on behind the slow and harmless wool-bearers, cursing a little every now and again at their foolishness, and then plodding on once more, bunched up in an inert mass on a slow-going horse, who wearily stretches his neck almost to the ground as he dreams, perhaps, of the long, exhilarating gallops after his own kind that we once had together, being conscious, I daresay, of the contemptuous pity I feel for the slow foredoomed muttons that crawl before us on the long and weary plain.

It is highly probable that the introduction of fences will have its effect in other ways than in increasing the number of lambs born and reared. Sheep-herding will almost disappear when the wild beasts of Texas are extinct, as they soon will be, for a fenced country is very unfit for such animals. But then the natural glory of the wide open prairie will be gone, and civilisation will gradually destroy all that was so delightful, even when my sheep, by worrying me, taught me what I have here set down.