Iona and Inga, our twin Shetland sheep are beginning to settle in nicely on the homestead. They are yearlings that come from good stock. They are already registered with the North American Shetland Sheepbreeders Association, of which I have recently become a member. It is interesting to note, that Vermont was the first state to import Shetland sheep to America and they really thrive in this climate – being similar to Northern Europe where their roots are. Mine too, funny that.
When we decided to add sheep to our list of animals it was for wool and also milk (meat too, since with milk comes meat). After getting to know Iona and Inga a bit better, I am beginning to doubt that I will ever milk these girls. They grew up in a small flock, and although they were well cared for, they weren’t “tamed” before they came to us.
Since their arrival, I have been working with them a few times a week. Bribing them with bits of grain, I make them eat from my hand. If Roberto and I are working together, one will feed and the other will scratch their necks or pet their heads. I also shake the grain can and walk back and forth in their pen, crying “sheep! sheep! sheep! sheeeep!” so they learn to follow me – in case they ever escape pen or pasture. They are getting the hang of it, but quickly become disinterested (in much less time than it would take me to lure them back after an escape). So still more practice with that is necessary.
(Hand-Feeding Iona and Inga)
The first few days that they were here, we kept them in the barn, and they seemed to warm up to us quickly, letting us pet them and coming to the door when they heard our footsteps or voices. So we thought it would be easy. But once they went into their large outdoor “winter pen” (they will be grazing pasture for the summer and part of the fall in their “summer home”), they seem more “wild” and wary of us.
I think I am starting to see why breeders often bottle feed their ruminants, even if they are drinking mother’s milk. Astrid and Claire, our goats follow us around like dogs – perfect illustration of that point. They are stubborn as hell, but are easily bribed with grain. I never have to worry about them wandering off while we are in the vicinity because they want to be near us.
(Jenn w/ newborn lamb on Navajo Reservation – 1998)
Iona and Inga by contrast definitely still see us only as predators and I am not sure if that is something I can change entirely – sheep and goats are very different from each other. But I am working on it. When I lived on the Navajo Reservation I actually herded sheep and there was at least 100 head in that flock – it was mixed sheep and goats and they pretty much knew what to do, because they were used to the routine. It was easy. But they were also born into that routine as well. So they grew up from day 1 following the rest of the flock. So I am not sure how “tame” Iona and Inga will become. However I have hopes that their progeny, if bottle fed might be different.
Do any of you out there who have sheep have other tried and true ideas on how to tame them, or get them more used to their handlers?