In my last two posts, I told you of some of the life-lessons I learned from the sheep while working on a local farm as a young boy. Today I’ll share some others with you.
Although sheep are beautiful and docile animals, they are not very intelligent. It is one thing to be told how dumb sheep are; it is quite another to observe it day after day, year after year.
A remarkable example is the following instincts of sheep. Very often, and for no apparent reason, they just start following one of their number who has taken but a few steps in a certain direction. A line forms, and it does not matter if it is a lamb at the front or an elder. With the occasional exception of a very old ewe, when one goes, they all go. Sometimes the one in the lead realizes they are leading and stops, so the line breaks up and that’s the end of that.
Sheep can also easily become lost in familiar territory and can become frightened, even by the wind. But for the classic case of the mental limitations of these wonderful animals, I’ll first need to give a little background.
By the time I came to the farm, Mr. Pitman had given up on the apricot orchard in the back. It was a lot of work to keep it up, the kids were grown and gone, and the orchard was really too small to be profitable. So, nearly the entire back portion of the remaining farm had become an extension of the sheep’s domain. [There is a photo in the book.]
There was only one opening connecting the pasture to this additional grazing land, and that was a side gate at the top of the hill. The side gate was nearly always open, and during the course of a typical day the sheep would wander from one area to the other.
With some frequency, a nursing lamb would become separated from its mother so that one of them would be on one side of the pasture fence, and the other on the other side. Since nursing through the fence was impossible, they would begin to cry for each other, not knowing how to come together, though their distance from the side gate was usually less than a hundred yards.
The little lamb crying and not knowing its way we can understand, but the ewe, who had been there for many years and who had been in and out of that gate countless times… well, that’s a little harder to understand.
When working in the back acreage, I would often hear the unmistakable crying of a ewe separated from her nursing lamb, and soon learned that if I did not want to listen to it all afternoon, I’d need to help them get together. In fact, they might never figure it out, so when I could, I would go down and chase the one who was on the grazing area side up the road toward the pasture gate. The ewes, after getting onto the road, or up it a little ways, would know their way to the gate and would run full speed up the hill to it, bleating for joy the whole way.
More than once, I found both ewe and lamb lying down on opposite sides of the fence exhausted and hoarse from crying.
And to think that in the Bible we humans are repeatedly referred to by God as sheep!
I would like to think that I am smarter than that. But frankly the evidence is to the contrary.
This article was condensed from my new local history book, The Last of the Prune Pickers: A Pre-Silicon Valley Story. The book is available at www.2timothypublishing.com