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Things That Go Baa In The Night

2nd of October 2003

I have been keeping sheep or goats penned in the garden with electric fencing for more than ten years now and it has always worked well. From the wild flower management point of view it is perfect as it allows me to make odd shaped pens avoiding emerging bulbs, orchids and yellow meadow vetchling etc. The sheep dont really like to graze the same patch for more than a week, so they can be moved on without munching anything I dont want them to. On the downside I have caught a Muntjac in it a couple of times, and the big battery that runs it has to be lugged up and down the garden for charging.

Although it only gives a “tickle” if your hands are dry, animals normally touch it with wet noses and get more of a jolt and so are very respectful of it. Until a couple of weeks ago that is!

At five am on one of the hottest nights of the summer having finally got to sleep, I was awoken by baaing, from the wrong part of the garden! I was soon up and dressed. Three sheep were making their way to the pond while eight others were trying to decide if they were brave enough to jump over the knocked down fencing. Every morning I give the sheep a small bowl of their favourite cereal mix so that they always come to the bowl. Its much easier if the sheep chase you than the other way round! I shook my bowl and the three escapees came running. I grabbed the fence with my slightly sweaty hand to let them back in assuming that the battery had gone flat. Wow! Its a bit more than a tickle when your hands are damp. To my amazement one of the young ram lambs that was out just pushed back in while the other two waited nervously for me to switch off. They all had their breakfast while I put the fence back up. Then the ram lamb just pushed his way out again! I was horrified. All I could do was put up new fencing and move them all to my last patch of green grass. With all the dry weather and hot sun most of the grass was drying to a crisp, except one patch in the shade which is very wet in winter. After moving them I had a long hard look at the lambs. They were as big as their mothers and in very good condition, but with no grass growing because of the dry weather they would probably lose condition from now on. Time for troublesome lambs to go. I went back to bed at seven oclock. Later that morning I phoned the slaughterhouse and explained that I had a lamb that wasnt frightened of electric fencing any more. “Oh you get one like that every ten years or so” said the voice at the other end, “bring um tomorrow” So off they went, a month earlier than usual, so we are back to four sedate ewes and a dozy old ram, and a bit longer in bed in the morning. I must thank our son John who has been typing and e-mailing these notes for some years. He is off to Exeter university now, so pity the poor editors struggling with my poor handwriting for future articles. Wendy Bathurst

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