A week ago, Don and Sue Mellen of Autumn Mountain Farm delivered our two gelding guard llamas, Guinness and Kuzco. We unloaded them to the paddock and observed as they investigated their new home, then invited Don and Sue up to the house for lunch. They were very pleased with the lamb sausage from Land & Lamb. After lunch we returned to the llamas for some practice with the halter. Then it was time for our guests to head back to their herd of over 80 llamas.
Our llamas did seem fairly comfortable right off: exploring the paddock, taking dust baths, lying down, and generally making themselves at home. But they were also humming quite a bit, which we took for uncertainty mixed with a bit of homesickness. Over the next couple of days we adjusted to the new routine of feeding them their grain in the morning (at two years old they’re still growing), freshening their hay supply, and letting them out on pasture.
Then, on Tuesday, our Navajo-Churro sheep arrived. We woke up early and met Marian at 7:15 for our third sheep-wrangling lesson. (We have been helping her with shearing and vaccinations to get a little handling experience before getting our own sheep). This time, the whole flock was locked in her barn, and our mission was to find and capture the six sheep that we were taking without letting anyone escape. We grabbed Aretha (our flock matron) first, then her two lambs. Next came two more ewe lambs: Zinnia and one of Sombrero’s triplets from this year, who Rick has decided to name “Manta” (“blanket” in Spanish). Lastly, we managed to capture wily Anisette (one of Sombrero’s daughters from last year). Aretha’s ram lamb will stay with us for a couple of weeks until he’s weaned, then we’ll trade him in (so to speak) for a lovely fawn-colored ewe lamb, and this will be our starter flock.
We drove Marian’s pickup truck to our place and Rick backed it through the barnyard gate skillfully. Then we threw open the tailgate with gusto and waited expectantly to see sheep come bounding out. But there was no bounding, so Rick duck-walked into the covered cab to give the group some encouragement. Once the sheep had landed on the ground, they remained in a tight bunch while exploring their new digs. They quickly found some hay and grass and noticed the llamas but didn’t seem very interested in them (having been raised on a farm with a guard llama). The llamas however, were quite startled by the sheep. The initial reaction seemed to be “What the hell are those things?” followed by the realization that at least they didn’t seem to be predators (seeing as how they had spindly legs, lacked sharp teeth, and enjoyed eating hay).
Rick and I watched the interaction for a bit, then decided to leave the animals to make their own introductions. By the time we had returned from dropping off Marian’s truck and grabbing a quick breakfast, Kuzco’s curiosity had gotten the better of him and he was approaching, sniffing, and even chasing the sheep. Guinness, being the more reserved llama, was still unsure of the new arrangement and kept his distance while observing and smelling his new barn-mates.
We wanted the sheep and llamas to get used to hanging out in close proximity with each other, so we limited them to the paddock for their first day in order to force the acquaintance a bit. When we let them onto pasture the next day, we were very pleased to see that the whole group stuck together, with either Kuzco or Aretha leading everyone around. Kuzco also practiced his new-found herding skills, guiding the occasional errant lamb back towards the adult ewes. It has been amazing to see an untrained animal’s natural instincts for protection and leadership come out in such a strong way. And though it has taken Guinness a little longer to ease into the shepherding role, he is definitely adopting his new status as flock co-guardian. He and Kuzco even take turns lying down or acting as lookout. And once the sheep adjusted to being in a new space the flock noticeably relaxed and has been more spread out while grazing or taking an occasional nap.
So ready or not, we are farmers, and the first week has been a blast. Granted, we haven’t been presented with any complicated situations yet, and we have a miniscule number of animals compared to anyone who raises sheep for a living. But this is the start of yet another new adventure. Not only are the sheep and llamas fun and amusing, but we have met so many awesome people in the process of acquiring them. We are very lucky to live in such a supportive and close-knit community and only hope we can be good shepherds, good neighbors, and good stewards of this beautiful place.