Voices From the Farm: More Adventures With Sheba, the Wander Dog

1993 – Continued

A Long Hard Winter
A Long Hard Winter

Early April: We finally got a break in the weather, for a few days at least, and it was really welcome! I opened up the big north barn door to get some fresh air in the barn. This meant Sheba could come outside whenever she wanted to, but she usually stayed in the barn with the sheep. As long as the door was open and she could see what I was doing, she was content to stay in the barn.

Of course, the good weather did not last long, and an icy wind started  blowing out of the north, so I had to close the door again. One day I was doing chores in the lower level of the barn and needed to go to the house for something, so I let myself out through the “dutch doors” at the south end of the lower barn. The top door had a stout strap attached which kept the door closed, but it stretched so that I could push the door open far enough to reach out and open the bar lock on the lower door, then duck out under the top door, shut the bottom door and put the bar lock on again.

At the house, I got whatever it was I came for, and grabbed a quick cup of coffee before returning to the barn. I happened to glance out the window, and there was Sheba in the front yard!  I was dumfounded! I had left her in the upper barn, I went out through the lower barn doors, and the big north door was shut tight!

It slowly dawned on me that this dog was pretty darned smart!  She had watched me push open the top door so I could open the lock on the lower door, open it and duck out. So apparently, she had gone to the lower level doors, stood on her hind legs and pushed the top door open with her nose, then jumped out over the lower door, and came looking for me.

I went outside thinking I would take Sheba back to the barn with me, but she was nowhere around, and did not respond to my calls and whistles! I was stumped! I was sure she could not get back in the barn, but I went to the north door, opened it and looked down into the lower barn.

There was Sheba!  Just inside the dutch doors, but sitting in a strange position, panting and salivating, obviously in pain! It was plain she had tried to jump back into the barn the same way she got out of it, had gotten the upper door open enough to push her head through, and then jumped. She was strong enough to push her way through, even though the strap fastener was working against her, but the door had closed and caught one hind leg as she completed her jump.

I did not try to move her, as I thought she probably had a broken hip. I went back to the house and called the vet’s office. A new vet, Cheryl, had recently joined the practice and was proficient in treating small animals and horses.  She came out immediately, loaded Sheba into her truck, and took her up to the office for X-rays.

When they returned Sheba’s leg was in a huge bandage, which was also encased in a plastic cover. She did not have a broken hip, but the growth plates in her leg had been pulled apart when her leg was caught between the upper and lower barn doors. Cheryl thought she was young enough that her bones were still soft and could heal and grow, but if they began to calcify, growth would stop, and she would have one hind leg shorter than the other. I had a momentary vision of this beautiful dog doomed to running on three legs, and I sure didn’t want that outcome!

Keeping the leg bandaged was a challenge as a messy spring was in process, and Sheba needed to get outside to do her bodily functions. The plastic cover kept her bandage dry, up to a point. More often than not, it was lost and the bandage got dirty and wet, and had to be changed. We struggled through this as best we could, and Cheryl kept a close check and after a couple weeks she took Sheba back to the office for more X-rays.

They returned with good news! The growth plates were continuing to grow together, the leg growth was normal, and we could now do without the bandage! This was great news!

Lea, sheep, and Dex observing partially mowed trefoil pasture
Lea, sheep, and Dex observing partially mowed trefoil pasture

May: As the weather turned warmer, the grass was finally growing and the ewes and lambs would be going to pasture, just a couple weeks later than usual. Going to pasture in the spring was a joyful event for the flock, as well as for me! The long months of winter confinement were over, and it was time to rejoice in the new growth of grass and lambs!

Sheba was well healed from her injury, and was now a little over six months old. Cheryl advised me to have her spayed before she was seven months old. I had considered not having her spayed, or at least not until she was allowed to have one litter of pups, as she was such a fine specimen, and it would be so nice to have some of her pups to keep her bloodline going. However, Cheryl said there was much less chance of Sheba developing mammary tumors and other problems if she were spayed young. Some years earlier, I had lost my beloved Tatters to mammary tumors that became cancerous, so the decision was made to spay, and a date was set.

A few days later I loaded her into the back seat of my car, not without some trepidation, as she was not happy to be put in the car. I had a chain choke collar and leash on her, and when we got to the vet’s office, I waited in the car for Cheryl to come out and get Sheba, so she would not slip out from behind my seat when I opened my door to get out. That worked out okay. I was to pick her up the following morning.

I returned at 9:00 a.m. the next morning, anxious to have my dog back! I went in the office, Cheryl brought Sheba out on her leash. We had a little reunion, then went outside and Cheryl put Sheba in the back seat.

Why we did not think to make sure I got in the car before Sheba was put in, is beyond me! But we did not, and when I opened my door to get in, Sheba shot out from behind the driver’s seat and took off. I saw the end of the leash disappearing under the open car door, and reacted quickly by stepping on it. Unfortunately, it was no longer attached to Sheba, as she had slipped her head out of the choke chain collar, and it and the leash had just ridden on her back as she left the car. I was left with an empty leash and collar, while Sheba was already streaking across the highway through busy morning traffic.

I took off after her, my heart in my mouth. She had managed to get across the highway safely, but was now out of sight over the low hill just to the west of the road. I had enough sense left to hang onto the leash, so I could put it back on her if I caught up to her. I was now running through a field with last years’ corn stubble still on it… reminding me of the day we brought her home the first time!

When I reached the top of the hill, I could see her about 1/4 mile ahead of me. She was searching along a fence line for a place to get through it, wanting to head north. At least she seemed to know what direction home was. I was calling and whistling to her but to no effect. Finally, I dropped to my knees and kept calling her. At last she turned and looked at me for a long minute, then started slowly coming toward me. I kept on encouraging her and finally she broke into a trot and came to me.

I quickly put the collar over her head and keeping a firm grip on the leash, led her safely back across the highway and into the car. Cheryl came out and made sure Sheba did not escape again when I got into the car. We  made it safely home, and I vowed, “No more car trips for Sheba!” About ten days later we took her stitches out ourselves; we were not making another car trip to the vet!

Sean baling trefoil hay
Sean baling trefoil hay

The rest of the month passed quietly, getting the garden in, doing the usual chores, attending Sustainable Farming and Land Stewardship meetings, speaking to the Rotary Club, etc.

June: Sean got the Birdsfoot trefoil pasture hayed and in the barn in good shape, despite having 10.5″ of rain that month. Amazing! I was on the SFA Board of Directors and was also the official photographer, so I was kept busy attending Field Days, plus Board Meetings.

Of course, there was the daily business of moving the ewes and lambs to a new paddock, which entailed picking up the old back fences (two 150 foot lengths of portable electric netting), rolling them up and carrying them to where the new front paddock fence would be, unrolling them and setting them up, then letting the flock through the old front fence into the new paddock. At that point the old front fence became the new back fence. And the next day repeating the whole process. It  was time consuming, but rewarding; the pastures thrived and so did the sheep! And I certainly got my exercise!

July: Brought the ewes and lambs into the barn to treat them for parasites pre-weaning, then separated them into groups, and went through the usual weaning trauma for several days, before things settled down again, and peace and quiet returned. Another wet month, 7.7″ of rain! The pastures are really lush, and it is hard to keep up with them, but haying some of the trefoil pasture helps!

Lea (fourth from the left) at her 50th High School Reunion, 1993
Lea (fourth from the left) at her 50th High School Reunion, 1993

August: I attended the 50th Reunion of my High School Graduation Class… Wow! Those people certainly did age a lot! Later in the month, SFA members had a Field Day visiting “Seed Savers” at Decorah IA, a very interesting and rewarding day!  Then there were more SFA Board meetings, and Field Days to attend.

Mid-month, Joe Austin came and picked up 34 feeder lambs. By the end of the month I was beginning to haul  lambs to the Hesper IA Locker for my lamb customers. It had been another wet month, 7.5″ of rain. Unusual in August!

September: Finishing up harvesting the bounty from the garden: canning, freezing, and making pickles! SEMSPA’s Annual Potluck Picnic was held at Byron. Fun getting to visit with all my old friends again!

October: Treated the ewes and lambs for parasites, pre-breeding. Shipped 4 dried locker lamb pelts, via UPS, to Bucks County Furs for tanning, and continued hauling the locker lambs. Turned the rams in with the ewes towards the end of the month.

November: Finished up hauling the locker lambs. Near the end of the month the tanned lamb pelts returned from Bucks County. Beautiful! We are retaining this year’s ewe lambs to make up for the sale of last year’s retained ewe lambs as bred ewe lambs in January of this year.

December: Attended SEMSPA’s Annual Meeting at the Holiday Inn, Rochester MN. Always a good day!

Breeding stock sales: In late January, 48 bred ewe lambs we had originally retained from 1992 to add to our flock, were instead sold to Virgil Knobloch of Bloomfield IA. In addition 1 ram lamb was sold to a local breeder. 12 wether lambs were sold through the NFO. 34 feeder lambs bought by Joe Austinin in August. 8 locker lambs sold. A very good year!

2 thoughts on “Voices From the Farm: More Adventures With Sheba, the Wander Dog

  1. Holy Cow, or should I say Holy Sheep? Just reading this makes me so tired! What work goes into farming!! I know it was not funny at the moment, however, I could not help but chuckle at the Sheba adventures. What a smart dog. How brave of you- looks like you two were a good match. I also enjoyed the pictures. Seems winter that year was a lot like our winter this year. Only difference, is to us city folks, it was just inconvenient, but to the farmer, it can make a difference in livelihood! Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. A nice quiet Mother’s Day here!

      We had a late breakfast of bacon, sausage, real country eggs from a neighbor, hash browns, and buckwheat pancakes. The dogs got a treat from the left over buckwheat cakes, I told them it was “Hush Puppy” pay off for being good dogs!

      Pooh Bah has finally settled down and accepted that she has to stay in the little paddock of the North side of the yard. I was having to tie her at night, as she would find a way to get out, but I did not tie her the last two nights and she stayed in, thank goodness.

      I had to stop them from running to the “coyote bait” pile the neighbor to the west has built, before my dogs died from eating all the fat and bones in there. Tar Baby will not go by himself, but give him a running mate and off he will go. So, I hope that problem is solved! I was afraid they would develop pancreatitis, they were gaining so much weight!

      Good Comment! Yes, 1993 was quite a year! As a matter of fact, they all were!

      It seems there was never a dull moment! But that is how it is when you are dealing with a family, and a variety of animals, including the wildlife! This winter the rabbits have gone berserk and chewed off black raspberry plants, rose bushes, barberries, etc. Tar Baby is getting to old to chase them, I guess! About the only thing they don’t bother is daffodils, apparently they give off a scent the critters don’t like. I am going to have to get some chicken wire fence to put inside my regular garden fence to keep the baby rabbits out, or they will eat all my kale, spinach, carrots, etc., like they did last year!

      I didn’t get a story written last week, had some health problems and was feeling pretty rocky, but am getting back to near normal, so hope to get one done this coming week! Thanks for your comments!


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