Whatever the First of May means elsewhere in the world, in our part of the Flint Hills it is the start of pasture season: it is when we put our livestock out to grass, shifting them away from a hand-fed diet to Bluestem pasture. This year it has come early. It was so dry last year that for many, the hay crop did not last out the month of April . . . so if you’re out of hay, out the cattle go.
To keep the milk flowing we are still hand-feeding our ewes and lambs with alfalfa and oats, and we will hold back our best Bluestem pasture until its grass is abundant. We check our pastures before we turn the sheep in – holes in fences, washouts under fences, tree limbs down on fences, coyote tracks, all manner of calamities – and during last year’s check, something extraordinary occurred about which I wrote at the time. Would it happen again this year?
It involves some 18 acres of grass which contains a difficult terrain feature, bushes, trees, and a dry watercourse which made it difficult to fence. But fence it we did, over the previous winter, and we wondered, is it coyote-proof? Can we really trust the fence and our dogs to keep the sheep safe?
So on the appointed day last year, the dogs – Angus and Flora – and I led the procession, and we walked around it, thickets, grass, and all. The sheep of course stopped at the first best grass, and as I got to the far side, I heard a noise that was something between a bark and a crow’s caw, which drew me to an area where the dogs were chasing a small reddish-brown creature back and forth. What is that? It was the creature that was making that odd noise: a fawn, white spots on its back, and terrified.
I called off Angus and Flora – both Great Pyrenees – and as they stood back the fawn stopped still.
What to do?
I stepped to it and picked it up. It must have weighed 25 pounds and it was very lean and sinewy, compared to the lambs I had been picking up, and it struggled a bit.
So again: what to do? There was no sign of its mother. I walked over to the nearest fence and deposited it on the other side. It lingered a moment, looking back into the place it had no doubt been born, but then, as though called from a thicket outside the fence, it trotted away into the bush and the rest of its life. On reflection it was clear to me that its mother had chosen our pasture because it was safe from coyotes but was unable to get her offspring out because it could not get over a fence as she could, and there was no way under it or through it. A comforting thought, for a sheep herd, maybe even a testimonial.
With all that firmly in my mind, this year the dogs and I set out again, without the sheep, to check the pastures again, with 7 month old Tibbie energetically in the lead. And what did we turn up? Nothing out of the way; no holes, no gaps, no tracks, no coyotes, no deer. No new fawn. Safe as it had been, Mama deer was not willing to try that again.
© Jerry Wigglesworth, May, 2013.