Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sue Weaver: Catching Sally

On Saturday, September 17, we were driving down a little town street that separates Thayer, Missouri, from Mammoth Spring, Arkansas, when a white apparition stepped out of the brush toward the road. Both sides are very heavily wooded by an 80-acre-or-so plot bounded on three sides by residential areas and the fourth by Interstate 63. It was . . . a sheep. A Katahdin hair sheep all alone in the woods. What in the world? John slammed on the brakes while I reached for the lead rope we keep in the van.

As I got out of the van, she paused, took a long, hard look, then melted back into the woods. I followed, and she took off like a shot across the road.

Sally looks like this white Katahdin ewe.

Thus began the odyssey that has taken us to Thayer nearly every evening for the past 2 weeks. Though the sheep is fat and in obvious good health, she could be killed by dogs or coyotes, and it will be deer season soon. Someone will shoot her just for the heck of it. We need to get her out of the woods.

Where did she come from? How long has she been on her own? No one knows. No one reported a missing sheep to either town’s police department, and no one in the immediate area raises sheep. Since she is a Katahdin (a meat breed that sheds its wool), our guess is that someone bought her at the monthly Koshkonong, Missouri, sheep and goat sale just north of Thayer, then stopped at a nearby gas station and convenience store where she somehow bailed out of their conveyance.

We searched for her the first week in vain. The woods on both sides of the road are thick with underbrush dense enough to hide a sheep easily. Rattling feed buckets did no good. She wasn’t coming out.

The Saturday after we first spotted the ewe, whom we now called Sally, we spied her standing atop a steep hill on the electrical highline access road cut through the southern (Mammoth Spring) section of the woods. She waited until I was 20 feet away, then disappeared into the woods. That’s when we started leaving feed in a pan, which she — or maybe deer — emptied overnight.

We looked around last Saturday morning and devised a plan. We’d find out who owns the wooded land where we’ve been feeding her and who is in charge of the access road, then see if we can get permission to camp there. John would ask for 2 vacation days off work through the middle of the week while things are fairly quiet on the nearby roads. We’d take our two-horse trailer to the top of the rise with two or three sheep in it, a mesh gate to go across the back of the trailer, and part of our round pen to make a large catch pen with the gate at the far end from the trailer. We’d set up on a Tuesday evening and stay through Thursday, keeping our sheep in the trailer — hopefully baahing a lot to attract Sally’s attention. We’d also take the van with a mattress set up in back so we could sleep. The ewe would get used to our presence, become curious about our sheep, come into the round pen to kibitz with them, and one of us could go wide around and shut the gate.

Later that day we were scooting along the interstate, abreast of the part of the woods where we first saw her, close to a mile from where we’re leaving feed. There is a very steep, grassy bluff along the interstate, flat on the top for a short distance, then the dense woods. We looked up, and Sally was standing on the edge of the bluff, getting ready to start down toward the very busy interstate — what are the chances! I grabbed the bucket of grain, and John shot over to the side of the road.

Picture this: a 64-year-old, overweight woman in cutoffs, T-shirt, and running shoes, waving a bucket, crab-crawling up an almost vertical bluff, yelling, “Go back! Go back!”

This fortunately frightened the sheep, and she leaped back from the edge of the bluff. As I got closer she slipped into the woods about 3 feet behind some brush and stayed put, so I hoped perhaps she’d let me get closer. But no, as I gasped my way over the top, she turned and crashed into the woods.

Now she’s in the northern section of the woods again, where there’s no place to set up a trap. Not knowing what else to do, we drove around the surrounding residential area and gave people our phone number, asking them to call if they saw a sheep.

So we’ve had three close encounters on three successive Saturdays. If she goes back to the southern section, we might be able to trap her. Otherwise, I just don’t know. Please think the good thought for Sally the sheep. I’ll let you know if things turn out.

Sue Weaver sold her first freelance article in 1969. Since then her work has appeared in major horse periodicals, including the Western Horseman, Horse Illustrated, Chronicle of the Horse, Flying Changes, Horseman’s Market, Arabian Horse Times, the Appaloosa News, the Quarter Horse Journal, Horse’N Around, and the Brayer. She has written, among other books, Storey’s Guide to Raising Miniature Livestock, The Donkey Companion, and The Backyard Goat. Sue is based in the southern Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.


Diana said...

Wow! I sure hope you catch her.Good luck!

Sue Weaver said...

Thanks, Diana. We think she crossed the highway, probably during the night, and is now in a really huge wooded area east of the highway. The good thing is that there should be plenty for her to eat and it borders the state fish hatchery, so she'll have water. The bad thing is that deer hunting season is about to begin and we, along with the nice Thayer policeman who has been helping us, are afraid someone will kill her just for fun. The police will call us if she's spotted. I'm staying optimistic. Sheep are flocking animals and she must be very lonely and often frightened by herself out in the big woods.