My father and I cared for a flock of sheep.
No, that’s not quite right: we maintained the flock. Do not think of us as shepherds. The term “shepherd” implies a modicum of relationship with sheep. We did not so much relate to our sheep as coexist with them.
About twice a year the female sheep required a large pill to control their intestinal worms. The males had worms, too, but they were so mean we let them keep their worms. I wish it were that we could have stood in the pasture and had the sheep line up and come by, open a mouth, receive the pill, and move along with a thankful “baa.” But animals don’t much like pills, and in fact will spit them out if given a choice: “Baa, baa—you know where to put your pill, smelly Skinface. Thanks, but no thanks.”
Facing such a rebellious attitude, we “shepherds” had to administer the pills with a rod-like device that forcefully propelled the tablet down the throat.
The pill-dispensing day rolled around, a warm summer afternoon. We needed to assemble the flock in the barn so we could easily move from sheep to sheep with the pill rod. This is when the trouble started.
Sheep have pitiful self esteem, perhaps the lowest in the animal kingdom? They never use mirrors—they just look to see what everybody else is doing–why do you suppose they’re called sheep? One good sheep dog can easily control a large flock, because all the dog has to do is get a few sheep moving in the desired direction. The rest follow.
My dad and I herded the flock toward the barn door, and with a lot of “baaing,” the group headed in, a rushing river of wool. The problem was that the first sheeps (No one really believes that “sheep” is both singular and plural, do they? Get real!) that entered the barn turned left (Sheep seem prone to counter clockwise.) and circled back and out the door, of course leading all the other knuckle heads behind them. Soon the whole crowd was back in the yard, nervously awaiting our next move.
It was hard, but we did get them to head back in the second time—with the same result. Now the sheep were in a frothing frenzy, non-stop “baaing”—a bleating cacophony.
My father was a quiet man who didn’t talk that much and usually let life come to him. But he did have a slumbering temper, and after our third failed attempt, he began to mumble, saying words that all seemed to start with “B.” It took a good fifteen minutes to get the flock headed into the barn on the fourth try, and this time my Dad grabbed a stray wood fence post and ran to the barn door. When the “leader of the flock” started her exit-the-door move, I heard a loud “thwack” and some discouraging words as my dad brought lumber to sheep skull. He kept swinging his bat until the thick-headed masses reversed direction.
I ran to help Dad shut the door. The sheep looked no worse for wear: you need a brain to have a concussion. We dispensed the worm control, marking the nose of each sheep after a successful pill swallow. Emotions of all cooled, and in the end only the worms suffered.
I observe: Following enthusiastic peers can get you a terrible headache.
Next: Loving the Orphan Lambs