Reading the crowd

  • Posted on: 18 December 2021
  • By: MrWurster

Any change in behavior by the animals on our farm usually mean something. Sometimes it takes me awhile to work it out.

Awhile ago when we trialled having pigs, we came close to losing them when they broke out of the area we had made for them. I drove all over the place looking but couldn't find them. Then I noticed our sheep huddled together, and the alpaca we had standing at the front of the group, glaring down into a gully. Sure enough, the pigs were busy in the gully. The sheep's defensive behaviour was a signal, if properly read, telling us clues as to what was going on.

So yesterday we came back from the local market down the road to our house. In the paddock the sheep were bunched up tightly. I walked out to see what was the cause.

The other thing to mention, about sheep behavior, is that when one gets alarmed, they all take notice. If one runs, they all run. Stragglers follow on, but as best they can they group into a bunch as they run.

So last night, they were alarmed. The thing that was alarming then was another sheep, which had somehow worked its way into a pre-cut wire treeguard. I make them in sets of about 20, out of ~2metre high deer-proof fencing. This sheep had got inside one, got wedged, took fright and run off. The other sheep, spooked, also took off, and then the tangled sheep followed them. Alarmed by the approach of this strange beast, the sheep again ran off…and the trouble-maker followed.

Not sure how long this had been going on.

I had a couple of goes at running her down, but it was futile. Wrapped in wire she could outsprint me, and once she suspected I was singling her out she just took off.

I opened up a fresh paddock next to the yards, and went back to the house, confident in half an hour they would be in the paddock and easy to round up, and we came back with a vehicle and dogs to finish the job.

I couldn't see the trapped sheep, so we drive around looking for her. I figured the mesh had got hooked and pulled her down. Obviously we couldn't leave her in that situation, but we couldn't see her. One more loop and my wife spotted the discarded tree guard. Now warped and bent in half, but I was sure it was the weapon. Case closed.

The next day when I was feeding them I noticed one lamb with a bald ring around her neck. Yep, that's the one.

So, for the last few days one single goose has been isolating itself from the noisy goose community. When the others are running towards me, elbowing each other out of the way to be first for the feed, this one stands well back and makes no attempt to join in. She's mobile, and alert…that is, she moves away from me with ease if I approach her.

What does it mean?

Postscript: It means she has a terminal illness and will die in the next few days.