Lead the Flock or Follow the Chaos
I was barely two days into farm life, but as I would soon find out, my first farm challenge was waiting for me right around the corner.
I was already going to be left to (wo)man the farm by myself the next day. That meant leading the sheep out to pasture all on on my own.
The day before, I had shadowed Chief while he had taken the sheep out to pasture for their daily walk.
Initially, the sheep had been kept within a large, fenced-in area where they could happily munch on fresh grass. But over time, it had proven to be quite cumbersome to keep moving the fence around.
So, the guys had learned how to simply walk the sheep out to pasture old school shepherd styles. No fencing needed. Just one’s own body language to guide the sheep in the right direction.
But although Chief had made it look easy, learning to move a herd of sheep all around the farm’s 65-acre property didn’t just come at the snap of a finger, as I was soon to learn.
The afternoon was pleasantly sunny and warm for a mid-November day. So much so that I was out raking the pigs’ old burrowing spot in a t-shirt.
Antonio interrupted my task to see if I wanted to take the sheep out for a practice run.
Perfect. I’d try it out by myself now while Antonio was still around, just in case the sheep tried any funny business.
“I’ll be right here,” Antonio said.
He was standing right next to the sheep barn, where him and another farm member, Misha, were working on taking apart a wooden structure.
Sensing my hesitation, Antonio reminded me to use my body language to guide the herd.
“Use your hips, like you’re dancing,” he said.
“Dancing?” I asked.
“Yeah, like this” Antonio instructed, moving his hips from side to side.
Misha joined in the demonstration, sticking his hands out at his sides and swaying his body around.
I laughed at the sight of the guys doing their sheep dance. Reassured by the tutorial, I marched over to the barn and took a deep breath.
“Okay. Here goes nothing.”
When You Can’t Phone A Friend
Upon opening the barn gate, I felt like I had just been thrown into an episode of Farm Survivor. And things were immediately not looking good.
As soon as the sheep exited the barn, they started to walk in the opposite direction of where I was trying to direct them. I yelled in protest and, in response, the gang split up.
To my horror, some sheep started running one way while others peered over the edge of a small hill, contemplating whether they should jump off it.
Olive and Clyde, the sheep dogs, were supposed to help guide the herd, but were completely confused and just sat there staring at me blankly. Jay, the donkey, was casually walking away from the whole situation.
“Tonyyy!!” I yelled.
Either he couldn’t hear me or he wanted me to figure it out myself. Regardless, I had to move fast. It was time to get dancing.
I entered the fray and started swaying from side to side, throwing in some hand gestures for good measure.
But the sheep didn’t seem very impressed. In fact, they were completely ignoring me and now running full speed down the hill.
“Oh, no,” I groaned.
I sprang into action and started running after them, yelling out both pleas and threats in desperation.
Some of them stopped in hesitation, but as soon as I approached them, they dashed off again.
I was completely failing at my task. Moreover, I didn’t know how on earth I was going to pull this off with no one around at the farm the next day.
But I had no choice then, and I definitely had no choice now.
I couldn’t call anyone for help. I’d have to figure out the answers myself if I wanted to make it through this round of Farm Survivor.
Lead Yourself First, The Others Will Follow
The sheep were still split up and glancing around in confusion. I knew they were looking for some guidance, and that I wasn’t being the leader they needed at this moment.
I mustered every ounce of self-confidence I had in me, and determined that I was going to succeed in taking the goddamn sheep out to pasture — in an orderly manner.
I remembered Chief telling me that the sheep will always follow the majority of the herd. So, I just had to get the largest group of sheep going in the right direction and hopefully the rest would follow suit.
Thankfully, the strategy worked. Little by little, I got the fragmented herd uniting into one cohesive group. Together, we gradually made our way across the field and up to the far hill.
Once there, I breathed a sigh of relief, watching the sheep grazing peacefully. Clyde and Olive lay quietly on the grass nearby, while Jay enjoyed a mouthful of fresh grass.
I realized that to get everyone calm and following me out to pasture, I had to first display my own calmness and reassurance to the flock.
When I had been in panic mode, yelling at everyone, they had responded in kind — by running around in chaos.
Two hours later, I had guided the sheep back home to the barn. I went to look for Antonio to tell him all about my day’s adventures.
One thing I had come to know about farm life is that you have to learn to be self-reliant. Because when you’re in the thick of things, you don’t always have the luxury of time to pause the ensuing bedlam and phone a friend.
While it hadn’t all been pretty, I was proud of myself for not giving up and turning a tough situation into a great learning experience. Farm Survivor challenge met!
>> Read the next post in the #farmlifebestlife series: Olive and Clyde: Great Pyrenees Guardians