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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Bellwether

The most frequently asked question we get from visitors to the farm is "Why does that sheep (Andy) wear a bell?"  

That's a very good question (they all are).  I originally put bells on Petunia and Graham.  I picked Petunia because I knew she liked bling.  I picked Graham because, well, I had a feeling the bell might be a bit irritating to most sheep and if I was going to irritate one, it might as well be Graham.  Bless his heart, I think he loved it.

The bells were primarily just for fun.  I loved hearing the tinkling bells on sheep at a friend's farm. Turned out, having Graham belled was helpful because you could always hear where he was and usually quickly figure out what he was up to.  It wasn't uncommon to hear him out grazing in the middle of the night.  

One night I heard two bells and was surprised to find the whole flock out.  Up until that point, I'd believed the majority of the flock (aka everyone except Graham ;-) stayed in for the night.  Without the bells, I might still think the kids were all safely tucked into bed each night.

Another reason I think the bells are helpful is the difference in sounds they make and what that might mean.  Tinkle tinkle tinkle - moving around grazing quietly.  RING RING RING - they are running. Running could mean just racing back to the barn, but it could also mean something was chasing them. We can hear them from the house...if it would cool down enough that we could open the windows :-o.

I was sitting out on the porch this morning surrounded by fog.  I could see the martin house, but not much further.  One lone sheep was grazing down by the creek, Blossom.  Normally one sheep out by itself would be a red flag, but not Baba.  She frequently marches to her own drum.

Do you see her?

I was surprised though that no other sheep were headed down the hill to join her.  Seemed plenty light enough.  And then I heard it, Andy's bell.  Where was he...  I had to listen for a few seconds and then pegged him out in the lower small paddock.  They were out there and I just couldn't see them

 From Wikipedia: A bellwether is one that leads or indicates trends.  
The term is derived from the Middle English bellewether and refers to the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a castrated ram (a wether) leading his flock of sheep. The movements of the flock could be noted by hearing the bell before the flock was in sight.

You'll have to listen carefully, but it's there.  More towards the end, but I love hearing the doves and other birds waking up while I wait.  It's Andy, wearing Graham's bell.

Do you see them?

Interestingly, I'm not the only one listening for Andy's bell.  The other night I was walking in the front field with Bullwinkle, Kate, Tilly, Hank and Comby.  It was pretty dark and we were about halfway up the far hill when a group of late grazers (trying to beat the heat) meandered down to the creek.  Bullwinkle heard Andy's bell and took off running.  

Bullwinkle loves Andy and I think Andy considers him a funny kid brother.  They play fight at the water trough almost nightly.  Bullwinkle jumps on the shade cover, which puts him right at Andy's level and they taunt each other and butt heads.  When he got down to Andy that night, he looked back at me as if to say "Andy's here!  Look, Andy's here!"  

I wouldn't be surprised if Hank listened for the bells as well.

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