Sunday, February 20, 2011

Woman Who Runs (After) Coyotes

No pictures, but I'll try to paint it for you. It took years to convince me to get a LGD or a LPD (livestock protection dog as we are supposed to call them now). You couldn't convince me NOT to have one now.

While I was feeding tonight, around 7:00, a group of coyotes came up and took to yipping and howling right behind our driving arena. You know the arena - looks like a small paddock (probably a better name for it now) right past the tiny catch lot behind the barn. Close. Hank had just started eating, but immediately raced back there yelling at the top of his lungs.

For a split second I was dumbfounded - we've never heard them that close - but then I ran out yelling too. As I sprinted through the arena (I can still get it if I have to :-D) in the pitch black, I gave a brief thought to the intelligence of running towards a pack of coyotes. A very brief thought. I know something would have to kill Hank before he'd let anything happen to me. It's humbling.

Of course, long before I got there they heard Hank coming and took off. I opened the back gate anyway and told him to go get 'em. Not that he needs any reminders, but any time I think I have an opportunity to reinforce good behavior, I do. When he was young, yeah maybe. Now? He's got it. With confidence.

If that wasn't a big enough rush, I turned around to see all the sheep had followed me into the dark arena, towards yelling Hank and yipping coyotes. This is unusual. Normal procedure is to run for the barn. Which I think is where they are safest so I clapped my hands and yelled for them to go back. Talk about humbling. My sheep knew there was big danger and where did they want to be? With me.

It was not always this way. For a long time I think we were mostly a source of bewilderment for them. Sheep are not dumb and they knew we were, as new shepherds, suspect. I remember losing a wether to bladder stones our first year and the looks on their faces as I stood there next to him. They knew I'd let them down. That I'd treated him for bloat and didn't have a clue. Those are awful lessons to learn and they reinforced it well. I couldn't return their stares.

Tonight they ran away from their safe barn, out into the scary black night, towards danger, following their shepherd. It feels so cool to finally feel that I can say that. And even though I (and probably they too) know I'll continue to make mistakes, I feel honored they feel that way about me.

As I leave the barn each night I say "Everyone take care of each other." And when I think about Hank and Ewenice and Renny and Buddy and Ewen and Miss Emily and all her babies and grandbabies and even the darn near useless barn cats and stupid chickens, I think we're all doing a pretty good job.

I'll end by telling you that as soon as Hank rushed out to save everyone's life, Graham ran over and ate all his dog food. Truthfully, he probably didn't even make the big arena run because he was eating Hank's food. You gotta love him ;-).

Everyone take care of each other.

27 comments:

junelle said...

Oh~ how frightening! Our shepherd that stays with the sheep out on the fields carries a gun. It is haunting to hear them howling~
LOL the dog food!!!

Lori Skoog said...

Oh Sara...that is some story! You have made very clear, how important Hank is. What a good boy. I guess your sheep love their Mama too.

Nancy K. said...

I love your 'sign off'.

I also love Hank! I remember when you first got him. What a treasure he has turned out to be.

Advice for the shepherdess:
if your sheep are going to insist on running to you when danger threatens, perhaps YOU should stay in the barn...

I'm just sayin...

;-)

Take care of each other!

Verde Farm said...

What a great boy Hank is--he is like our Shep. I don’t know how we would ever sleep without him. My husband swears he is going to start sleeping in the barn with our animals for fear of something happening to them but Shep takes that fear away--at least 80%. We love him so much :)

Kritter Keeper at Farm Tails said...

well, that is what i would have done and but it wasn't smart. you better take a weapon next time. i am so glad none of your sheep 'babies' have been harmed. and your pyr is awesome. i would have three or four if i were allowed. someone told me that if you play the radio at night, it keeps the coyotes away. guess it doesn't have to be loud, just stick one out near the arena...worth a try. then they will get out of the habit of coming around...animals are all smart, no matter the species.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Someone said it was Coyote mating season..we hear them howling here too..but farther away..about a half a mile. They are mean. Hank will keep you all safe..he is a great guard dog:)

KC said...

Sara, that sounds so scary. I love your blog because I am a "city girl" that thinks I would like to be a "country girl". It gives me an insight to what life would be like. I am confused as to why one dog is a threat to a pack of coyotes? To me it sounds like sending dear Hank out on a suicide mission. I know you love all of your kids and would not let any of them be in danger so I'm looking for an education. Thanks.

tonya said...

The guards ARE priceless, aren't they? I have noticed that when ours is in "lock down mode" barking, the sheep take notice, and want to be close to him.


Loved your story.. bad guys, hero, oh wait, heroes, and of course, the one that stayed behind to eat the dog food.

Be careful out there.

and some trivia for you -indian name for "woman who runs coyotes" = crazysheeplady

Anonymous said...

How neat that the sheep wanted to be with you! Graham eating Hank's food is too funny! Take care of each other!

Jean-MN

thecrazysheeplady said...

That's a good question - how one dog can protect against several coyotes. I know in more remote areas people run several LGDs because coyotes and packs of domestic dogs will "divide and conquer". We really aren't remote and don't have a huge flock and they come up to the "safe" paddocks and barn at night so we were told one dog would be enough. I'll ask and get back with you.

About 20 minutes later, the coyotes showed up in or near the front horse field. Hank ran out there and again they split. I was concerned about this "coyote carnival" behavior and called one of my gurus and she said when the pups are getting ready to be born, the females kick the males out of the dens and they band up and run around creating havoc.

She recommended changing something at the barn to keep them guessing. In our case we don't leave lights on, so last night I did. Tonight I'll leave the light off, but turn a radio on. Something different each night.

And yes, we do have a gun up there and I wouldn't hesitate to use it...as long as there was no chance I'd miss and hit Hank.

Kara said...

Thanks for sharing that story. That would be something I have been known to do...run after coyotes but usually in my PJ's in the middle of the night. I don't have a LGD but my two German Shorthaired Pointers like to think they are. One of these days I should look into getting a LGD but I think my inside dogs would spend all night barking at the outside one.

Kara said...

Oh I just read your comment, we must have been typing at the same time. We do keep the radio on in the barn 24/7 and the coyotes have stayed further out ever since. It is mostly talk radio on that station in the night and music during the day.

Robin said...

Excellent story! Drama, heroes, comedy and a happy ending. Hank is THE BEST. I hope we never have an incident that necessitates having a LGD here, but IF it happens I'll be looking for a Hank. BTW.....when you were running after Hank and yelling, we you yelling anything that could be confused with "cookies"? Just a thought....... :-)
Robin

Dreaming said...

What a sweet story and a testament to your love and care. Hooray for Hank - go gett'em, boy! I can almost see the faces of the sheep as they clustered in the paddock area following you. What sweet animals!
Oh, except for Graham! Poor Hank is out working hard and look at the thanks he gets!

Jody said...

Please be careful about letting Hank go out after those coyotes. A sheep farmer just outside of my town had 2 LGDs. The coyotes lured the one dog away and attacked it in a group. Then they knew to go in and kill the other dog. They also got a few sheep too!

Fantastyk Voyager said...

That is very cool, Shepherdess!!

My dog always chases after coyotes. I often wonder if she catches them and what happens then.

Alice said...

Wow! That scene makes me nervous just reading about it. I hope those other suggestions help to protect Hank as well as the sheep.
Your hard work and devotion to your sheep have earned you the title of "Shepherdess", and they do you by your voice. How rewarding ;-)

Mom L said...

I would have been hiding in a closet inside the house - I think! A shepherdess has to wear so many hats...your story was very vivid. I could picture Hank racing after the prowlers, with you not far behind and your beautiful sheep running to stay close to you. Except for smart Graham! In fact, um, is it possible that Graham sent a message to the coyotes to create a distraction so he could have the dog food to himself?

Nancy in Iowa

thecrazysheeplady said...

I would not put that past him! ;-)

Heather said...

Good boy Hank! My sheep dog loves to chase coyotes, too, but she's a herding dog - a huntaway. She's so fast she passes them and then since the chase is over, she quits and comes home. Doh.
I've chased a coyote through my small pasture in my nightgown, wearing rubber boots and carrying a shotgun - that I couldn't shoot straight because I was breathing too hard!

flowerweaver said...

What a good boy Hank has turned out to be! That must have been frightening, but it all turned out well. When we see or hear a hawk we change up the chicken routines, too. Got to love that Graham, the ultimate opportunist!

melanie said...

Go Graham!

cyndy said...

Life (and death) on the farm is never ..ever...dull.

Glad everyone is safe...good boy Hank, extra cookies for you today!

DayPhoto said...

I am NOT a fan of coyotes...never. They are dangerous and can attack humans if they want. I'm glad you are safe, the sheep are safe and Hank is safe. Not greater treat do coyotes like than to lure a dog out into an opening and then ....

Linda
http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com

Ken and Mary of Fancy Fibers Farm said...

Good for Hank! We hope he got a refill on his food bowl! In our part of Texas, we have quite a load of coyotes and stray dogs, but fortunately for our herds we have good quality fencing and four dedicated LGD's. We couldn't do without them. There isn't much more comforting than to see big old 100+ pound, muscular, dedicated white dogs announcing to those yipping coyotes to not bother coming around their territory! We read your blog and hope that you'll seriously consider getting Hank a helper.

Ed said...

Are you sure the sheep were not backing Hanks play or protecting you. I would'nt want to cheese off a mob of overprotective sheep. Grahm cracks me up, always the opprotunist..:-)

va_grown said...

Whew! The adventure! It amazing me how we should know better, but being responsible for animals or kids we tend to throw caution to the wind and race INTO the danger! :)

We know there's coyotes around here, but have never had a problem. Yet. I miss our guard donkey though. We do have stray dogs (a lot!) and she certainly proved her mettle with them!

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