Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Shrewd King 14.2: Driving sheep

John Wilder was getting a new appreciation for the Gospels. He remembered Jesus comparing humans to sheep many times in the various parables. In fact, one translation has Jesus mentioning sheep 41 times in the four Gospels and lambs six more times.

John’s new appreciation was that Jesus was not flattering humans. In his opinion, sheep had to be the dumbest animals on the planet.

John, his sons and Mo Pockets were driving one quarter of their new flock from Mrs Treadwell’s farm to their farm. It was a distance of ten miles, as the crow flies. Unfortunately, the sheep seemed intent on going in every direction except for a straight line. Like a new golfer, the harder they tried to drive the sheep straight, the more aggressively they hooked and shanked.

The Wilder men were struggling mightily.

Mrs Treadwell and Mo suppressed their smiles. It takes a while for a new flock to settle down. It takes even longer for new sheep herders to do the same.

Sheep are social animals. Various individuals audition for different positions in the flock. A few are leaders. Some are adventurous. Some are natural stragglers. But most, however, want to be in the middle of the flock.

John was a task oriented person. He waded in and started heaving lambs in the direction he wanted them to go. That threw the process into disarray and added another half hour to what promised to be a long day.

Mo did not offer any guidance other than holding his position at the flock’s seven o’clock position. He had given the Wilder men a pre-game pep-talk. Clearly, all of his advice had flown out the window as soon as they were confronted with forty bleating ewe lambs and seven cantankerous cull ewes.

Mo knew that biology was on his side. In an hour or so, John and his boys would get tired and settle down. The lambs and the older ewes would also be less frisky. It would turn the ten-hour evolution into a twelve-hour task, but Mo did not know a more efficient way to train his employers.

Mo played the flock the way a soccer midfielder plays the ball. There is an optimum distance for both endeavors and, surprisingly, it is almost the same distance.

When a teammate is dribbling the ball down the field, the midfielder tracks along about forty feet distant from the teammate in possession of the ball. Forty feet is far enough away that the defenders will not be able to follow the pass but it is close enough that the opposing team cannot anticipate the pass and steal it.

Forty feet from the flock was close enough to provide some pressure but far enough away that a significant number of lambs on the fringe of the flock could see him and respond to his almost imperceptible modulation of “threat”. He could make himself bigger or smaller based on the position and tiny motions of his hands and hat.

The risk of being too close to the flock was that they would split into two, panic-driven flocks. The risk of being too far was that there would be no pressure and forward momentum would be lost.

The game-plan HAD been for John to lead. He was to carry a five gallon bucket with a tiny amount of corn in the bottom. Every fifty paces, or so, he was to shake it. Every two-hundred paces, he was to dole out a tiny bit of the corn to one of the older ewes.

The lead set the pace. His instructions were to never let the flock string out over thirty yards. That should not be a problem because the lambs were much more athletic than the older ewes who were leading the flock and they shouldn't have any issues keeping up.

Mo and one of the Shaw kids were at the seven and five o’clock positions.

They were carrying pump shotguns on tactical slings slung to the front. Their primary concern was not humans but feral dogs. It seemed like the people most likely to not neuter their dogs favored large, aggressive breeds. Once it became difficult to feed them, or their owners died of the Plague, the dogs ran free and bred with abandon. The young pups were now large enough to hunt and were in the ravenous, insatiable young adult stage of growth

Mo was of the opinion that a hard winter would devastate the wild dog population. There were too many dogs for the ecosystem to support. They were too large and their hair was too short for the climate. There was much speculation about what meat source was sustaining them. Dark rumors claimed that they ate human corpses.

Mo knew for a fact that the packs of dogs had no fear of humans. He did not doubt for a moment that they pulled down and ate humans on a regular basis. There really was no other large source of meat.

The large dogs were extremely mobile. The twenty miles from Lansing and Jackson, or seventy miles from Flint or ninety from Detroit was almost insignificant distances over the course of a week's travel time.

The shotguns were not loaded with birdshot. They were loaded slug-buckshot-slug.

The sound of shotguns going off within feet of the flock would undoubtedly throw the sheep into a panic and it would be a job to get them back. But having them chased into the next county by dogs would even more destructive.

Mo’s gut feel was that the first group would have the least trouble from dogs but the most issues with organization.

The first flock would lay down a stream of sheep poop that would reassure the flocks that followed just as surely as it would attract packs of predators. Mo was also thinking that they could re-use the most tractable of the lead ewes for future drives.

The first flock also had forty lambs bleating their hearts out. There is something about the bleat of a lamb, the bleat of a fawn, the squeal of a rabbit and the mad chatter of a squirrel that is a magnet for predators. Mo supposed it was some frequency that was too high for humans to hear. Regardless, when repeated enough times those sounds would call every predator within ten miles.

As Mo expected, things slicked up when John stopped trying to manage every lamb and concentrated on managing the few lead ewes. Once the flock started moving at a steady pace, everybody got with the program.

Every two hours the crew rotated, except for Mo. He wanted to stay at the seven o’clock position. They let the lambs graze for half an hour before getting them moving again.

Mo had plenty of time to think. The pump shotgun held five rounds. There was no guarantee that every shot was going to connect. Even if they did, there was no guarantee that the pack of feral dogs would cooperate and only have five dogs.

Mo was going to ask John Wilder if he could carry an AR or an AK on future drives. There is much to be said about a firearm that carries thirty rounds and has magazines for quick reloads. Mo might even shoot a poodle with one of them.



  1. Every year, I watch a gentleman who breeds herding dogs manage a flock of 50 or so with 2 dogs and himself. Amazing stuff. I'd be looking for some border collies if I were there. Heck of a business opportunity.

    Don't know if sheep are as stupid as turkeys, at least the domesticated variety. At least sheep eat on their own from the get-go.


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