Summer Afternoon Walk
Well, it’s summer, it’s hot, and you might be feeling like you could use a little vacation. I can’t get you a real one, but if a virtual vacation would tide you over, I can offer you a walk in the fields and woods of East Texas. This is how I spend almost every afternoon, with my mini-flock.
Today we’re going to the back pasture, because I saw some dock plants growing back there a few days ago, and they’re supposed to be good for mordanting yarn for natural dyeing. So we’ll head out with Leila (the Boer goat) and Rio, Romy, and Laredo (the supposed-to-be-St. Croix-but-I-think-just-basic-crossbred sheep), and Harper, the border collie. (It’s too awkward to say “sheep and goat” all the time so I usually just refer to them as the lambs.)
First we’ll take a look at the big pine that just fell over. I usually sat in the shade of this tree while the sheep grazed. Since last year’s drought killed so many trees, I stay out of the woods whenever it’s windy, so I didn’t see it fall, but it was a big shock when we noticed it the next day.
Then it’s down to the creek for a minute. The animals can get a drink and I can count minnows.
We’ll keep to the shade while we walk on to the pasture. I stop on the way to check the pokeberries – I will try dyeing with them in a week or so.
I just finished the book Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy, about how native plants are so necessary to provide food for insects, who in turn become food for birds. I’ve been interested in birds since I was five, but I never thought to learn about the plants and insects they eat. Now I am obsessed with checking the undersides of leaves to see what insects are living there. I notice some chewed places on the pokeberry leaves, and sure enough, underneath there’s a caterpillar.
We get to the dock plants, but they are limp, with lots of holes chewed in them. I check and on the third leaf, I find some caterpillars. As I am trying to photograph them, a beautiful moth flies a few feet away. Is it the same species as the caterpillars? I don’t know, but I get a lot of good pictures, so I can research it later. I decide not to pick the dock, because it just looks too dry.
It’s getting hot in the sun, so we head toward a little grove of trees on the edge of the pasture.
I check the trees to see if any need to be thinned, while the lambs find some young rattle box plants. One of the first things I learned when I got sheep is the list of plants that “can be toxic in some parts and at some stage of growth,” and rattle box is on the list.
The sheep are continually moving and sampling all kinds of plants as they graze, so even if a plant is toxic, they probably don’t get very much of it, but still. I think it’s time to move on. I start back toward the barn and they follow me. Harper doesn’t have to do any herding, she’s just along for company.
When I first got Rio and Romy, a year and a half ago, they were very young and very wild. They had been living on 25 acres in a flock of 14 animals, with very little human contact. But I worked with them every day, and now, they know their routine, and view me as the Lead Sheep.
Leila, the Boer goat, was given to me later. She was a companion animal for a show goat, and after the show goat was sold, Leila needed a new home with other animals. Being a goat, is a lot smarter than the sheep are, and has found lots more ways of getting into trouble. If I had all goats, I doubt I could lead them so easily, but the goat-to-sheep ratio that I have is working well for me. Leila is more alert than the sheep, but she is still a herd animal, so she goes along with the majority. She’s sort of like a cat that has spent years with a lot of dogs, tolerant of the others but she goes her own way whenever possible.
By now we’ve been out about two hours. There is plenty more to see, but the lambs are used to being fed about now. Time to put them back in their pen, and then we have an appointment to sit on the deck in the shade and watch the birds. Hope you enjoyed the walk and can join us again!