When I bought my coloured Ryeland lambs earlier this year, I was picking them for type not for personality. Standing amongst a small flock of frightened lambs, trying to decide which ones to take home, is a little stressful for both the novice shepherd and the lambs. So it doesn’t really allow the lambs’ personalities to shine through.
The first two lambs that I selected, who I named Alice and Charlotte, were easy to pick as they stood out as being of a good size and shape with thick fleece. Choosing the third one was a bit harder, but in the end I chose one with a soft spirally fleece, who became known as Little Nell.
Little Nell has always been a bit more timid than the other two lambs and was the hardest to win over with the sheep nuts. Gaining her confidence was further impeded by the fact that, shortly after arriving home, her soft spirally fleece had got clogged up with droppings at the back end, and had obscured her vision at the front. This meant that she had to be restrained and have a much needed hair cut and clean up. It’s fair to say that, although she was eased, she defiantly wasn’t pleased!
As a result of all this unwanted hairdressing, Nelly was very reluctant to engage with me or learn new things. Sheep, like all animals, learn by association, repetition and by watching others, so instead of trying to engage Little Nell, I started with one of the others. Charlotte, my largest lamb, is the leader of the group and is confident and determined. Charlotte has her own ideas and likes to follow them. Alice too, is confident, but happy to go along with someone else’s ideas (usually Charlotte’s). So I started with Alice.
I took Alice out of the field and did some halter training with her along the track which runs beside the lambs’ paddock. Because Alice is happy enough to be separated from the flock and keen to follow a leader (especially one who has a cup of sheep nuts and shares them freely), she was walking along happily beside me and standing in front of me for treats within a few minutes.
After Alice and I had done a couple of laps in front of Charlotte and Nell, they were itching to have a go at ‘follow my leader with treats’ themselves, and the rest is history.
|Charlotte and Nell|
Once Nell understood that responding to my calls and actions resulted in treats, she became much easier to engage. She quickly learnt her name and found the confidence to try new things and to lead the others. She’s a smart little cookie and now that I have won her over, she is keen to explore and investigate. She is bright and alert and can hear the rattle of sheep nuts in a bucket, or the sound of the slide bolt on the feed room door, no matter how far away she is.
In fact, the bolt on the feed room door has become a recent source of interest for her. Or rather, she has become interested in her ability to slide the bolt open and scrape the door ajar with her hoof. If I catch her doing it, I call her name to get her attention and make full eye contact, and she stops.
Yesterday, however, I slipped into the feed room to make up the lambs’ evening feed and closed the door behind me to prevent them all coming in to raid the feed bins. I heard Nellie mouthing the bolt and when I tried to get out, I discovered that she had locked me in!
I would still be stuck there, were it not for my resourceful use of the wooden spoon that I use to mix the raddle paste to assist my escape.
So the moral of my story about Naughty Nellie is...?
Well, it could be that the quiet ones are always the worst - or best! Or that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. But I think I’m going to go for, ‘be careful what you wish for...you might get it!’