This past weekend we had another sheep-loading adventure. When the hillside came down in the Oso Slide, the rock and debris blocked the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River. The possibility of a breach lead a handful of us to head out to a farm on the downstream flood plain and attempt to load up about thirty five lightly broke sheep into a small horse trailer with no ramp. And a ram. Oh, and they’re due to lamb any day so they are not just good sized sheep – they are ginormous. And there is a flash flood warning.
This is no way this can go wrong…
Outside of the damage that occurs when 1 square mile of active forest hillside comes down all at once, there is the distinct possibility of secondary problems when a stream starts to try to right herself into a new bed. The most plausible secondary issue being flash flooding into the downstream flood plains if the water pressure behind the debris is released suddenly instead of gradually. While flood plains are good at dispersing large volumes of water by design, the force would not allow for an orderly flood and most likely result in the impending water picking up addition debris that can destroy structures, roads, bridges and create barriers to funnel the water to areas that are not sound flood plains. More possible damage. There is a great graphic from the Washington Post here. This was a distinct possibility this past weekend, and a group of us came together and loaded out 35 sheep from a downstream farm.
Understand that there were three fairly experienced stock folks; my self, Erin and Christian, the son of the gentleman that owned the trailer we were trying to jump sheep into. Then two less experienced folks. I like people will only a little experience in this kinds of situations – they don’t get hung up on what should work.
We first used the materials handy to make a chute from the roundpen to make a chute. We used a 10 stock gate, a man gate, a long piece of plywood and the trailer door.
Erin gave loading a shot for about 10 minutes with just Hank. The chute wasn’t quite big enough to hold al the sheep and once they got to the trailer they just stopped. They’d spit out the side and Hank would work hard to get everyone back together. Anytime the sheep start to win, you have lost and its time to try a new approach.
Then we had 4 sets of hands in the round pen and tried to push the whole group. But we didn’t fair much better than poor Hankman. We regrouped and reshuffled to let the sheep settle. Erin took the sheep into the next field and shed off a group that was a little less than half. With the smaller group, we could trap them in the chute. Which was great but didn’t solve our real problem: the sheep were not jumping into the trailer. They’d get too close up to the mouth and get squished and not able to jump no matter how much pressure was applied. We opened the man-door in the front to give the appearance that they could escape despite the person next to the door. No luck. Spread yummy green hay all over the trailer floor, still no takers. Took another break.
We were on a bit of a clock. Out of desperation, we stood two near the trailer mouth and two in the back of the pen and started hand loading sheep. Lifting front hooves and then man handling sheepie tushes. It only took 3 of them in the trailer happily eating hay for social behaviors to take over. The two people in the back of the pen backed up as far as they could and then sheep began to find enough room to lob their huge selves up. Occasionally the two people up front would help the ewes that looked like they swallowed beach balls.
Everyone had a job – Simon pouted. His job would be to move the ram, if the ram was not cooperative. Sorry buddy, the ram played nicely.
While the trailer was gone, we got a chance to look around a bit. It really was a lovely property with lush fields and a lovely older home. My favorite part was the ‘Corgi chute’. It is exactly what it sounds like. A corgi sized chute from the fully fenced deck down into the dog yard. Pi was kind enough to demo.
The second load went much like the first, but we were smart enough to request a few lambs in our group. They’re much lighter and easier to lift. We also found that our helper Christian had more presence than Mary and I combined. In the process of moving the second group I found myself trying to cover up that I was using my stock commands on a person. Pretty sure he saw right through me, but he’s a nice young man and didn’t let on.
Between the second and last sets, the panic started to set in a bit. The radio announced the water was starting to work its was through the debris up stream. Farm equipment began moving down the road. The EMS was starting to squawk about a flash flood watch. Twitter was lit up with #530Slide updates from the county, city, fire, helo sar group and folks on the ground.
We rearranged our cars for a quick exit as soon as the last 6 sheep were loaded.
The tension set in.
We ate maple bacon fudge.
There was an odd clarity. A sense of purpose that just washed everything else away.
As we set the trailer for the last time, Erin shared the EMS updates with the group. Everyone chose to stay and get the last set out. The four hands were finally working as a single unit. We swept up the sheep, guided them flawlessly to the trailer. They slowed and looked away for a moment and then hopped in the trailer without assistance.
One of the older ewes had that same jerk expression as the Ram.
“why didn’t you just say so?”
We regrouped at the rental farm where the sheep are still camped out today.
There were also a few adorable puppy-refugees.
Though all of this, there was such great work. Real life application is great for the new handlers and a reminder for the rest of us that the dog is a tool. Use it when you need it. Flooding can take days to recede and critters can’t swim forever. So the work was both important and a good stretch of old muscles.
Floods may not be as dramatic as earthquakes or hurricanes, but they are nothing to toy with. Just pick up your stuff and get out of the way as fast as possible. Then stay out of the way until Mother Nature is done with her raging.
Yes, I’m talking to you, guy who got stuck trying to drive through floodwater. You’re a moron.