Sheep in the Vineyard
At one point in our journey we became obsessed with the idea of having tiny little sheep in our vineyard. Each year we spend weeks pulling leaves away from the grapes to expose them better to drying winds and sunshine. An arduous task for humans who have to crouch for long hours. Why not get sheep to eat the leaves away?
So a warm morning in late June found me speeding down the 401 with five Southdown Babydoll ewes. They huddled together in a dog crate in the back of my pickup truck. Our new future as vignerons/sheep rustlers had begun.
Unloading them from the truck went well until one of them sprang loose. Not knowing too much about sheep, we were worried that it might get scared and run out to the road. So we ran after it, which made it scared. It ran out to the road. Traffic stopped as we tried to corner it but those sheep are too fast.
Then it heard a faraway “baah!” It ran straight over to the neighbour’s flock and jumped the fence to join them, where it started wagging its tail and eating grass.
We built a little blue shed so they could sleep at night safe from the coyotes. I wanted our chocolate labrador, Woody, to be used to the sheep, so I put him in the enclosure with them. At first he didn’t know what to think. What are these creatures that seem so intent on eating the grass? He stood there a moment, contemplating. Then he gave a dog’s version of a shrug, and started eating the grass too.
After a day or so of acclimatization, we showed the sheep to the vineyard so they could start leaf-pulling the grape vines. They seemed more interested in the weeds but they half-heartedly tugged a few leaves off the vines.
Well, it turns out those little sheep are escape artists. And though we had carefully fenced them into a small part of the vineyard to do their leaf-pulling work, they pushed through the fence once we turned our backs and were soon running all over the place.
Another day, we thought the sheep were safely penned and I zipped off to Toronto on an errand. Carlee was running the tasting room and everything was peaceful until the flock of sheep wandered into the tasting room. Resourceful, she locked them in the winery and held tastings outside all day, until the neighbour was available to bring them back to their barn. A flock of sheep makes a quick mess of a winery tasting room, let me tell you. I returned late in the day to find a discombobulated Carlee scrubbing the floor and the tasting room smelling like a barn.
To a sheep, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. We either need better fences or a full time shepherd to control these sheep.
In the end, the human workers finished the leaf-pulling chore before the sheep really got the hang of it. But we befriended the animals. They are beautiful, somehow calming creatures with their single-minded pursuit of munching greenery. Now if someone at the winery has a tough day we send them to the sheep enclosure to contemplate simpler things. Sheep therapy.
Although our main focus remains on the vineyard and making great wines, having the sheep around is a nice addition to the farm. They have been good lawnmowers for that troublesome grass over the septic bed. Our visitors just love them. The sheep will get another chance at leaf-pulling next summer. It’s a learning process both for animal and farmer.