It’s not a good idea to find a babysitter on Craigslist. It’s not a good idea to buy full-grown animals on the Internet either. Almost no one sells you their good animals. You’re likely getting a scratch-and-dent model that could be sick, nervous, or destructive. It’s a lesson I learned when I bought a ewe online and ended up barbequing her a few weeks later.
I got on the Interweb to find a companion for my little lamb “Rascal,” a black Babydoll that I had purchased to graze my three-acre homestead. I figured an adult female would be perfect, as she could teach him how to be a sheep and eventually mate to start a small herd. Luckily (or so I thought at the time) I found a single brown and white Hair Sheep a few towns away and brought her home for just $25.
I should have suspected something right away, when the woman dragged her from the barn and we struggled for ten minutes to get her into my truck. Thankfully, when I got her home “Momma” hit it off with “Rascal” right away, as sheep tend to do.
We watched them explore the acre of fenced pasture and after Momma seemed comfortable, my three daughters and I went out to introduce ourselves. None of us could get within 20 feet without her going into a full bore sprint. And Rascal followed her as fast as his little hooves allowed, which we didn’t expect since he was so friendly and docile before she arrived.
This fear continued for two weeks and was starting to make Rascal afraid of people too. But, I figured we could give it a little more time and she’d eventually come around… We never got the chance to find out.
One day one of the little spazzes from next door came over to play, and left our main gate open. Both sheep got out and were into the neighbor’s cornfields in seconds. It was spring so the field hadn’t been planted and I sprinted after them. They disappeared into huge ravine that stretched for several miles. I was a 6-foot, 200-pound Little Bo Peep. I had lost my sheep. Again. (But that’s another story for another time.)
My kids painted “Lost Sheep” and our phone number on a piece of plywood and I propped it up by the highway on the other side of the ravine. I prayed they wouldn’t make it that far. But sure enough, we got a call within just a couple hours. They were spotted in a hay-field bordering the highway, grazing happily on the first-cut grass.
I grabbed a lasso and my three daughters and we sped over. We chased and cornered and tracked the sheep for two hours. At one point we chased them onto a nearby disc golf course. Two long-haired men getting ready to tee off saw us in pursuit, and rather than help, they both whipped out their phones to record the melee. “Good luck catching your sheep,” they droned. “Thanks for the help,” I sneered.
And it continued this way for two weeks. With each call we received, we’d chase the sheep through the fields and golf course and even nearby sub-divisions. A couple times I was able to latch onto Rascal’s back leg. But that was as close as we came. They’d always escape and later return to the same hayfield. Their home base was beneath a large billboard less than 50 yards from the four-lane highway.
Soon we started getting phone calls from people who almost hit the sheep in the road. It was getting dangerous for humans now. I got a call from the County Sheriff and he sent out a deputy to help me. Together we devised a plan. We’d try to kill Momma and then Rascal would be free from his trance and come to me when called.
I would hide near their home base by the billboard and flush them out. I had done this several times before, so I knew the exact path they’d flee: South along a field fence and into the woods. The deputy would wait by that path and shoot the Momma.
Everything went as planned. I spotted them near the billboard and when I was about 10 yards away they ran. Sure enough: South along the fence and straight toward the deputy who was hiding behind a tree. Momma was within three yards of him.
Just 10 feet! This would be it!
Bang! Bang! Bang! Three shots.
Not a single hit. The sheep lept into the woods and disappeared.
Now, I know this was a moving target. And it’s not something you practice very often. But this man was a trained professional. He missed a target as big as a hog from just 10 feet. (I have to admit, while I still “Back the Blue,” this shook my confidence a bit.)
The next day, the sheep were again spotted by the highway and I called the Sheriff. This time he sent two deputies, and they were definitely not playing around. Each was outfitted in tactical gear and carrying assault rifles.
This time the sheep had been spotted by a farmer in his cornfields. The farmer and I waited in his gravel driveway as the deputies drove their truck through the rolling fields; soon they were out of sight.
Five minutes later we heard one shot. Two shots. A few minutes later the deputies returned with Momma’s carcass. I wrapped her in a tarp and put her in bed of my truck. We thanked the deputies and they left, both smiling and laughing at jokes I couldn’t hear.
Then sure enough, Rascal came prancing through a field toward the farmer’s cow pen. Looking for a new guardian, I suppose. The farmer let him in the pen until I could come back tomorrow (I didn’t want him riding alongside dead Momma).
I took Momma home, skinned and gutted her, than cut off a leg which I took to my favorite local tavern. The owner fired up the grill and we charred the leg just enough for everyone to pick off bits of meat and enjoy.
Later I’d pick up Rascal. Freeze the rest of Momma. And start looking for another friend for Rascal. Not from the Interweb. This time we ended up getting a baby miniature donkey from a close friend who owned a petting zoo. Daisy has turned out to be the best animal we’ve ever owned. Rascal loves her.
Ben North lives and writes from a homestead in Iowa.