Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Adventures in Cyclo Shepherding

Lamb Herding
The first time it happened unintentionally. I was cycling down a neighbouring farm lane, when I noticed frantic activity in front of one of the cottages. The farmers - a man and woman in their 60s - crouched facing each other with their arms spread wide open, as if about to perform some strange circle dance. As I got closer I saw they were attempting to surround a tiny, highly vocal bundle of white fleece. The creature, sensing that capture was near, leapt and darted about wildly until it evaded the two pairs of outstretched hands and galloped away. Never having witnessed such a scene before, I stood frozen over my bike for a moment, mouth agape, watching the newly born lamb - hardly larger than a cat - disappear down the lane in the direction of the shore. For a moment the others stood silent as well. And then all at once we knew what needed to happen. By the time the farmer said "Would you go and chase it down on your wee bike?" my foot was already pushing the pedal.

Lamb Herding
So what exactly is involved in herding a lamb by bike? Luckily I had watched sheep dogs do this a few times, so I wasn't entirely clueless. First, I cycled fast, to catch up with the lamb. The rush from the escape having subsided, it now hopped along anxiously, its tail trembling, not sure what to do next. I slowed down and cycled directly behind it, coasting to let it hear the ticking of my hub and sense my looming presence. And then, ever so slowly and carefully, I maneuvered my bike as if I meant to cycle around it and into its path. 

Lamb Herding
After some initial moments of indecision, the lamb did what I had seen others do when confronted with this maneuver - it made a U-turn and ran back in the direction of the farm. Slowly I followed close in its tracks to make sure it kept this course. It was growing dusky by this time and my bicycle's headlight was glowing bright, illuminating our path. When the farmers spotted us approaching they were ready and grabbed the twitching creature after I steered it into a narrow, fenced in part of the yard where the newborn lambs and their mothers were kept in a pen. The poor thing had gotten out by accident, but now it wanted its mother - wagging its tail happily and going straight for the milk upon seeing her. All was well.

Lamb Herding
I would not say that herding lambs has become a habit. But I've helped bring back a few of these wayward darlings now, including this fleecy fellow just earlier this morning. My little Brompton is hilariously perfect for the task - compact and easy to accelerate and maneuver, it can sprint after the lamb, then slow down and hover around it until it turns in the desired direction. The lambs seem to accept this two-wheeled shepherd and behave predictably.

Lamb Herding
Despite their erratic galloping ways, once caught the lambs are actually quite docile and cooperative. Cooperative enough to sit in my bike basket, I've wondered? But, considering they aren't house-trained, I've never gone as far as to try it.

25 comments:

  1. Hilarious -- your "wee" bike.
    I shepherded a wild turkey. It was in the middle of the road, gobbling, in danger of getting run over, while I could hear its poults in the woods nearby. It was leery of me (I've noticed wild animals are much more shy of bikes than cars--deer take off when I ride by) and I got it into a parking lot, where it could hear the replies to its gobbling.

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    1. Oh I am generally known as "the girl who rides the wee bike."

      There are often wild turkeys in Boston this time of year, wandering the streets looking lost with everyone snapping photos of them. No idea how they get there and what becomes of them.

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    2. Every cyclist needs a wee bike.

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  2. Dear God -- this is the most adorable post I've read about bicycles -- could it be any cuter? You may want to work out an agreement -- fleece for herding time:)

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    1. Here is a picture I took of some raw wool fleece last summer. There's plenty of it here, but processing it to the point where it is ready to knit with would be v time consuming.

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    2. I'm a much better spinner than I am a cyclist(so, amateur at best) and it isn't that difficult to learn to spin, and it does stretch the yarn money very well. But, it cuts into the cycling time.

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    3. Three bags full! I once came home from Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival with three huge raw fleeces. Equipped with just my kitchen stove and a couple of stock pots I can definitely say that it does indeed take a very long time just to clean. My house smelled of lanolin for days, which was nice. I still haven't spun all that wool… :)

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    4. Oh there were many more than three! What do you use to dye the wool - or do you just leave it natural?

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  3. That's indeed a young lamb. Still has its tail.

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  4. Over in the Forest of Bowland hills, where there are free range sheep and unfenced roads, passing sheep in the road rises to an art form. You learn to read their body language, is the one on the right going to run across to its mates on the left, is that sheep really the only one or will some mates burst out in front of you, etc.

    In the sixties if I recall correctly, in the Milk Race, Barry Hoban was in a break which ran into some sheep. He came down with his bike caught in a sheep's horns. It ran off across the moor and he was forced to chase it as the team cars were too far behind.

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    1. The pastures here are surrounded by barbed wire fencing, but the sheep will sometimes get out and stroll along the roads. Just yesterday I was climbing a hilly back road and a group of them were blocking my way. I gave them a plaintive look, like "Come on, I don't want to unclip on a 15% climb!" and in return they gave me a look of sympathy, like "humans - not good climbers" and moved over to the side, then stood still as if to make me feel comfortable in the firmness of their decision. I passed them at 4mph, with a nod of acknowledgement and thanks.

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  5. I have a 2013 Brompton very much like yours. They are indeed the most practical bicycle. Nice going!

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  6. Two thoughts:

    1) Cute
    2) Mm. Mutton.

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  7. i shepherded a pedestrian across the street today.

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  8. 1. What a riot!
    2. I had no idea sheep even had full length tails.

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    1. Neither did I, before seeing the lambs here up close. Now I know they "dock" the tail when a lamb grows up.

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  9. This is just so damn cute. But I have to admit that reading this story and looking at the pictures made me feel rather sheepish.....lol !

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  10. I've done a bit of sheep wrangling on my rides around here, although they mostly panic at the sight of the bike so I've never attempted to chase one down. Not tried it on the Brompton though. Later on in the year as they get more adventurous, I will probably spend quite a lot of time encouraging them back into their fields though

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  11. What a beautiful animal. We used to have a Burmese with a coat that color.

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    1. Not sure what the official name of this breed is, but they call them "blackface ewes" here. Adorable and friendly.

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  12. Fantastic. I've unintentionally herded a few flocks down the road a few times when they've escaped from their fields. One memorable occasion happened right at the beginning of a 250 mile 2 day ride. Half a mile in and a flock of sheep blocked the road. They are stupid enough just to stand there and watch if you stop, and then stupid enough to run down the road in front of you if you try to ride past or through them. It took me another half a mile of gentle coaxing to get them settled down at the side of the road so I could ride on!
    You missions of mercy sound much more fun.

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  13. As a bit of a Luddite, I find it fascinating the way social media works. Things are shared which are thought to be singular only to discover that they have been experienced by generations. A reminder that we've more in common that we realize, i guess....Anyway, I'm reminded of stories of my parents, who lived on farms, and my son, who never saw a farm until he started working on one three years ago, and their descriptions of rounding up animals. Some even involved bicycles. ;)

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  14. Finding the impossible is possible is a good thing. However, before a bunch of your readers try the same thing, I'd like to point out that climbing seated in your hardest gears is a great way to ruin your knees! High gear seated climbing puts maximal compressive stress on the articular cartilage that lines the back of your knee cap, the end of the femur, and the top of the tibia. Unlike many soft tissues in your body, articular cartilage is avascular and does not readily regenerate. I did similar "maximum load" seated leg workouts when I was in high school, and then had to limit my riding for years afterward because of long-term knee damage. I'd suggest readers take inspiration from your rides, writing, and reconciliation with road conditions, but also spin or stand instead of risking their knees by high-gear seated climbing! End of public service announcement.

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  15. Thanks for a wonderful story. I really enjoyed reading this one and seeing the pictures! Thank you!

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