Did You Know That Sheep Can Swim?
I knew that sheep can swim, but I had never experienced it myself. However back in 2009 I found out the hard way. You might think the story you're about to read is funny and it is, but I can tell you that I wasn't laughing at the moment it happened.
Some background info:
I'm a breeder of a very old and rare Dutch sheep breed called Drenthe Heath Sheep (in Dutch: Drents Heideschaap). I've been breeding these sheep for over 30 years now and you can read about them in my other articles. It's a very old and still rather rare breed and therefore it is very important to keep the genetic diversity in order to keep the breed healthy. Almost every year we use different rams to prevent inbreeding.
You Need to Change Rams to Get Fresh Genes
In order to keep the breed healthy, we often exchange young or older rams with other breeders. We all can only keep a number of rams and after about six months I can spot the rams that are not going to make it through the sheep inspection the following year of their birth, so I have this agreement with another breeder to exchange my not so good rams for his good rams. He will sell mine to the butcher and I will keep his till the next inspection.
In September in 2009 I came home with about 5 new young rams and I drove to one of my meadows (a dike) to release them. I keep new arrivals in quarantine for a while to make sure they're not carrying any contagious disease that could affect my own sheep.
Always Pay Attention When Unloading Sheep
While unloading the young rams, I wasn't paying attention and when the last lamb jumped out of the van, the other rams already were out of sight around the corner of the dike. Now this last young fellow thought he was all alone in an unknown area and he got into a panic and jumped the fence into the open farm land.
Then I got into a panic, because to catch a lone sheep in an open field is very difficult, nearly impossible. Even trained dogs often don't recognize a lone sheep as a 'herd' and my two young Border Collie dogs were not trained yet at that moment.
Chasing the Escaped Young Ram
In the picture below I've tried to visualize what happened in the next few hours.
The white lines show the movement of the young ram. We almost caught him on the farmer's farm, but the farmer, who had come out to help, wasn't fast enough and the ram escaped again, running all the way down the path to the open field.
I knew I couldn't keep up with him, so I ran back to my little van and drove my car all the way around and drove into the field which had just been harvested (potatoes) for a part. I took one dog out and pursued my chase, trying to use the dog as a walking fence, which she obviously didn't understand, but as she's well trained in obedience, she would lay down when and where I told her to, so the ram wouldn't go that way.
In the meantime my hubby had joined the party and was covering one corner of the field. The farmer was covering another corner. Between the road and the field was a wide deep ditch filled with water and if there is no reason, a sheep won't jump over.
Along the North border of this field runs a long old creek, which is at its widest point about 25 yards wide. It's bordered with a wide brim of reed. At some point in the chase, the ram went into an opening in the reed and I thought I had the ram cornered, because the dog and I closed the entrance.
I ordered the dog to go down and stay, while I cautiously entered the reed, thinking I could grab this ram. Boy was I thinking wrong. Before I could reach him, he jumped into the water and swam away. Without thinking I took a dive - head first - into the water too, only to discover it was very shallow at that point. I couldn't really swim normally, because it was all soft and muddy and the moment I tried to put my feet down, they sank deep into the mud. I managed though to get hold of the ram's horns. He too had difficulties with his swimming in the mud and I'm sure that if I hadn't caught him, he would not have made it to the other side.
I could only lie on my side, holding the sheep with one hand and paddling with the other like you can see in the photo below. It was very tiresome and ever so often I had to rest a bit making sure my behind and my feet wouldn't get stuck in the soft mud.
Someone Yelled at Me
When I was still struggling in that water, I suddenly heard someone yelling at me if I needed some help. It appeared to be a man and his wife, who were passing by in their car and they spotted me in the water. As I lay on my side, holding the lamb at my belly, they couldn't see the lamb from where they were standing. They only saw me splashing around with my arm and they thought I was drowning.
I yelled back that I really could use some help when I reached the main land, because I knew the border of the creek at the roadside was rather high and steep. I was already so tired, that I know that lifting this ram up to the steep bank would have been an ordeal.
Later on I learned that the woman had been taking pictures of the whole rescue event, which she sends to me later on.
You can see in the picture how shallow that creek was. The danger however was the thick layer of soft sucking mud underneath that shallow water. If I would have tried to stand up right there in the middle, I never would have been able to get out of that sucking mud by my own, that's why I kept myself laying down on my side.
Having Trouble to Keep My Boots On
The farmer (in the striped shirt), who had been guarding one corner of the field before, had seen me disappearing into the reed, but never saw me coming out again. He got worried, so he took his car and drove along the road to see what had happened to me.
Even though it was only a lamb, it was not easy to get him up there. There were a lot of branches I had to climb over and by boots got stuck all the time.
The Horns of These Sheep Are Useful Handles
Good thing my sheep have horns. They're very useful handles.
If you think such a small lamb is easy to handle than you're wrong. Sheep don't want to be handled and they put their full weight into the reverse mode. You're dragging dead meat so to speak.
The farmer who helped me is a very nice man and he's the owner of the dyke where I graze my sheep. He was so kind to let the dripping me and the dripping lamb, both covered with black mud in the back of his blue car and he drove us home.
I put the lamb in the stable and dried it with old towels in order to prevent it from getting sick from his cold and wet adventure.
Then I Got This Call
My Dog Was Still at the Creek and Wouldn't Move!
Good heavens, I had all forgotten about my dog Tipper, who was still on guard on the field where I left her, when I took my dive into the water. She finally had gone through the reed and must have spotted me in the water with the sheep and see me disappearing in the car.
She didn't know what to do and had started howling, which attracted the attention of people passing by and one of them knew it was my dog and phoned me.
When I (still in my wet clothes) arrived, a whole crowd of people was standing on the road, watching Tipper who still wouldn't move. On their calls she refused to jump into the water and swim over (clever girl because it wouldn't have been safe for her), so I drove all the way around to get to the field on the other side of the creek and then she came running towards me when I called her. In the meantime I too had forgotten that my little van was still on the field with my other dog Dixie inside. She had been sitting there for hours, not knowing what happened around her. So I got her out and brought them both home and then my hubby drove me again to the field to get my little van.
Did You Know That Sheep Can Swim?
Only Afterwards I realized....
I got some nightmares later on
Later on, I realized that I had taken an enormous risk by diving head first into that creek. This creek is bordered with very tall trees and with each storm branches small or bigger fall off into the water and sank below surface. Diving into the water like I did might have ended up diving right into one of those broken branches and then I would have been spiked like a sauces on a stick. It took some time to get that image out of my head.
The Lamb Finally Matured into a Beautiful Ram
Yes, sheep can swim
© 2014 Titia Geertman