Day Writing by Heather Hamilton-Maude: The inaugural docking | TSLN.com

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Day Writing by Heather Hamilton-Maude: The inaugural docking

The Hamilton family is all smiles after their first docking experience. Photo courtesy Heather Maude

It is safe to say that we didn't entirely know what was coming when my parents got sheep in the late 1990s. This was perhaps most evident at our first docking. We saddled our horses early in the morning on the required squelching July day, not yet having realized that whoever invented the dirt bike clearly had range sheep.

The plan was to dock in an old stack corral made of tall, heavy duty woven wire that was conveniently located in the middle of a pasture. It was the only pen on the place we thought would hold the lambs. Our crew consisted of ranching family members, my brother's friend and fellow ranch kid Will, and my cousin from Denver. My mom reassuringly told my cousin that the solid, older ranch horse she was riding knew what he was doing, and if she was uncertain or scared, to, "Just let Brownie do what he wants."

Off we went, and it didn't take long for all hell to break loose. We came off the hill toward the solitary, wing-less pen and these wise old range ewes went everywhere – it was like shooting a down-filled pillow in a wind storm. They scattered into the cotton wood trees on the creek and back out across the draws faster than we could comprehend. It was both impressive and shocking what they were capable of. We all jumped into action in a mostly vain attempt to gather the renegades.

At one point my dad roped a ewe, and was lapping the pen we were attempting to put them in at a dead lope with she and her two lambs out in front. I recall my brother, Will and I stopping on the hill to watch in amazement as my cousin stood there square in the gate – one of the seven deadly sins for ranch children.

As my dad rounded the corner, we clearly heard him holler, "Anna, get OUT of the gate!"

To which she calmly replied, "But, Uncle Tom…"

He whizzes by again.

"Aunt Randi told me that Brownie…"

Another lap

"Knows what he's doing and I should…"

Zoom goes the odd little group by her again. My dad was a purplish color by this point, his horse's ears were pinned flat and he was sweating profusely, the ewe still had an evil gleam in her eye while her lambs were finally tiring a little. Something was bound to blow soon.

"Just let him do what he wants."

Finally, good old Brownie plods. Ever. So. Slowly. out of the way. You could almost hear him chuckling at his former rider, who promptly stuffed this ewe and her lambs under his tail and into the pen.

We quickly dispersed back to our respective wrecks, because there was no way dad's patience was going to extend to seeing us watching this spectacle. Besides, we figured we could get mom close enough to find my cousin's grave if need be.

At another point in this mess, I flushed a ewe and her lambs from the creek. We are going all out and I am angrily pondering options that will get her to turn (none of my cattle learned tricks were working) when I looked up just in time to see a bright orange, BWM motorcycle stop on the county road, right in my way. We are 56 miles from town and 20 miles from pavement. The driver waved while his passenger just gaped as we flew by within inches. My mom stopped and found out the guy and his wife were going the back way while on vacation. They happily sat in the road chatting with my mother for several minutes as various riders and bunches of sheep shot past in every direction.

We eventually got enough of these old girls into the pen to commence with docking. Or we wore our horses out to such an extent that we had to stop. By now it's hours later than we planned to start, and it's hot.

My uncle and I were in charge of bringing lambs around a loose hay stack and into the pen where they will be grabbed and sat on a board for tail and testicle removal. Man were we rolling, in fact we could barely keep up, which seemed odd considering the bunch of lambs on the other side of the hay stack wasn't shrinking much. Then, someone finally noticed the lambs were running over the haystack. We were working our tails off only to have half or more just climb back over for us to bring around again. Adding a few more sheep panels fixed the issue.

Thus went the entire day. We eventually, finally, got done with our first docking, and my mom had the foresight to snap a picture of us in all our bloody, sweat and paint soaked, exhausted glory. It still hangs on her wall. The next year we changed pretty much everything, and docking went much better. But, while none of us have any desire to relive it, we all still talk about, and laugh at, the inaugural docking.