Day Writing by Heather Hamilton-Maude: Sheep Chasing Chronicles: Solar Well Edition
The solar well was the backdrop for multiple sheep chasing adventures growing up. It is located halfway along the western fence of a two-mile long by mile-and-a-half wide pasture split down the middle by what is called hay draw. Roughly half of it is traversable by four-wheeler, with a mere handful of options across hay draw and its numerous fingers. The other half requires a dirt bike or saddle horse.
My brother Kyle and I found ourselves moving and/or chasing sheep every summer in this pasture, he on a dirt bike and myself on a four-wheeler.
On one occasion I was gathering sheep in the general vicinity of the solar well, while Kyle covered the rougher parts of the pasture. A ewe and her lambs took off up the bottom of a draw. There was only one way for me to get out of that draw, and she and I both knew if she made it past a certain spot, she was scot free. Off I went in pursuit. It had actually rained that summer, so we had grass. As I buzzed up the draw, gaining on her while avoiding the known wash outs and cow trails, I suddenly came to an abrupt, but not bone jarring, stop.
Thinking that was odd, I rocked and throttled to no avail. The ewe had slowed to a trot – she may need the extra energy to outrun me later, and headed the wrong way. I climbed off the four-wheeler and looked underneath. Much to my surprise, I had hit a rectangular shaped rock and shoved it into the soft ground, causing it to tip a quarter turn forward with my momentum, and perfectly balance my four-wheeler a couple inches off the ground.
After much shoving, pushing, jumping on either end of the machine, and sweating, I came to realize I had literally outdone myself. About that time the ewe crested the horizon, and my brother pulled up to turn her the right direction. Far enough away he couldn’t hear me or really see what was going on, he waved the enthusiastic, “let’s go/why are you sitting there?/what’s up with this ewe?,” wave and drove out of sight.
I was without a nearby tree, T-Post or anything of value to gain some leverage. Somehow, I eventually got that four-wheeler rolled backward off that rock, and made it back to the bunch before they realized it was only one person moving them.
On another occasion, Kyle ran down a renegade ewe at the solar well (he had quite a knack for finding missing sheep), but I was nowhere to be found. One benefit of a four-wheeler was using it to tie escapee ewes down on, then deliver them where they belong. Finding himself alone with this special individual, he drug her over to the well, snagged a five-gallon bucket, shoved it over her head and stuck her front feet through the handle. Then left to continue gathering.
When my dad came over the hill with the main bunch a while later, he was greeted by a lone ewe wandering the bottom of a dried-out dugout with a white bucket over her head. He said he nearly wrecked at the sight. Upon hearing the other sheep, the ol’ girl shook that bucket right off and away she went.
Then there was the day the solar well played the backdrop for one of those never-ending sheep chases. We had started early, and it was nearly noon. We had been over and under and across every nasty place the pasture offered as this lone ewe worked to get away. This creature was actually half grey hound, about a quarter wolf and her great-great-grandmother came west as an original range ewe. Wrapped in 20-micron wool, she was a good-looking wrecker of human patience with zero respect for a fence. I suspect that someday we will find a cottonwood tree she notched for every coyote she personally killed.
We finally got her lined out and basically bull dogged at the solar well. Something I’ve always found fascinating is how a sheep can run for hours, feed two lambs, and not shrink a pound. She was no exception, and as we each grabbed a set of legs to heave her onto the back of the four-wheeler, we faced the fact that at 5’2,” I could get within about an inch of getting my half on the rack. This was a common problem, and meant my brother would tie down the front end as the sheep systematically moved every organ in its body to its rump, then run around and help me finish shoving the back end on.
Hot, tired, gasping for air, bleeding from tangling with the burrs she gained slipping under fences, and smelling like warm lanolin, we finally got her secured. We had started slitting ears on trashy ewes in an effort to identify them. Between breaths, my irate brother determinedly whipped out his pocket knife, mercilessly dug her bottom ear out from under her head to slit it, only to find it already done. It completely deflated him, then we had to chuckle at the letdown of not being her first captors.
I believe we got rid of the 15-20 head with slit ears that fall, and found ourselves with a lot less…excitement the following few summers.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the July 24, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News