Longtime reader, activist, and sheep farmer Anders Paulsson sent me this inspiring story that I just had to share:
On our farm in Sweden, we host herds of 150–300 Norwegian forest sheep. Their grazing area is about 25 hectares, split by a fenced-in grass landing strip for our farm plane and for guests flying in. The cool thing with the Norwegian forest sheep is that their fur is individually patterned. This makes it very easy to identify them.
So here’s the interesting observation.
The fenced in grass gradually gets contaminated and grazed down, and thus the sheep have two options:
1. Stay within the fenced-in area and make due of what is there, or
2. Jump the fence, which, if motivated, they do easily as they are well insulated by their fur in regard to the electric wire… and then graze the very rich grass on the runway.
I have noticed that it is the same individuals (about 1-3%) that consistently jump the fence — and they bring their lambs with them too. I can almost hear the roar from inside the fence how inappropriate parents the mavericks are, risking the lives of themselves and their offspring in such a dangerous place.
Now, we humans have the fuller picture over their limited habitat (as opposed to our own situation in the world). The observed fact is that it is the “cowards” that allow themselves to be controlled by custodians who are the ones in most danger. They eat less healthy food, need to graze (work) a lot more because of the lesser nourishment, and they are always subject to disputes amongst themselves over the relatively scarce resources on the inside of the fence. Also, if you don’t learn to jump fence – it can be your death when the fox enters, which he does.
How about safety from getting hit by a landing plane? That would be the main argument from the controlled flock against the mavericks, as they see it roar past now and then. As the pilot, I can assure you that I’m more concerned about not hitting them than the individual sheep are. Nevertheless, I have noticed that the sheep outside the fence are extremely vigilant and jump quickly back over the fence as soon as they spot the custodian (sheep farmer or border collie) or when a plane approaches the landing strip – they are gone in a second.
The sheep inside just stand there, often close to the fence, doing nothing. Should the plane have an accident and go thru the fence they could be killed on the spot.
Advice to sheep: For the best available freedom and safety, learn to jump the fence or at least teach your kids to jump the fence, be vigilant and sharp. Don’t listen to the mob of cowards, and have a good life, as long as it lasts.
Note: No sheep has ever been injured or killed outside the fence, however, a number has been killed by tame dogs that were (illegally) let loose inside the henge. Think about that one.
By the way: The sheep all get killed by us in the end – mavericks or cowards, no difference.