Update: Rams drifted in!! Last night, our mild weather (upper 30's and spring-like) turned into quite a storm. The weather forecast wasn't too serious, just colder air moving in with some light snow. In reality, it's pretty nasty out there! Upon rising this morning, I did what I always do, move the lace curtains aside and look out at my boys. What I saw was worrisome. Blowing snow, high winds, and deep drifts! And nobody in sight. I quickly pulled my winter outerwear on over my pajamas and headed out to check on the rams and wethers in a pasture outside. It was shocking! Shetlands will lay down in the snow as a stress/survival mode. The boys had done that, and some were barely visible! Wilbur wouldn't turn his head to look at me, nor stand up, nor baa. I was VERY worried, that is NOT Wilbur! Wooly Bear was entirely covered with snow, with a swirled drift along his back. There was an inch of blown snow all over his face and head. Only his eyes and horns were visible. Their backs were not buried, but covered entirely with frozen snow. When I got them to all stand up, Wooly Bear, and tough Lerwick were shaking on their back legs. So I ran and got a halter. These boys know this routine well! On returning to the pasture, I discovered that melted snow and rain had pooled around the bottom of their gate, freezing the gate in solid! Now what?? The wind was roaring, snow was blowing so hard I could barely see, and the drifts were up to my thighs. The wind chill is well below zero. Then, I remembered where we had a gate once, and had "patched" the fence nicely with new wire. I hiked over there, undid the wire there, and had them leap out, one by one. They all waited nicely while Wilbur, goof-ball, tangled himself a bit. I think he was just cold and anxious to get in the barn! I had the barn door secured wide open, with wind and snow swirling around in the barn aisle. Carumba watched all this with great interest! After freeing Wilbur, we all headed to the barn, leaning into the strong wind and plowing through deep drifts. Wooly was on the halter and behind me...King of the Farm, with all the rest in line behind him and following like well-trained school kids in the hall. As we came around the corner of the barn and the door was in sight, they shot through the snow and we all blew into the aisle at once! WHEW!!!!!!!!!!
After I got the door shut, I secured them in a waiting pen. (Wilbur started leaping in the aisle in glee! Thankfully, he's ok!) I gave them fresh, warm water and some hay. I think they'll be pretty tired today. Rams don't sleep well in conditions like that. Wooly Bear was soaking up many chin scratches, and Wilbur got a bunch, too! They sure are nice boys! I am SOOOO thankful for their good temperaments, halter skills, and flock mentality! Those good things saved the day.
So why don't I just let "hardy" sheep live through the wind chills and snow? First, they are ALL valuable to me. My culls are gone, and I've chosen to keep each one. Losing any of them would be unacceptable, if I can help it! And I know plenty of shepherds who've lost sheep in storms like this. Second, while conditions in their homeland are frequently tough, it rarely is this cold and snowy there. Temperatures here will be below zero (F) tonight, with ice and snow, and high winds all night. When the wind blows, the air seems much, much colder. Shetlands are very hardy, and are known to survive this just fine, but it does weaken them!! Flocks left out in such hostile conditions have a higher mortality rate, and they require more feed to just stay alive. That inefficiency sounds expensive to me! By bringing the boys into the barn, they are out of the wind, shiver less or not at all, need less feed, drink more water, and continue to lick their salt and minerals. Outside, they stop drinking, and won't mess around with salt or minerals, only eating hay, then laying back down to survive. It is much easier, and better for them, to just bring them in and let them hang out for a day or two. When the weather clears, they will happily return to their pasture. There you have it! Shepherding in snowy Wisconsin, and the realities of loving sheep.