Black Sheep

Sheep are style icons, with a flair for color.

They avoid yellow at all costs. They stop in their tracks and stare at my yellow corral panels as if yellow is so Last Year they won’t pass near for fear the fashion faux pas might rub off on them.

Blue is not their favorite hue. They might dip their lips into the hip bling of a sparkling stream, but refuse to wade into gaudy, over-the-top teal.

This time of year, as the prairie cures to gold, sheep prefer green. Green grass, green flowers, green alfalfa – they follow the green as hypnotized as a greedy stockbroker. Maybe they are soaking up all the green they can get before it disappears like white disappears after Labor Day.

Sheep don’t like black -- too dark against their fair white wool. They huddle in a mass under a slim new moon, wary of monsters in the night.

I have one black ewe, the rest are white Targhees. This black ewe raises twins each year, sometimes even triplets. She pulls her weight on the ranch. Yet, the rest of the ewes don’t recognize her contributions. They know she is different.

The black ewe does what she has to do to overcome her style deprivation. Long ago, she had a choice: Either be ostracized or become a leader of the flock.

 So she finds the green.

Every morning for the past month, I let the sheep out of their protective corral and watch them race for the pasture fence. The black ewe trots at the front of the flock.

Every afternoon, I find the latest hole in the woven wire, patch it, reinforce it with yellow twine and bring the flock back to the pasture. The black ewe meanders innocently in the back of the flock.

Sheep are creatures of habit. Once they establish a daily routine, they stick with it. For two weeks, the black ewe led the flock to the green brome on the side of the county road. But she is wily – a sheep doesn’t successfully wean triplets in this coyote-ravaged country without street smarts. Just about the time my neighbors became trained to watch for sheep as they drove down the county road, the black ewe switched direction and headed for emerald alfalfa growing north of the ranch.

I rebuilt that northern fence two years ago. It should withstand 150 pounds of poking and prodding.

I discovered wool on the woven wire that evening.

Nobody has ever uttered the phrase “Lisa is a patient person.”

That is because long ago I used all of my patience on this black ewe.

That evening, productivity and the resulting profitability went out the window. The black ewe will go down the road on Sunday. Three hundred miles down the road to the livestock auction.

The next morning, my daughter, Abby, and I pushed the flock through the sorting chute. I cut out enough lambs and a couple of other cull ewes to fill a trailer. The black ewe held back, avoiding the chute until the last moment.

I turned the rest of the flock out of the corral and sat back to watch. The ewes grazed placidly, content.

This was too good to be true. I waited for a bomb to drop the next day, wondering which direction the flock would run, which wire would become mangled from thousands of hooves jumping through.

The next morning, the flock strolled leisurely out of the corral while the black ewe eyed the fence. She bleated. Not a single fashionista acknowledged her. The black ewe turned to the manger, despondent.

Now, if only I can keep her corralled until Sunday.

Lisa Schmidt