Die Nachbarn

Our neighbours are back. Noisy, nosey and oh, how we missed them! Not sure where they disappeared to early last summer, or even whether the herd that have come back to graze on the grassy slope just beyond our apartment are the same. I do know that life with sheep as neighbours is never dull.

The cling of their bells, which worried me as a source of noise when we first moved here, is now a welcome sign of life. It’s never loud enough to wake us up, especially now that the days are colder and the windows mostly closed. Instead, the music of the sheep bells is a reassuring presence.

I noticed when I got up the other morning that their silhouettes were visible on the dark hill just outside the office window. In the early morning with the lights on in our apartment, I suppose we are sheep TV. I went to the window and saw them just a couple of metres above, looking down on us in curiosity as I fed the dogs. There is something comical about how they stare at me with interest while chewing their cud.

And drama! Who would have thought the lives of sheep were so filled with sensation? On a sunny afternoon while working studiously in the office, I had the window open, and suddenly there was a commotion of bells. I went outside to check and saw all 18 of the sheep huddled together in the middle of the hill. Their eyes were all fixed at the top of the hill, where I spied an unusual visitor. At first I thought it was a big dog, with pointy ears like a Doberman, but then I realized: it was a red doe. While it clearly posed no threat to the sheep, the poor thing had somehow found its way into the sheep’s electric fenced enclosure and was looking for a way out. Panicked, the deer jumped the fence too close and fell, its legs entangled in the mesh. Thankfully, after thrashing around for a few seconds, it freed itself and high-tailed it towards the woods. The sheep watched it run off and soon returned to chomping their grass. What a life.

But it made me realize why these animals are so curious. They are vulnerable to predators. The herd mentality that made them all stick together in the face of an intruder is the same one that makes them stare at any by passer to make sure they’re not in any danger.

The other night I could hear one of the sheep baying in the wee hours. It was unusual: they’re generally fairly quiet other than their constantly ringing bells. But it was cold out and they’d recently been shorn. My daughter the vet who knows how to do things like tip sheep explained that they need to graze a lot to get enough calories to sustain them. Maybe they’d worn the grass down?

The next day I heard the bells ringing like crazy again and went out to check what was going on. Sure enough, the farm woman who looks after them had come to move them from one field to another. I watched from afar as she rolled back the fence. The sheep knew the drill: they lined up right away and shuffled through the space to the higher slope. Except one was left behind.

It was too small to go up the hill on its own, so the woman reached down and lifted it up to the mother. That’s when I realized just how small it was — it looked like a baby. I’d never seen it before and, putting two and two together, it occurred to me that this was what all the baying had been about. One of the sheep had given birth, right there on the hill in the middle of the night. Already the little one was scampering to follow her and nurse.

Ain’t life grand?