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 Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Sheep Often Taken For Granted

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
A man who once owned a lot of sheep and goats for many years said he still had not figured out why the Good Lord created such exasperating creatures.

Surely it was a botched-up plan of some sort. He also stated anyone who owned sheep was a "poor, misguided, ignorant pilgrim." Another time he said, "The dumb cluck could get into more trouble than you could shake a stick at." However, after the open ranges were fenced with net wire and owners learned a few tricks about the sheep business, the "woolies" often provided more profit than cattle though few would admit it.

Since most sheep look alike they are very hard to count. One old cowboy who was forced to tend to a herd of sheep along with his cattle said, "My eyes would cross every time I tried to count sheep. I didn't know how many I had in the beginning, never knew how many I had during the season and didn't know how many were sold in the end. But the boss said we made a profit."

There seems to be no explaining how one Mexican herder could control 1,500 sheep, day and night for months at a time out on the bald prairie, out in all kinds of weather, changing locations every day with only his whistle, a yell, a carefully thrown rock and a faithful sheep dog or two.

Owners treated herders as family as they were devoted to their flocks and guarded them as jealously as Caesar did his wife. Perhaps being with their flocks 24 hours a day allowed them to better understand the nature of the breed.

The recorded tales of sheep and cattle wars would fill a long shelf in a library. Both men and animals died in the battles and ambushes. Thousands of animals were stampeded over cliffs and into rivers. Only after wire fences arrived did the violence stop and even then the wires were sometimes cut in revenge. When laws were finally passed making it a prison sentence to cut the wire the ranges became safe again.

My favorite sheep story took place after the railroads arrived allowing livestock to be shipped to market by rail. Special facilities were built to load herds onto rail cars. Dust clouds rose to the skies during shipping season as crews worked around the clock to load the animals.

Almost every sheep loading facility featured a very important employee living nearby, usually a pet ram who was raised on a bottle by a young boy. Most were named "Sancho" and called a Judas Goat, the animal was used to lure the sheep and goats aboard the rail cars. When ready to fill a car Sancho was turned into the pen to be loaded. He milled around to get acquainted then led the herd into the car. When full, the doors were closed and Sancho worked his way back to the door to be let out to load the next car.

The owner of this talented, hard-working animal was given a dollar, maybe, for the service and the star of the show was given a "chaw of tobacco or a few tailor-made cigarette butts" which he purely relished. Now just how cheap can wages get?

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
March 16 , 2010 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

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