At one time or another, we raised all manner of animals on Date Creek Ranch. Chickens, ducks, geese, wild turkeys, rabbits, goats, sheep, pigs. If Old MacDonald had it on his farm, at one time or another we had it too. This is about the time we raised a lamb.
Sometimes, in the spring, when the rains were good, we’d end up with that happiest of all rancher problems, excess grass. When that happened, we’d often pasture sheep. A truck would show up with a few hundred sheep to graze for a month or so and a couple of Basque sheepherders to take care of them. (Basque is a region in Spain. Apparently sheep are quite the thing there. I don’t know for sure though and I’m really too lazy to look it up.)
Anyway, one year, when I was about seven or eight, the sheepherders gave us a lamb. Its mother had died and they weren’t really in a position to raise it so they passed it on to us. The job of actually raising it fell to me.
I named him Junior. I fed him calf formula (we raised orphaned calves from time to time) from a glass 7-Up bottle with a nipple on the top and he was just as cute as the dickens. He lived in the front yard and when I showed up with that bottle he’d come running just as fast as his little legs would carry him and then drink ravenously, butting the bottle as he did so. I’m telling you, it was adorable.
Then he grew up and you know what? He stopped being cute. He became dirty (sheep wool is just a magnet for all kinds of crud) and obnoxious. Sure, he was helpful after parties, eating the peanut shells and cigarette butts off the lawn, but we really only had one party a year.
But there was one family member who actively hated Junior, and that was my brother, Scott.
Now, why would a little four-year-old kid hate a young sheep, you ask?
Because Junior tormented Scott.
Junior, it seems, had a sadistic streak. His favorite game was to lie in wait in the front yard (I guess a sheep’s life gets kind of boring after a while) for Scott to come out of the house. When Scott came out of the house, Junior would run and butt Scott and knock him down.
Well, Scott wasn’t one to go down without a fight. He found himself a big stick and leaned it on the wall of the house by the front door. Every time he came out the front door he’d grab the stick, shake it at Junior and yell at him to go away and leave him alone.
Which Junior never did.
Instead he’d stalk Scott, one slow step at a time. Scott would back away, eyes fixed on Junior, the stick held up threateningly, and Junior would follow, matching him step for step.
It was a good plan, really it was. It just had one flaw. Inevitably, about halfway across the yard, Scott would lose his nerve, throw the stick down and turn and run for it.
Whereupon Junior would race after him, lower his head, hit him in the butt, and knock him down.
Scott would cry and rage impotently at his tormentor while Junior stood there, waiting for him to get up and run so he could knock him down again.
Junior thought it was great fun. Scott hated it. The rest of us thought it was hilarious, which Scott also hated.
No one was happier than Scott when a friend of ours took Junior home with him to Las Vegas, bound for the petting zoo there.
I’ve often wondered how long Junior lasted at that petting zoo.