Updated: Oct 17, 2020
Occasionally, when we take some of our sheep to events, we hear comments like, "You have to approach them really quietly, because if you scare them, they'll have a heart attack and die."
Well, while we do appreciate people approaching the sheep pen calmly, and it increases their chance of being able to pet them, the likelihood that they'll have a heart attack and keel over is fairly low. Otherwise, we wouldn't be able to take them to events with pirates shooting black powder guns and cannons. At one of our early shows in 2019, we were directly across from the pirate encampment and had no issues. (And yes, we also greatly appreciate neighboring shows coming and asking if the sheep can handle loud noises, as well as warning us when especially sudden things may happen.)
However, holidays like July 4th and New Year's Eve can be traumatic, not because of the loud noise, but because of the sheer length of time the noise continues. There is no break, no chance to rest and recover. In some areas, there is either no noise ordinance to dictate the time fireworks can be set off, or it is not enforced. There are other factors, such as geography and setting. On a bare plateau or plain with very little to block sound, the explosions carry that much farther and can have a greater impact. Valleys can cause echoes and reverberations. The news is full of fireworks scaring pets and livestock to death because there is no escape. For livestock running in fear in the pasture, it can cause broken legs, torn skin on fencing, and many other horrors. For some animals, just like people, no amount of bombproofing is possible.
We are located on the side of a narrow valley, so while there is a lot of reverberation from fireworks in the neighborhood, we are also deeply forested, so the explosions are somewhat softened. But last night, the fireworks in our neighborhood were louder than they have been in the five years we've been here. In order to keep our dog (Stig) and our cats (Jeeves and Taz) calmer, we closed a few windows. Fortunately, though we don't have air conditioning, it wasn't a warm evening. I didn't check on the sheep last night before going to be because I wasn't sure if my checking on them would disturb them more than the noises outside.
Tonight, as is normal for all July 4ths and New Year's Eves here, we will put them in a little early, give them extra treats, such as some Timothy hay (leftover from when we were trying to get Tes to gain weight), grain, fresh water, and fresh loose salt and kelp. Because last night was so much noisier than usual, we may also shut the windows in their stall and turn on the fan to mute the noise and provide air circulation. (I will, of course, check on them sometime during the evening to make sure this is working for them. We've learned from other experiences that sometimes coddling them is not what they really need.)
The food and treats give the sheep something to think about besides the noises they can't see. One they are full, they will be more inclined to sleep. They do tend to pant more when stressed, so the loose salt encourages them to drink while also balancing electrolytes and vitamins, and some cold, clean water is there to help them regulate their internal temperature.
We hope that all of you have a safe and happy 4th of July!