In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Culling day

On Tuesday and Wednesday the shepherds were on the island to cull the flock. On Tuesday they gathered all the sheep into the corral at the south end of the cove.
Most ewes will remain on the island, but the oldest ones will go.
This pen contains the ewes and lambs that will be culled.
The flock's owners, Leroy and Mary d'Entremont, are pursuing a long-term strategy for the production of wild island lamb, by increasing the presence of the Scottish Blackface breed.
One of the rams on the island this past winter, the one we call The Major, was Scottish Blackface. His lambs are quite distinctive. And this week Leroy brought a couple of Scottish Blackface ewes over from Blue Island to add to the breeding capacity of the McNutt's Island flock.
The Scottish Blackface breed produces a larger lamb with more meat. It's also hardier, better able to withstand the rough island weather.
For the past several years, before Leroy and Mary bought the flock, it had been bred primarily to North Country Cheviot. The rams we call Bertie and Balzac are North Country Cheviot. Here's one of their lambs.
In the pen on the right are the sheep to be culled; to the left are the lambs that will remain on the island as ewes. At this stage in their lives they are called weanlings.
On Wednesday morning the shepherds returned to the island to begin the labourious process of loading sheep into the skiff.
The sheep are funneled, a few at a time, into a small pen that can be constantly rearranged by opening and closing any of its four sides. The shepherds align the pen with the skiff so they can get the sheep onboard.
From left to right are Joel, Leroy, Chad, and Jason.
Once the pen is in place, the shepherds pick up each lamb and put it into the skiff. Meanwhile, Mary and Ingrid keep the skiff stabilized. They and the border collies are all on the alert to prevent the lambs from jumping out of the skiff once they are inside it.
The loading is a painstaking process, also requiring brawn.
A lamb did jump overboard. Ingrid plucked it from the water and returned it to the skiff.
Chad reaches for his next lamb.
Joel with Leroy.
Once a few lambs are safely in the skiff, the others will follow them and settle in more easily.
There will be two trips across the harbour today in a skiff loaded with lambs and ewes and shepherds and dogs.
On the mainland, the shepherds will load the lambs and ewes into a trailer. Later, Mary and Ingrid will drive the trailer down to Pubnico and release the sheep into Mary and Leroy's field. Then Mary and Ingrid will return to the island for the rest of the day's work.
Every step of this process requires great concentration. Something can go wrong at any minute. And there's so much that needs to be considered: tides, currents, weather.
At last the skiff is loaded and underway. They will cross directly across the harbour to Leroy's truck, which is parked next to the water at the end of a road in Carleton Village. There they will reverse the process to get the sheep loaded into the trailer.
There was a tough moment later in the day when they tried to gather some sheep that were still up on the north end of the island. That group is wilder than the rest of the flock and more resistant to being gathered. One ewe panicked and swam into the water and drowned. This is the kind of thing that makes the management of island sheep so challenging. But at the end of the day Mary and Leroy told us that it had been, overall, a very smooth gathering.

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