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Did You Know That Sheep Can Swim?

Titia is interested in photography, poetry, family, art, dogs, cats, insects, wildlife, history, war, camping, writing, and the environment.

swimming-sheep

I knew that sheep can swim, but I had never experienced it myself. However back in 2009 I found out the hard way. You might think the story you're about to read is funny and it is, but I can tell you that I wasn't laughing at the moment it happened.

Some background info:

I'm a breeder of a very old and rare Dutch sheep breed called Drenthe Heath Sheep (in Dutch: Drents Heideschaap). I've been breeding these sheep for over 30 years now and you can read about them in my other articles. It's a very old and still rather rare breed and therefore it is very important to keep the genetic diversity in order to keep the breed healthy. Almost every year we use different rams to prevent inbreeding.

Young Sheep Rams

Young Sheep Rams

You Need to Change Rams to Get Fresh Genes

In order to keep the breed healthy, we often exchange young or older rams with other breeders. We all can only keep a number of rams and after about six months I can spot the rams that are not going to make it through the sheep inspection the following year of their birth, so I have this agreement with another breeder to exchange my not so good rams for his good rams. He will sell mine to the butcher and I will keep his till the next inspection.

In September in 2009 I came home with about 5 new young rams and I drove to one of my meadows (a dike) to release them. I keep new arrivals in quarantine for a while to make sure they're not carrying any contagious disease that could affect my own sheep.

Always Pay Attention When Unloading Sheep

While unloading the young rams, I wasn't paying attention and when the last lamb jumped out of the van, the other rams already were out of sight around the corner of the dike. Now this last young fellow thought he was all alone in an unknown area and he got into a panic and jumped the fence into the open farm land.

Then I got into a panic, because to catch a lone sheep in an open field is very difficult, nearly impossible. Even trained dogs often don't recognize a lone sheep as a 'herd' and my two young Border Collie dogs were not trained yet at that moment.


Chasing the Escaped Young Ram

In the picture below I've tried to visualize what happened in the next few hours.

The white lines show the movement of the young ram. We almost caught him on the farmer's farm, but the farmer, who had come out to help, wasn't fast enough and the ram escaped again, running all the way down the path to the open field.

I knew I couldn't keep up with him, so I ran back to my little van and drove my car all the way around and drove into the field which had just been harvested (potatoes) for a part. I took one dog out and pursued my chase, trying to use the dog as a walking fence, which she obviously didn't understand, but as she's well trained in obedience, she would lay down when and where I told her to, so the ram wouldn't go that way.

In the meantime my hubby had joined the party and was covering one corner of the field. The farmer was covering another corner. Between the road and the field was a wide deep ditch filled with water and if there is no reason, a sheep won't jump over.

map of the situation

map of the situation

map of the situation

map of the situation

Along the North border of this field runs a long old creek, which is at its widest point about 25 yards wide. It's bordered with a wide brim of reed. At some point in the chase, the ram went into an opening in the reed and I thought I had the ram cornered, because the dog and I closed the entrance.

I ordered the dog to go down and stay, while I cautiously entered the reed, thinking I could grab this ram. Boy was I thinking wrong. Before I could reach him, he jumped into the water and swam away. Without thinking I took a dive - head first - into the water too, only to discover it was very shallow at that point. I couldn't really swim normally, because it was all soft and muddy and the moment I tried to put my feet down, they sank deep into the mud. I managed though to get hold of the ram's horns. He too had difficulties with his swimming in the mud and I'm sure that if I hadn't caught him, he would not have made it to the other side.

I could only lie on my side, holding the sheep with one hand and paddling with the other like you can see in the photo below. It was very tiresome and ever so often I had to rest a bit making sure my behind and my feet wouldn't get stuck in the soft mud.

Holding on to the ram

Holding on to the ram

Someone Yelled at Me

When I was still struggling in that water, I suddenly heard someone yelling at me if I needed some help. It appeared to be a man and his wife, who were passing by in their car and they spotted me in the water. As I lay on my side, holding the lamb at my belly, they couldn't see the lamb from where they were standing. They only saw me splashing around with my arm and they thought I was drowning.

I yelled back that I really could use some help when I reached the main land, because I knew the border of the creek at the roadside was rather high and steep. I was already so tired, that I know that lifting this ram up to the steep bank would have been an ordeal.

Later on I learned that the woman had been taking pictures of the whole rescue event, which she sends to me later on.

You can see in the picture how shallow that creek was. The danger however was the thick layer of soft sucking mud underneath that shallow water. If I would have tried to stand up right there in the middle, I never would have been able to get out of that sucking mud by my own, that's why I kept myself laying down on my side.

swimming-sheep

The farmer (in the striped shirt), who had been guarding one corner of the field before, had seen me disappearing into the reed, but never saw me coming out again. He got worried, so he took his car and drove along the road to see what had happened to me.

Getting out of the water was more difficult than getting In

Getting out of the water was more difficult than getting In

Even though it was only a lamb, it was not easy to get him up there. There were a lot of branches I had to climb over and by boots got stuck all the time.

It wasn't easy getting the lamb out of the creek

It wasn't easy getting the lamb out of the creek

We finally made it to dry land

We finally made it to dry land

The Horns of These Sheep Are Useful Handles

Good thing my sheep have horns. They're very useful handles.

If you think such a small lamb is easy to handle than you're wrong. Sheep don't want to be handled and they put their full weight into the reverse mode. You're dragging dead meat so to speak.

We both had a firm grip on the lamb

We both had a firm grip on the lamb

The farmer who helped me is a very nice man and he's the owner of the dyke where I graze my sheep. He was so kind to let the dripping me and the dripping lamb, both covered with black mud in the back of his blue car and he drove us home.

I put the lamb in the stable and dried it with old towels in order to prevent it from getting sick from his cold and wet adventure.

My Dog Was Still at the Creek and Wouldn't Move!

Good heavens, I had all forgotten about my dog Tipper, who was still on guard on the field where I left her, when I took my dive into the water. She finally had gone through the reed and must have spotted me in the water with the sheep and see me disappearing in the car.

She didn't know what to do and had started howling, which attracted the attention of people passing by and one of them knew it was my dog and phoned me.

When I (still in my wet clothes) arrived, a whole crowd of people was standing on the road, watching Tipper who still wouldn't move. On their calls she refused to jump into the water and swim over (clever girl because it wouldn't have been safe for her), so I drove all the way around to get to the field on the other side of the creek and then she came running towards me when I called her. In the meantime I too had forgotten that my little van was still on the field with my other dog Dixie inside. She had been sitting there for hours, not knowing what happened around her. So I got her out and brought them both home and then my hubby drove me again to the field to get my little van.


Border Collies Tipper and Dixie

Border Collies Tipper and Dixie

I got some nightmares later on

Later on, I realized that I had taken an enormous risk by diving head first into that creek. This creek is bordered with very tall trees and with each storm branches small or bigger fall off into the water and sank below surface. Diving into the water like I did might have ended up diving right into one of those broken branches and then I would have been spiked like a sauces on a stick. It took some time to get that image out of my head.

White Drenthe Heath Sheep Ram

White Drenthe Heath Sheep Ram

© 2014 Titia Geertman

Love to hear your comments

Kate Loving Shenk from Lancaster PA on March 17, 2014:

One of our sheep swam across the river and ended up in the middle of our hometown! She did this in an attempt to escape my dog, who was herding her! We still marvel at her prowess!

changrcoacher on March 14, 2014:

He is gorgeous! What an incredible story! While experiencing your harrowing adventure, I have to admit I also laughed....just a little. And...your wonderful neighbor and the people who saved the whole thing for posterity. Also, your marvelous dogs! Thank you for sharing this with us underprivileged folk with no swimming sheep.

flycatcherrr on March 13, 2014:

Goodness, I am exhausted just reading about this adventure! No, I had no idea that sheep could swim. I would have thought all the wool would weight them down too much... good to learn something new today!

Titia Geertman (author) from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands on March 11, 2014:

@Zeross4: Ha ha, don't mention too loud to this breed rams that you like them, they can break your legs if they want to. We never hand feed the rams, because that will trigger their punching behaviour.

hmommers on March 11, 2014:

Phew, quite an adventure, Titia, glad both of you got out safe.

lesliesinclair on March 10, 2014:

I never before thought about sheep swimming, maybe because I've never seen them near water, but this is a whopper of a true story, and fantastic photos to illustrate it.

Renee Dixon from Kentucky on March 10, 2014:

I didn't know they could swim! I love rams, they are my astrological sign- the picture above is beautiful too!

Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on March 10, 2014:

Loved your story you did a great job rescuing that little fellow. We have sheep also, they can swim, but when they have long wool they get very heavy with water, that's when they drown. Loved the photos, thanks for sharing with us.

Kim Milai on March 10, 2014:

I totally loved this story and the way you told it! My husband and I eventually want a sheep but right now we only have 2 chickens. We have an Aussie and a neighboring Border Collie but they aren't really trained. If given a chance they attack the chickens and they herd the humans :)

Eugene Samuel Monaco from Lakewood New York on March 10, 2014:

Wow!! What a story!! and amazing pictures of it, you are are the first person that I now know to go swimming with a sheep :) Thanks for sharing a wonderful story!!

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on March 10, 2014:

What an experience. How marvelous that you have the photos the woman took. Thank goodness that you and the ram survived the ordeal.