It may seem to most folk a simple thing to do to count a herd of cattle or a flock of sheep, but quite often you don’t get a second chance to re-count at that time or in that place. If you miss count and your one down or perhaps gain one, and think they are alright you clear off to your next job thinking they are all okay, when that one you mis-counted might be stuck in a peaty ditch or in trouble away from the main group of animals, and left overnight could be found dead by morning.
With sheep, counting them as they leave a fold, they will run out at high speed, so a narrow gap wide enough for two sheep to get through is usually about right, any narrower and two will wedge in the gap and block the flow of sheep. It was an old practice to count the sheep by the score, (in twenties), if you look at that counting up to twenty, they are all one syllable words, into the twenties and beyond they are two syllable which does not make for fast counting.
So count up to twenty and drop a pebble into ya pocket, or if you have less than two hundred sheep you just curl one finger up for every twenty you've counted. That’s okay as long as no one or nothing distracts you when you grab or need to prevent a hurdle from falling and you cannot remember how many fingers you had curled up. Pebble in the pocket was a surer way of recording how many score of sheep you have, and can go beyond how many fingers you own.
Cattle I find easier to count from slightly higher vantage point when they’re spread out grazing, I take the view of the group like the top half of the face of a clock, and bring the imaginary finger round the clock counting all whom it passes over, then do a check count going the opposite way across them to get the same count again. This way of counting is okay when you have cattle all of the same age and size, the problem come when the suckler cows have calved and young calves are wandering about around and behind their mothers. It’s best to establish that all the cows are there, then go round and count all the calves in a separate count, check counting each time, it just reassuring when you get both counts the same.
When one is missing for some reason or other, you count and recount just hoping that the count will come right, then begin the search for who is missing, most of the older characters of the herd would be missed and know who you’re looking for. Some of the younger ones, all of whom would no doubt have the same father/sire may all be the same or similar markings and out of a group of fifty or more its near impossible to know which one is missing.
Cows that are calving will go off on their own, and very young new born calves will get their first belly full of milk and find a bog of rushes or a bog of nettles or even duck under the wood fence and lay down and hide in the under growth, as nature tells them to at that age.
Very often the only way of finding them, is to find the mother who when alerted will raise her head looking in the direction of where she knows the calf is, very rarely will she walk and take you to it.
|This was our leader (a good leader) for almost ten years.|
So counting is not just for fun, it’s a serious matter to know if one is missing, if they get out through the broken fence it more often than not be a number missing, if you have a bad leader of the herd (If she gets in the habit of getting out) the lot will have gone. Keep the leader happy and contented and the herd will be happy. As with people, they are all individuals, all have their own characteristics and mannerism, and you can almost read their minds as well.