Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Sheep in pasture at The Fields Sculpture Park on June 5th, 2007.


ChrisC said...

Blog for Dan Devine
Sheep in Sculpture Park at Art Omi

I have been observing the sheep quietly during my stay at Music Omi. The first time I saw one sheep in the distance around August 3. I went into the woods for sometime to see the other sculptures. When I came out of the woods I found the sheep lying in the shed. Several days later I came and there were no sheep. The following time there were a few sheep. I tried to get their attention and they ran away from me. When I came out of the woods soon afterward, all of the sheep were gone. I assumed they went into the shed, but I looked for a while wondered how all the sheep would fit in that small shed with a bail of hay. I had entertained the notion that some shepherd had taken them to another field.

Last night (August 12) I went to the sheep farm during dusk. I walked very quietly in the direction of the farm. I kept my distance and kept very still. A couple of times the sheep looked up, but this time they were not startled and continued to graze. Today I went to observe the sheep again. I can’t say that I was actually visiting them, because, from their viewpoint I was just part of the fabric of the environment. I stood above the fenced-in area near the trees and the wavy metal sculpture. It was quite humorous watching them. I stayed this time for at least fifteen minutes. Only one sheep looked up once very briefly.

I had heard that it is necessary to have a goat with a herd of sheep, so that the sheep don’t follow each other over the side of a cliff. I had never witnessed the reality of this behavior until I observed them today. All five of them would feed in a row on an angle. It was never a perpendicular experience. Every few minutes one of the sheep (not always the same one) would move several feet away to feed in another area, and the rest of the sheep would be one step behind the momentary leader to form another slanted row. One time, one of the sheep was behind the pack and not in a row. That was the time that the sheep looked up. It was as though s/he was saying to me, “Well, are you going to do something about this?” Moments later, the entire group adjusted so that all of them were in a slanted row once again. It was such a joyful moment watching this scene. I quietly exited the area so as not to disturb their feeding bliss.

I couldn’t figure out why part of the farm was blocked off with a fence, keeping the sheep from that area. And I also found it rather strange that there be such an imposing electrical fence and locked gate around the farm. Is this fence to keep the sheep in or people out or both? If it is the latter, I can’t imagine a person stealing five sheep. As far as the former, I am not sure sheep are smart enough to open a gate. BTW, why is the word “sheep” both singular and plural?

Chris Chalfant
Music Omi Fellow August 2-19, 2007

Dan Devine Art said...

Dear chrisc,
Thank you for visiting Sheep Farm and posting so thoughtfully about your experience.
Bringing people and the installation together for long periods of time and for return visits is part of my goal for Sheep Farm. I like to think a living artwork will develope a living relationship with the viewer. Many that I meet during my daily visits have told me they come back to Sheep Farm many times over and each time they find something they hadn't noticed or thought about before.
I, too, enjoy watching the group move about in changing formations. Now that the ram and ewes are beginning to mate there is a lot of head butting and chasing about. The formations of feeding are now constantly disrupted.
To answer some of your questions:
There is one white ram and four ewes. Neither the ram nor the white ewe has been old enough to mate until this year.
The electric fence is to keep people, domestic dogs and coyotes out. Some people think its O'K to chase sheep about. I've witnessed this when animals are put in petting zoos. They also may let the sheep out. An untrained dog can charge the sheep and frighten them into hurting themselves badly. Coyotes will be a problem in late winter when there are no rabbits to eat and the lambs are just born. The pasture is divided to keep the sheep on a healthier diet. There are parasites in sheep dung that move into the vegetation the sheep will eat. The parasites will die off after two weeks, so I keep the sheep out of a pasture for two weeks. This system is not as perfect as in nature, where sheep keep moving from hill to valley, but it is with their health in mind.