An axiom of hauling livestock is that the number of animals you load in the trailer should be the same when you arrive. However, rules are made to be broken.
It was a beautiful fall day when I handed over a ram to a Fauquier County family for a breeding lease. But just a few hours later, I realized that I had given them the wrong ram – they needed Alfred and I’d just given them Lionel. Aghast, I called to explain the situation and agreed to meet them at that Fauquier County culinary landmark, Pete’s Park ’N Eat, where Opal Road spills out onto U.S. routes 29 and 17.
We arrived at the same time. Ready for the ram switcheroo, I strode to the rear of my rig and stood there dumbfounded. While the large swing gate was securely latched, the small door that formed part of it had slid open and Alfred was gone. Panicking, I even checked the corners, an absurd move since Alfred is a beefy 220-pounder. Immediately, I began to imagine scenarios of a sheep in traffic; they were all horrific, and that was before the lawyers got involved. I walked to the other rig and told the man that something terrible had happened. Alfred had escaped from the trailer, and I had to leave immediately. In the meantime, they had to give me Lionel, as he was leased to another farm. Even without an advanced degree, the man knew I was completely nuts.
“What do you think you’re going to do – find him by the side of the road?” he asked.
“I don’t know, but I’ve got to try,” I replied.
After loading a puzzled Lionel and double-checking the door latches, I sped back toward Amissville. It was now after 5, and the sun seemed to mock me as it sank ever lower in the sky. While scanning the roadside for a white form in the waning light, I called my husband, Dave, and asked him to put out a three-county all points bulletin for a ram on the lam.
While I drove, I began to think about what might have happened. I had not checked the sliding-door latch, as I had used the large gate to load the animal, and road vibration could have slowly slid the door open. Alfred just had to wait until I slowed down or stopped in order to make his escape. I’d only stopped twice during the trip: at the top of my road by U.S. 211 and at an intersection with Route 229. Perhaps he’d jumped before I’d even turned onto U.S. 211. Maybe he was waiting impatiently for me at home.
After getting home and not finding Alfred, I set out to retrace the route again with only minutes until darkness. Suddenly, my husband called and said Fauquier County had received a report of a ram grazing in the cemetery off Route 229 just south of my route. How appropriate. Moments later, I looked across the headstones but saw no sheep. As I spoke with the occupant of a nearby house, I saw a truck coming down the driveway of a farm across the road. It was Brad Rosenberger’s daughter, Natalie, and when she stopped on the opposite shoulder, she called out, “Are you looking for a sheep? If you are, I’ve got him.”
Alfred greeted me affectionately, and he was safe, sound and rather elated by his adventure. It seems he had snacked in the cemetery and then caught a whiff of the small flock of ewes across the road. When Natalie saw him gazing at the girls through the fence, she grabbed a rope and went to catch him. He made it easy by walking up to her to be haltered and happily following her into the trailer.
I have so much for which to be thankful. After escaping, Alfred kept off the highway so no one, human or bovine, was hurt during his adventure. He also escaped near the only farm along the route that had sheep. More than anything, Alfred had the good fortune to be found by honorable people like the Rosenbergers, as someone else might have shot him like a deer or hauled him off to the livestock auction. As I delivered tired and probably carsick (trailersick?) rams long after nightfall, I counted my blessings like so many sheep.