From GENE LOGSDON
Calling livestock is hardly popular music these days but it nevertheless remains alive and well on many garden farms, and is, I would argue, as pleasant to the ear as any rap song I’ve heard lately. Humans have been making conference calls to their animals for a long time. Yodeling began as a way to call in the flocks on the vast mountainsides of the Alps but is actually much older than that, a form of it having been practiced by pigmy societies in Africa in the 1600s. Humans have probably been whispering to, calling to, even singing to their animals forever. Think of the singing cowboys which became an icon (I am starting to hate the overuse of that word) of American so-called civilization.
I grew up— woke up many mornings— to the wail of my cousin, Ade, calling his sheep. His farm was next to ours and he took to practicing this primitive ritual at about four o’clock in the morning. Mom said he wanted us to know he was already up and about and anyone still in bed was a sinner. But his sheep call was music to my ears. Up the little creek valley that connected our farms would roll this long drawn-out wail of “shoooooooooooooopeeeeeee” that began on about high A over C on the musical scale and fell, quaveringly, a couple of notes on the second syllable. The call lasted as long as he could keep expelling air with enough force for the sound to carry a mile or two.
I practiced that call till I got it down fairly well. In seminary high school, it became the battle cry of our wayward class as we frolicked through the 400 acres of woodland that we had access to. I have a notion most of southern Indiana within several miles or our forest fastness knew that sound and believe to this day that banshees live in those knobby hills.
When I came back home for good, Ade was still calling his sheep, and I made up my mind that, as long as I lived, that song would endure in that little valley of Warpole Creek where my family has kept sheep for well over a century. Only now, as I grow older and slighter of breath, the sound is more like “shooopeee.”
The way farmers get the attention of livestock varies from farm to farm. We call hogs with a shrill whoooo weeee, whooo weeee, accent on the second syllable, but other farmers resort to a much softer soooooey, soooey. When we milked cows, they responded to soook-boss, soook-boss. My chickens perk up their heads at my cherk-cherk-cherk call, but unless I am carrying the garbage bucket or an ear of corn they go back to chasing bugs. Our horses in the sweet long ago responded to any human noise by high-tailing it to the farthest reaches of the farm. They knew that coming to the barn meant harness and sweat.
I’m sure all of you have your own sounds for getting animals to the barn. The practice can come in very handy if you practice rotational grazing. When I want to move my sheep to the next paddock, all I have to do is open the right gate and holler shooopeee, and they come running. They have gotten so smart about it that usually all I get out is shooo— and they practically run over me.