Calling Home The Sheep


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.


I’m not always around my grandmother’s hens, but when I beller a good “chick chick chickeeeeen!” they’ll come barreling out of the coop!

thetinfoilhatsociety May 26, 2011 at 10:01 pm

I only have chickens presently, but they know “treats” and “candy” and come running when I (or anyone) calls those words to them. (candy being scratch). I have one hen who is an escape artist. When she is done rooting in my garden and wants to go back to her sisters, she comes up to the back steps, gets comfortable, and clucks loudly. She knows we will pick her up and toss her back over the fence!

All the chickens are hand tamed and used to being picked up; this was done deliberately so they would be easier to catch were there something wrong. It does make it harder to think about turning them into chicken dinner though.

Animals are much smarter than we give them credit for.

I’ve been milking goats for three years, and the herd responds – IN UNISON – to “Hi, Girls!!!”.. Each crop of spring kids learns the routine, too, but for them, it’s “Hi, Babies”. You can see them in action right here:

My husband and I are lazy, so we have stockdogs (Kelpies). Rik goes up to the goat pen in the morning with a dog and lets the milker out, then does his chores. The dog brings the goat to me at the stand about 50 yards away. To encourage the dog, I call “Dare, walk-up!”

After several years of this, turns out our milk goat Flo has learned the command. Now if she dawdles I call “Flo, walk up!” and she hurries herself up. Dare, who is pushing 11 years of age, keeps watch from a comfy patch of shade 🙂

My husband grew up with “come, boss”, which his father used to call the cows when the hay was being scattered to feed. And I have always called my horses by name, but no matter what the name, it becomes two syllables: one high C, then the low D in the same octave, key of C. But our milk cow comes in when her name is called, and so the new cows we bought, even though they have their own names, now only respond to “Maybelle”. I told my husband the other day that we were going to always have to have a cow named Maybelle to keep the routine going. The boar and the stallion come in whether you call them or not, because they always assume they’re going to be fed (funny how the males seem to run on their stomachs!), but the sow ignores her name and only comes when you grunt…

On the dairy farm, it was “Mornin’ Ladies; Milk time Ladies.”

In 4/4 time.

“Mornin'” and “Milk Time” were 5ths and on the pickup beat, the first a dotted-eighth / sixteenth combo and the second straight eighths.

“Ladies” was, in both cases, 3rds with two eighth notes, the second tied to a half.

I did it in D, in the octave below middle C. For the classically trained soprano, I guess we could put it in C, and in the second octave above middle C.

I need to get out some staff paper and record that.


My grandfather used to call the sheep with a load “cudd it, cudd it”. The cows would be called with a “come bos, come bos”. Like You, Gene, it was many a rning, I would wake up to the sound of my grandfatther calling the livestock, on his farm up the hill.

I am a classically trained soprano…and I get great pleasure out of puffing up, holding in the diaphram, and in Puccini Style, belting out “heeeeeeeyaaaaa chickens!!”
What follows is hayhem and squable sqwuking as they flapp and flutter scurrying from all corners of the farm to clean up my kitchen scraps…..It also works when I want to get them out of someplace they shouldnt be…its always a crowd pleaser for farm visitors who are aghast at trained chickens…

Somehow we got to calling the sheep by cooing “Allez Sheep!! Allez! Allez!” and now my little two year old will walk up to the fence, and call: “aalllaaay sheepies! Aaaallllaayy!”

I never really stopped to think about how this sounds to the neighbors…but I think by now, we are all settling in…
Animals really do tend to reveal our eccentricities don’t they?

When I had sheep I called oooouie, in the same cadence as you would call hogs. The oooouie was for ovine. Enjoyed this article a lot. Brings back very good memories. Thanks.

My wife, who the chickens have learned is the lady with the treats such as a bag of raisins, can bring all the chickens home with a simple, “chick, chick, chick.”
Me on the other hand, is the bully who only brings scratch and chases them out of the coop when it needs cleaned, so I’m often ignored.
Chickens learn where the love is.

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