shepherd

It's hard not to project

As shepherds we think we know what’s best for our sheep. The benefit of years watching and learning from these creatures has helped me realize that most of the time, they do know best and don't need our interference. If we’ll listen to them and not try to “project” our human interpretation, we can see that. Sure, we have to get involved from time to time but I’ve found if we trust their instincts and get out of their way, they’ll often take care of things.

Like the ewe that insists on having her lamb in the woods, we let her. Is it the safest? Probably not but that’s what she wants to do. It makes it harder on us once she’s had the lamb to get them to safety but I believe allowing them to have those moments and make those decisions gives us a more mutually respectful relationship.

I’m sure there’s a shepherd or two out there ranting at me right now, “we must be able to manage them and that requires some degree of doing things in spite of their natural instincts.” Like I said, I realize there are times we need to step in and I realize my way isn’t going to align with most others…it’s just my desire to let them be as true to their natural ways as I can. I might pay for it with a little extra effort on my part but I believe I gain by raising sheep that are in touch with their intuitive ways.

The Girls!

The Girls!

The other day I was rehashing a decision to want to keep one of our older ewes back from breeding. She has given us plenty of beautiful babies. She deserves to rest, I thought. So, I did just that. She went to spend her time grazing in green pastures with the teenagers. What a glorious gift, or was it?

Well, to shorten what could be a very long tale, Willow, that’s her name, ended up pregnant anyway. How? We’ll never be 100% sure. Through a fence? Could be, but boys were not in adjoining fences except for short stints while moving sheep? Could she be that fast? One of our lambs might have been more mature then we thought? Like i said, we’ll never know for sure.

A funny thing happened on that day I realized she was with lamb, as I walked away from her pasture something beckoned me to look back. There went Willow trotting away from me and kicking up her heels.

She was mighty happy.

It’s as if she was saying to me, I love being a mom! You don’t get to decide.

I believe I had just been reminded, we’re not necessarily smarter then mother nature!

Willow

Willow

Weaning, a whole new meaning

Weaning, a whole new meaning

Last year we brought my dear mother here to the farm from a nursing home.  We knew her time was short. We knew she would want to be surrounded by her loved ones.  As we approach the anniversary of her arrival here and her passing and another year of weaning our lambs from their mommas,  I felt the desire to share something that happened during her time here.

On July 28th, the day before she passed, John and I were weaning the lambs from their mothers. The window of my mothers room looked out over the pasture where we were.  In the process, I looked up (my heart and mind during those days were never far from her)  toward her room.  I couldn't help but feel the magnitude of what we were doing...separating the babes from their mamas.   

To WEAN: accustom (an infant or other young mammal) to food other than its mother's milk.  accustom (someone) to managing without something on which they have become dependent or of which they have become excessively fond.

 We knew my mother was shutting down and that it wouldn't be long.  At this moment I felt the arms of mother nature comforting me.  Yes, it brought tears but in that moment I felt my mother communicating with me through nature as if to say, it is a fact in life, it is real,  and it is happening.  Sooner or later we must say good bye.

This year will be no easier then it ever has for us.  We don't like separating them and for several years we didn't.  What we observed is that the mothers will drop from exhaustion trying to feed their babes and combat the heat 

To Wean or not to Wean

Observing a mother and her new born is a heavenly site.  We respond  based purely on emotions,  whether we've actually "mothered" or not.   At the moment you lay your eyes on this site all the world around is a blur and all that matters is the true love that halos around them.  It is such a pure connection that under no circumstances one should want to come between them, right?

 

A lot of the methods used in sheep farming  are about "management" of the flock.  The larger the number your trying to manage the harder it is to keep "order".  Orderliness becomes a goal for efficiency.  Efficiency adds to profits.  Follow me?  This is a slippery slope.

Weaning is one of those "management" tools.  According to reference books,  lambs should be removed from their mothers at 8-10 weeks old.  The reasons are mainly that the needs of the lambs for maximum market potential are different then the mamma's.    Growth of the lambs requires richer, higher protein grasses or grains which the mamma's don't need.  The only way to accomplish such a task is to separate them.  The other argument we found (didn't read it in a reference book) to support weaning  is the mothers will give and give until they are basically spent.  We find the heat of the summer, coupled with the very selfless nature of mom's takes everything out of them and begins to compromise their own health.

For these reasons one might wean.  

 

Wean:accustom (someone) to managing without something on which they have become dependent or of which they have become excessively fond.

 

Now that I've given you a bit of knowledge about weaning I'd like to share our journey with this decision.

We began this farm knowing we would make choices about the care of our animals based on our experiences, not just because everyone said so. Many topics of care and handling were researched and we found enough disparaging information that we felt strongly our decision to observe first was a worthy one.

Many of our farming practices were established by observing,  educating ourselves, then we'd established our way.  Weaning the lambs was one really challenging task.  Now 8 years later, after going back and forth, this year, we're not weaning again.  The first three years we didn't wean.  I wish I could tell you why we decided to wean the 4th year but I'm betting we succumb to the "text" book ways.  Most other shepherds around us weaned which made us question our decision even more.  Our farm was growing and as often happens after you've immersed yourself in something you loose some of your "curiosity" or better yet, the luxury of time to remember to be curious and ask questions.

So, we spent a few years weaning.  It is a very difficult task, not physically challenging, just heartbreaking really.  They cry and baa for easily 48 hours.  The mothers also.  Eventually they all settle in but gosh it never felt right.  As often I'm guided on this farm, if it goes against nature my heart cannot find peace with it...this is one of those lessons.  

With most industrial farming models, maximum growth of the lambs became the  shepherds primary goal in order to get those lambs to market fast and efficiently.  Is fast and efficient our ultimate goal.  Those that know this farm know our answer to this question is NO.  We strongly believe you sacrifice so much in order to achieve those fast/efficient goals.  It is this very reason that so many breeds of livestock are in danger of being lost for good...they don't meet these industrial models!

In summary, we've have some of the best looking, healthiest lambs ever, happily growing on mothers milk...there must have been some divine wisdom in that!