Sheep are creatures of prey. Although the sight of our companion dogs near their fence may cause a stomp or two, their flight response is generally stronger than their fight. Their survival depends on being skeptical about all things. I understand this and I do see it when my flock is faced with visitors but, to me, they are settled and friendly.
The barn is the first place that I go when I arrive home from work. The responsibility to provide feed, water and clean shelter is forefront in my mind. Over the last year I have pondered, though, just why my priority is to the flock first and not to my household. The answer is very simple but it wasn't immediately obvious to me. It makes me feel good. Rather, it makes me a better person. No, I don't care for housework or indoor chores but avoiding that is not the feel-good feeling that I am speaking of. It is more visceral. Once the sheep have been fed and the water has been topped off I find a nice corner in the barn, just out of the way, and sit down and rest. The feeling that I get when I have taken care of the flock's immediate needs is a peace that can't be explained unless you have sat in a quiet barn listening to the sound of contented sheep feeding. Once they have had their fill of fresh hay is when the magic really happens. These woolly, pessimistic, skeptics begin to let their guard down and settle down around me. Some come close for a scratch on the chest, on top of the shoulders or behind the ears. Some come close to my ear chewing their cud as if to let me know that they truly feel safe. Some will even paw at me when I take a break from scratches or turn my attention to another individual. It is when, in an act of complete and utter trust, the sheep begin to lay down next to me and I begin to see myself as they see me.
In order to earn the trust of an animal that feels their life may be in danger a great deal of the time, you must be patient, kind, gentle, caring, loving. It is in these moments, resting in the straw, that I must relax and let go of all the negativity. I must slow down, breathe, and just be in the moment. This is my opportunity to become who I really want to be. The person that I am deep down when I am not angry, bitter, frightened and skeptical of the world around me. The sheep force me to let go of all of those things that keep me from being the person that I was created to be. The sheep bring me closer to the One that can renew and restore my heart.
Those same qualities that allow the flock to feel safe in my presence, patience, kindness, gentleness, love are the qualities that have been placed in my heart with my trust in Jesus. I can truly appreciate the symbol of Jesus as the Shepherd. Those same qualities that bring me closer to my flock also bring me closer to Him.
This is the reason that the barn is the first place I go when I arrive home from my day away. It is the woman that returns home from the barn, renewed by her flock, that can try to be the best mom and wife.
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against these things! Galatians 5:22
In the spring, when lambs are running around the farm, I spend countless hours in the barn building a foundation of socialization and trust with the little ones. My time is brief in the morning, at feeding time, as I get ready for work. I allow myself a greater period of time in the evenings as I head to the barn to relax following a long day. This is my greatest opportunity to build a relationship with each of my lambs. The lambs bond strongly with me.
The lambs will startle and be shy when a new face comes into the barnyard, but the foundation I lay allows them to warm up more easily to a new guest. This new guest just may be the owner of their new farm. The shepherd that they will spend the rest of their lives with. I want my lambs to move on to their farms and to thrive emotionally and physically. I hope that this trust they develop with me will help them to trust others as they move on from Tiny Seed Farm.
Generally, this bonding time is between me and the lambs and no one else is around to witness the incredible sweetness of being surrounded by a flock of wee woolies.
So...today I decided to do something...
I placed my phone across the stall to record our interactions. In true sheep fashion, the presence of the phone raised both suspicion and curiosity. It was quite entertaining to watch all the lambs approach the phone and stare at the foreign creatures staring back at them from the screen. Eventually they gave it up and came back to me for snuggles and scratches.
On a side note...This spring there were three ewe lambs born on the farm. Two will be heading to their new farms at the end of May and one beautiful girl, Violet, will be staying on as a permanent member of the Tiny Seed Farm flock. From the first days of life, Nova and Whippoorwill (the two ewes that were sold) confidently approached me for snuggles and would even climb into my lap. I enjoyed every minute but it was slightly bittersweet because, as I was able to love all over these ewe lambs, my Violet wanted nothing to do with me.
This tendency towards shyness is, in great part, due to Violet's mother Charlotte. Charlotte is a moderately over-bearing mother and keeps her lambs on a short leash. In turn, Charlotte's lambs respect her demands and never stray far. The other lambs in the flock are allowed more freedom from their mothers and that independence allows them to stray from their moms and to approach me. Don't get me wrong, Charlotte is a wonderfully sweet and social ewe and her lambs have all found there way to me...it just takes them a little longer.
Three weeks ago, Violet found her way to me. I have discovered that if I can get them close enough to allow me to reach out and to scratch their chests, they will be a forever friend. I'll admit there may have been a tear or two the first time Violet came to me and allowed me to scratch her. It was well worth the wait. Since that day she has been one of the first lambs to visit me when I come into the barnyard. Several times she has even laid down next to me and snuggled up for affection. Patience, indeed, won the day.
As the day draws near that my lambs will move on, I pray that their new farms will find the beauty in taking those few extra moments with the individuals in their flocks. It is this time that allows a shepherd to experience the bond that patience and gentleness will provide.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2
Waiting on the storm. That is what we are doing this evening. The weather reports threaten the coming of our first snowfall of the season and estimates are it will be significant. I like snow. I love the sound of snow falling, all other noises are muffled by the white blanket and there is a peace around the farm. Most of my animals enjoy the snow as well. The dogs love to romp and bounce and shovel up big gulps of snow in their mouths. They remind me of my daughters when they were younger, racing from the window to announce that snow had fallen. They remind me of myself, as a child, waiting in bed for the radio to include my school's name in the long list of closures. A snow day!
The horses roll in the snow and stand up cleaned and refreshed. The sheep rest in the field with a layer of white covering them, their insulating fleeces not allowing a single flake to melt.
And so we wait...will the reports be correct? Will I call in to work and tell them that I am taking a snow day? Will we lose power? Will my water sources freeze? So many unanswered questions. We must wait for the answers.
Breeding season is over for this year. All of my ewes are expecting, confirmed by blood tests and ultrasound. And so we wait...are my dates correct? Will all go smoothly? Will we have a ewe year or a ram year? So many unanswered questions. We must wait for another couple months.
This is such an exciting time, the little lambs growing inside their moms. Boys or girls, off-white or black? Only time will tell. It will be another month before the girls will be showing their growing bellies and udders, another month before I may be able to feel those little lambs kicking within their mothers' wombs. And so we wait.
This year I am the most prepared that I have been since beginning my shepherding adventure. We brought an ultrasound out to take a look at the ewes, an inside look. I wanted to know how many lambs each ewe was carrying. Charlotte has carried triplets the last two years and I was hoping that she would be given a break this year. She is carrying twins. This is good. My younger ewes are both carrying twins as well but my Annie girl looks to be carrying one extra. She has not had triplets before. This information will help me to plan diet and weight strategies. Last year my girls were a little more "plump" than I wanted.
I am fairly certain of the breeding dates and all of my girls are due within 6 days of each other. Two of them, Charlotte and Lilly share a lambing date. I will be needing more towels this spring.
We have some time to prepare, some time to imagine a field of eight or nine lambs frolicking and leaping, some time to spend with the girls as they wait patiently to be moms again.
And so we wait for the morning and the snow it may bring and the coming months and the new lives born to our farm.
To all my fellow shepherds, we wait together.
And sure enough even waiting will end...if you can just wait long enough.
Babydoll Southdowns are seasonal breeders. When the orange sun sets at suppertime and the brisk mornings require sweaters, our woolies are sorted into their breeding groups. The rams have been ready for a while, sensing a change in the air. The girls will take a little while longer but soon the courting will begin and seeds will be sown, hopefully producing beautiful, healthy lambs in the spring. There are signs that breeding season is coming near but my sheep tend to stay private with their affections. The ewes urinate often and the rams will test the scent, curling their upper lip in a flehmen response. This helps the pheromones travel to the vomeronasal organ to confirm to the ram that the ewe is in heat or to let him know that he must be patient. The ewe will reject the ram's attention and advances if she is not is heat but will seek out and stand for him when the time is right.
Because I like to plan and I prefer to be on the farm during lambing, my rams will wear marking harnesses that will lay a wonderful splash of color on the ewe's backside informing me that things have become serious between ram and ewe. There is nothing quite like going out to feed in the morning and seeing the telltale blue, green, orange or red of the ram's marking crayon on one of his ewes. This is when I get excited of the prospects of spring lambs and when the waiting begins.
My ewes cycle every seventeen days. Once I see the first marking on the ewe, I make a note on the calendar. After all the ewes that are with a particular ram have been marked, I change the crayon in the ram's harness to a different color. I wait for that seventeenth day and watch to see if the new color will appear on the ewe, indicating that the first mating did not result in pregnancy and the ewe has come back into heat. If this is the case we repeat the process until we go through a heat cycle with no evidence that the ewe has been bred. This year was easy, all my ewes were marked on their first heat cycle and no ewes came back into heat. If all goes well, then late February and early March will be the time when our barn comes alive with the bouncing of wee woolies.
Every season is wonderful on the farm but, as summer ends, autumn marks the beginning of a new chapter. The promise of new life in five months. Patience.
-Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.- Albert Camus
I have always enjoyed the outdoors, the quiet, the excitement, the colors, the varieties of landscapes and animals and vegetation. I finished college with plans of heading west and working with wildlife and research. Plans changed and I began to work in veterinary medicine. This became my passion and I spent 10 years working at a large animal hospital in the NICU and ICU. Our young family decided to move after that and I spent a couple years with my little ones. Feeling the need to get back into work, I found a home in small animal veterinary medicine. 11 years later I am a licensed veterinary technician and a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner. I work full-time in a pain and rehabilitation center and it is a career that I am extremely passionate about.