OUR YEAR OF LIVING SHEPARDLY
About a year ago we picked up our first sheep. We started with four Shetlands from a farm about a half hour from here, then added some Merinos, got a couple breeding rams, and had a pile of lambs this spring.
Our flock has grown by leaps and bounds and I'm proud to say they're all happy, healthy, and most importantly - still alive.
Now if I may be so bold, I'd like to offer a Top Five list of hard earned wisdom regarding the care of sheep:
1. Don't believe everything you read
This is solid advice across the board.
But if you're thinking about getting sheep...OK, maybe read a little bit but then just put the book down.
You could easily conclude from reading anything on sheep that they are just this weird, squat, species of subjugated mammal that's been bred to grow hair over every other basic life function.
And you'd be right.
But they've also been with us on this journey for thousands of years and have yet to tank as a species. So the chances of you running them into the ground now is remarkably low.
Plus they're perfectly happy just eating grass and drinking puddle water.
Re-read that last sentence and let it sink in.
As long as you're attempting your shepherding endeavour on terrestrial earth you should be OK. Sea Monkeys require more environmental controls.
2. They will be able to give birth without you going armpit deep on them
We had 11 lambs this summer and it required zero plastic gloves.
Our typical birthing drama went like this:
Anna (returning from pasture): "Ashoka just had a boy!"
Anna: "Yeah. I went out to bring them water and there was a little brown lamb following her."
[End of story.]
Note the complete lack of human intervention.
After reading up on the breeding sheep - and recoiling against all the bloody horrors and submerged human limbs it required - we figured we'd have to strong-arm at least one lamb into existence.
Nope. Those ewes doled out knobby sets of twins like their entire back halves were made of Vaseline.
And these lambs...they hit the straw blinking, got licked down by their moms and were immediately up and running with the herd.
In the human world we get all humble/brag about a kid that can walk at eleven months without cranking their head on the coffee table.
Within moments of coming online these newborns can seek out relative safety while darting from predators.
So maybe let's try not to over think our part in all this.
3. At first your sheep will absolutely hate you...
Since these animals have gone through the trauma of being relocated from another farm and view you as the abductor, it's only natural for them to have a period of discomfort in which you're regarded as the Prime Evil.
This will carry on for a period of about three weeks to end of their lives.
Well? What can you do. Not much.
But here's a little secret that will make you feel better: Sheep farms only sell off their assholes.
So really, when you're starting out you have no choice but to buy a bunch of headcases from other shepherds.
All of them are on their last chance and they only have themselves to blame.
This is not unlike the plot to the movie Major League.
So watch that movie again. This time study the story arc as it applies to your flock.
4. ...but don't worry, their kids will think you're cool
The silver lining with collecting random headcase sheep is that their lambs will think you're the best.
It really is that easy.
To begin with we had four feisty, stand-offish Shetlands. I couldn't get within ten feet of them.
That burned because I'd worked so hard to give them this beautiful place to live, yet whenever I needed them do anything (like line up for vaccinations that would save their lives) it was a total nightmare.
What jerks. If the four of them could have soliloquized on their situation it would undoubtedly have sounded something like this.
But eventually we all got along.
It was through their kids they all kind of lightened up. That was a beautiful moment.
Imagine a pack of wolverines suddenly pumping out a bunch of Care Bears, then those Care Bears blasting their Care Bear Stare out across the whole pasture and you start to get a sense of how rewarding this shift has been.
5. Call the vet
OK, actually yeah, there is like a million weird things that can kill your sheep.
They eat too much or too little. They balloon up from bloat. They get a weird infection or their hooves are looking all poo-maggoty and are so fucked up they can't walk without a limp.
Or, in our case, maybe they accidentally suck up so much snail larvae while grazing that their livers are now nothing but a parasite farm existing just to kill them from the inside.
So call your local vet.
Since this is the country, "the vet" is not that nice little strip-mall animal hospital that exists just to euthanize a dozen fat old cats a day. Country vets are a separate breed.
They're ready for anything. From castrating a bull to sticking a garden hose down the G.I. tract of a donkey to save its life, I feel like they've done it all before and come prepared to do it all again. It's amazing what they've got loaded into the side-beds of their trucks.
Plus before they leave they kind of do a look around of your farm and offer all sorts of great advice. These people are polymaths with golden hearts. Every moment you have with them on your property is money well spent.
So in conclusion...
Sheep. Go for it.
Build a fence and don't let them do it until December or January so they'll lamb in the spring. Lambs are adorable.
Read a bit, but not too much. Call the vet if they're about to die.
Be sure to watch Major League again.
That's pretty much it.