So folks, I am finally a shepherd. After years of hype — the hooves have landed. Cold Antler Farm now hosts a small flock of Border Leicester/Romney crosses named Sal, Marvin and Maude. Their purpose is to teach me the basics of all things sheep. Under their watchful eyes I'll learn to trim hooves, birth lambs, and turn the wool on their backs into scarves around my neck. I'll know I made it in this world when I can go out on a beautiful crisp October morning and feed the sheep adorned in the fashions they sported last season. My goals are pretty simple people.
I'll also be using them to train a border collie to herd (a whole other world I can barely keep myself from diving into.) Since I'm getting into all this sheep business without farmhands or a fleet of ATVs, a working dog will be my saving grace when the flock gets too large for a girl with a stick to sort through. Hopefully by the time my future farm happens, he'll be revved and ready to go for some serious practical herding work. And while that future puppy isn't in my life just yet, I am on the lookout for strong herding lines in future litters all over America. With the help of mentors in the North East Border Collie Association — I'll find my sheepdog, train him, and before you know it be out in the trial fields, crook in one hand and lead in the other. Okay, so not all of my goals are simple.
So far, shepherding has already taught me some valuable lessons. Lessons like, sheep aren't the stupid animals people constantly tell me they are. (If you get sheep, expect to hear how dumb they are within 27.8 seconds of people finding out.) But regardless of the stereotypes, Marvin learned how to unhinge the gate and lead his flock to freedom in no time. (I'm not sure I would've figured out the gate that fast.) I’ve also learned about the heaviness of sheep hooves when they step on your feet, and that grain rustled about a coffee can start a stampede. I learned that taking a nap on a sunny afternoon out in the pasture with them can be a meditation on the all. But it’s a meditation grounded in reality, because if your siesta happens to be in the way of some good foraging, you'll be woken up by a cold snout nudging you out of the way.
My advice to any future shepherds out there is to do your homework. Before I had any woolies on the farm I did some serious research. I bought and read a small library of books, attended weekend workshops, visited shepherds and sheepdog trials, and talked with neighbors about the upcoming flock. Because of this I was prepared for some of the potential problems, and it insured a happier group of sheep when they finally arrived. I am in no way an expert, and have more to learn than I care to admit, but at least their shelter faces the right direction and their winter hay is stocked up in the garage. I know what it’s like to be excited and want to just jump in head first (trust me), but for the basic fairness for you and the animals, crack a book. But hey, if you find out a few farm visits later that sheep are for you too, I’ll see you in the fields!
Jenna Woginrich is the author of the forthcoming book, Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life, from Storey Publishing. Visit her Web site at coldantlerfarm.blogspot.com.