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Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Raising Romeo: A Love Story

I love how just walking into a barn can be inspiring.

“What?!” you might respond. You may have to be a farmer to understand what I mean, but my guess is anyone who loves his or her job sees inspiration all around, every day.

My latest inspiration came to me in the form of a lamb. If you’ve been following the Bittersweet blog, you already know Romeo. If not, Romeo is a lamb who came to live with me on Valentine’s Day.

I had never raised a lamb in the house with me. Goat kids come every spring, and I always start them inside. I’m used to goat kids romping across the floor and chasing the cat in circles around the house. I’m used to lining up bottles on the kitchen counter for feedings. But I was not prepared for the complete joy I would experience with a lamb.

bottled lamb

Brian, my farming mentor, told me, “It’s a whole different thing with raising lambs.” He wasn’t kidding. And that whole different thing has inspired me to write a children’s book about it. The difference is that lambs—or maybe just some lambs, but certainly Romeo—couldn’t be more of a joy to have around. Easy going, content, totally loveable, and constantly surprising. These are just some of the words I use to describe the experience.

The other way I describe it is a complete life lesson. As a farmer/amateur anthropologist, I am in the habit of observing behavior. It’s what makes us tick and defines our unique personalities. Within a few days of Romeo coming to live with me, I knew he was here to teach me how to teach him how to become a confident, well-adjusted creature. I saw I had the opportunity to guide him in finding his way in the world. “WHOA!” you might say! How is that fun?

All I can say is, it is. You should try raising lambs sometime. Beyond the bottles every six hours, beyond changing puppy pads in the playpen (I think I lost count at 150), beyond worrying about whether you’re getting it right, beyond laundering and replacing warm blankets so Romeo has something to snuggle up to since he doesn’t have his birth mom and I’m not always available, beyond all that comes the satisfaction of watching him grow into a healthy and confident little lamb.

I realized I had the opportunity to “make or break” this little guy, not unlike raising children. We hear a lot about different methods for raising animals. I have found that, no matter if you’re rearing these animals to end up knitted into a warming sweater or to provide a meal for your table, fostering their existence along the way makes a difference—the difference between that fiber becoming soft yarn or a tough-as-shoe-leather piece of meat on your table.

How does that translate into a children’s book? For me, easily. And thus the story of Romeo was born. The theme of the book is building confidence in a lamb by treating him humanely, letting him make mistakes along the way, watching him fall so he can get back up, and, ultimately, loving him just for him. It’s a tiny book, small enough to fit into a child’s palm. It’s a book for kids to carry around as a reminder they’ll always have a soft little lamb in their pocket. Maybe they can relate to that lamb. Maybe they know that lamb. Maybe that lamb is someone they want to become. It’s their story. They’ll know which version is theirs when they read it.

lamb mirror

My hope is that moms and dads will love Romeo, too, and see him in their own little lambs. We get one chance to bring them along. We can be there to guide them, to pick them up and hold them when they fall, and ultimately to love the precious individuals they are. We’re their touchpoint, their harbor, their source of comfort. They’re here to teach us how to guide them. “That’s how lambs learn.”

I’ve come to realize farming is about so much more than just backbreaking work and muck. I’ve had some excellent teachers, with any number of legs, who remind me each day what a gift it is.

lamb in hay

The book will be available on Bittersweet’s website as soon as it’s in print, and I’m also hoping to have it available online for e-readers and other devices. All proceeds will go toward maintaining the animals of Bittersweet Heritage Farm.

Dyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Bittersweet Heritage Farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Her farm is also an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.

Photos by Dyan Redick

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