Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Why Sheep?

Monday, July 03, 2006

Why sheep? This is a question family and friends from more urban places often ask us. And we don't have a one-sentence answer. Before we moved, most of our experiences with farm animals were of the "petting zoo" variety and those fat, stoic critters didn't interest us much at all. So how did it happen that we ended up with a flock of icelandic sheep, a couple dozen chickens and guinea fowl? Well, it all started with Maggie, our border collie. Maggie's ten years old now; she's been with me since before I met Dan, before our three children were born, before I had more than a pick-up truck full of furniture to cart around with me. When she was a puppy, Maggie and I did some agility training. And, as advertised, she was sharp and focused and seriously high-strung. When I met Dan, we all began doing some sheepherding because Maggie seemed to crave activity and she was, after all, a sheepdog. It seemed like a fun use of a few weekend hours. (This was BEFORE the kids. Now, a fun use of a few weekend free hours-- if they ever actually occur-- is a good nap!) Anyway, the lessons fired Maggie up and they also kindled some interest in us. We began to think that maybe, someday, we might have a small flock to work with and a chunk of land....a different sort of life. But then I became pregnant and we moved to the Boston area, and the herding and all it stood for was pretty much forgotten.

Four years later, we had a house in the suburbs, three kids and two full-time jobs. We battled traffic to and from everyday and struggled to pay for preschool and childcare. We didn't know any of our neighbors, we barely had time or energy to socialize with the few folks we did meet, and our kids thought "nature" was the leafy place we'd walk through on our occasional hikes. Something had to give.We started searching for real estate in Southeastern Vermont and Western Massachusetts and lucked into what was then called "Orchard View Farm" in Colrain after about three months of serious looking. We made our break before Micah hit Kindergarten. Sheep were put on the back burner for a while, as we adjusted to our new setting, but as the grass grew long in the pastures, our thoughts returned to the Maggie's old avocation.

We researched many breeds and were faced with a bit of a conundrum: The sheep we were most interested in, the "primitive breeds" such as Shetlands, Jacobs and Icelandics, weren't much good for herding. But by then we were deep into the idea, and so, after a visit to local farms and the Cummington Sheep and Wool Festival, we settled on Icelandic Sheep, and brought home the first four: Gus, Franklin, Copper and Daisy.

So, sheep, yeah. We enjoy the fiber they produce, the colors, their unparalleled a ability to crop the grass around the place, and their interesting personalities. There IS a certain peace to hanging on the porch and watching the ewes and lambs graze. We are developing an exemplary flock based on fiber quality and structure, and learning something new each and every day. People say sheep are stupid. (We've heard this a lot!) But ours must be sheep-geniuses then, because they 've got all they need to know figured out!We have other animals too: Chickens (can't say enough good things about chickens!) and guinea fowl. This summer we added an Icelandic sheepdog puppy to the mix. And there's Maggie, of course. She's ten now and fit as could be. She spends most of her time keeping an eye on "her" flock, and has even tried her paw at herding (with mixed results!)If you've ever dreamed of your own flock, we'd be glad to offer up what we've learned.
posted by P @ 10:06 AM 0 comments

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