Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Hardest Thing

no finer view for a shepherd

Raising livestock for food has to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Well, raising children is actually far more difficult, and the parallels are numerous…however, children have never been a portion of our livelihood…and were never, ever on the menu. (promise!)

We’ve raised food for a long time and we’ve raised a number of species. Over the years we have learned a lot and have become fairly self-reliant. We can diagnose and treat most problems without a call to the vet. We have firsthand experience with a whole lot of things, and don't have to consult all the vet books very often anymore, either. So, you might think that we’ve seen it all, know it all and everything rolls along without the slightest mishap.

…and you would be wrong. Oh, so wrong.

one of the most peaceful sights on the farm...
grazing sheep

Over the years, I often wondered why David, slayer of the giant Goliath, the author of Psalms and Proverbs, and later King of Israel was referred to as “a man after God’s own heart”. Then, I remembered…David was once a shepherd boy. Learning to be a good shepherd and protecting a flock teach you much about the care of the Almighty for His creation. Then, there’s all the praying…

I can honestly say that shepherding has driven me to my knees more than once. And, perhaps I have learned more from being a shepherd than from any other experience in my life. 

…except, again, parenting…

2015 was one of those years when our skills were tested…and perhaps even our resolve. ...and we found ourselves doing a lot of praying. But, ultimately, we came out victorious. Sales have been incredible…and the present flock is looking great. …although once more we can say  "learned a lot on that sheep!"

1st lamb -2015
Lambing season was like no other in our 15 years of shepherding. Ordinarily, I love lambing season. But, I won’t lie, this year…it was hard. It was physically taxing and mentally draining. We had more than one ewe end up in our make-shift hospital pen. Ovine Intensive Care, if you will.  And, the care was indeed intensive and constant...and not entirely successful. In one case, we saved the lambs…although we lost both ewes.

Losing a livestock animal is different than losing a pet. While there is some sense of personal loss, it is coupled with an unexpected financial loss, which often has far-reaching repercussions. In the case of the lambs, there was the added work and frustration of raising bottle babies. Not to mention, what do you do with a couple hundred pounds of dead animal…?

But, speaking of lambs…2015 one for the record books...

In 2015, we had the most lambs ever

And, we ended up with SEVEN bottle lambs. SEVEN. It was total chaos. The Boss even built a special lamb-feeding bar. Did you read this one? (there are only five lambs in the video, the others came later)

However, we did indeed prevail. Despite the loss of one lamb, the rest did indeed make it to their intended destination. In most cases, their growth performance was remarkable. But, quite honestly, I hope to never, ever repeat that scenario!

out on pasture

Just when we thought we had shepherding back on track, the issues of a warm, wet summer made themselves known.  Sheep have real problems with internal parasites. This is due to the way they eat grass (they nip it off right at the ground level, often actually biting the dirt) and the fact that they do not have the body mass to protect them from the ravages of parasites.  More than once, we found ourselves vetting lambs that looked fine one day and the next were fighting for their life.  

Again…a loss, but we again prevailed.

So, it was time to turn the ram in with the ewes to continue the program. By turning the ram in with the ewes in August, we get lambs in January/February that are ready to go out on grass in early April and the cycle continues.

"flehmens response"
ram with ewes

We’ve done this for years. The ram was experienced. The ewes (for the most part) were experienced.

This should be a piece of cake.


Not this year.

Everything was going along just fine…until it wasn’t.

The ram went lame. He was no longer putting weight on one of his back feet. Without the use of his back leg, he couldn’t jump, and if he couldn’t jump, he couldn’t mount the ewes, and it he couldn’t mount the ewes…well, he couldn’t…well, you know…

There was a very real possibility of NO lamb chops for 2016.

This was a serious problem. A potential game-changer. A very real disaster. And the timing couldn’t be worse. You don’t just run out to Rams-R-Us and get another breeding animal.

We decided to pull him out in order to diagnose the problem. Maybe a little vacation would give him time to heal. Problem was, we could find nothing wrong with him. And, his “vacation” made him depressed. As in, so depressed that now we had 300 pounds of sheep that wouldn't get up and eat.

I snapped. I really thought that I couldn’t do this anymore. I didn’t even know if I wanted to. I carry a lot of baggage and it finally all came crashing down and I lost it.  I really did. A solution, any solution escaped me…completely and I could see failure looming large on the path ahead.

However, the boss wasn’t going to take it lying down. He’d figure out something…we’d fix this.

…and he did.

We found a new ram, at a new farm (with some beautiful animals…keep that in mind for future purchases) for a reasonable price and within days we were “back in business”. The story is here.  ...making me wonder why I ever worried about the whole thing.

one handsome ram

The sheep story was far from resolved and as of today, we are still waiting to see if our new acquisition was actually a good solution. Lambing for 2016 will be spread out over more of the calendar than I would like...but...it is what it is...

and that is a never-ending cycle of work and learning. 

And sometimes I wonder why we continue on with shepherding…

...the hardest thing…

…and then I remember that LAMB is delicious! 

lamb steak

stuffed lamb meatballs
(recipes can be found on our website)

Asian lamb with broccoli

...and our customers LOVE it!

Not only does raising livestock add to our income, the meat we raise truly completes our menu in the most amazing way.

And it’s all worth it.  

Here’s to successful shepherding in 2016! 

and the sheep truly add to the beauty of our surroundings


  1. A wonderful post, thank you. One day I hope to raise sheep on our future homestead and your have been a great source of experience and inspiration.

    1. Thanks for the kind words.
      Best of luck to you in your endeavors.
      I hope you'll "visit" us often.

  2. “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
    ― Maya Angelou

    1. What a GREAT quote, Jeff! Thanks for sharing.

  3. I hope all goes well with the ram Barbara - he certainly looks a fine specimen.
    They do have their problems though don't they? We have a saying here that sheep are either alive or they are dead - they give up so easily if not well and you really have to catch them early. Good luck with 2016 lambing.

    1. Thanks so much, Pat!
      Your saying about sheep is oh, so very true. Shepherding keeps us on our toes.

  4. Amazing article.!!
    You got some beautiful clicks.!!
    Thanks for sharing such amazing post.
    And Happy new year!!