Since we rely on mostly rented pasture land for our sheep operation, we often find ourselves farming in public; that is, we're often pasturing sheep adjacent to public roads or other public areas. In many respects this is a great opportunity to educate our community about what we do. I'm continuously struck by how few people have any direct connection with animal agriculture. By the same token, farming in public can create additional stress when this lack of knowledge manifests itself in a negative manner.
This morning, the girls and I moved sheep and goats onto an overgrown area at Auburn Equestrian Center here in Auburn. We'll be using the livestock to remove blackberries, thistles, and other unwanted vegetation. The owners and many of the visitors to Auburn Equestrian Center were thrilled to have sheep and goats on the property, and several folks stopped to find out more about what we were doing. In this case, farming in public created an opportunity for us to connect with our community in an educational setting.
Some people, however, assume that we're out to abuse our animals - they think it's too hot or too cold for the sheep, too wet for the guard dogs, too sunny for everyone. In some cases, these people are well-meaning, and they are more than willing to learn about our production system and about our care for our animals. In other cases, I'm not sure folks are well-meaning. I find this group to be terribly frustrating.
Farming in an urbanizing community has positive and negative aspects to it. On the positive side of the ledger, I have access to a tremendous market that doesn't exist in more remote areas. I have neighbors and customers who value what I do, in part (I believe) because it's done in the public eye. On the negative side of the equation, the misguided (in my mind) criticism adds stress to my job. There are days that I wish I ran sheep in the middle of northern Nevada.