Skip to main content

A Shepherd's Christmas Chores

While Christmas Day is a special day for our family, it’s also a day like most others.  We still need to check the sheep, feed the guard dogs, gather the eggs – in short, the chores still have to get done.  For me, my chores as a shepherd take on a different feeling – indeed, a different significance – on Christmas Day.

Generally, our chores get done a bit later on Christmas.  We’re up just as early, but mostly because we’re all curious to see what Santa Claus brought for us.  After opening our gifts and enjoying a breakfast of cinnamon rolls, the girls and I head out to care for the animals.  Our home chores – feeding and watering the horses and chickens (and any random sheep that happen to be at home) – go quickly.  Then we load the border collies into the truck and head off to check the sheep at our rented pastures.

Because it’s Christmas morning, we’re usually the only folks on the road, which makes the drive enjoyable.  I most notice the lack of traffic in the solitude and quiet that greets us at the ranch.  Usually, the only sounds we here are the birds, the livestock, and maybe an occasional neighbor kid playing with a new toy (rather than the distant traffic we usually hear).  Since we try to do most of the significant work in the days leading up to Christmas, our Christmas chores generally consist of feeding the guard dogs and walking through the sheep to make certain they’re all healthy.

Shepherding is usually a solitary endeavor that provides time (if I’ll take it) for contemplation.  Perhaps the extraordinary quiet of Christmas, combined with the significance of shepherds in the Christmas story, make Christmas chores an especially contemplative time for me.  I find the quiet and slower pace of Christmas Day comforting.  On a normal day, I’m rushing to complete one task so that I can move onto the next one; on Christmas Day, I find that I get to enjoy the chores before me, rather than worrying about the work to come.  I also find myself thinking about the generations of shepherds that have lived before my time, and I wonder what they experienced and thought about on cold days near the winter solstice.  Despite the challenges of the life I’ve chosen, Christmas Day chores always remind me of how lucky I am to be working with animals, to be working outdoors, and to be working with my family.

Merry Christmas!


Popular posts from this blog

Trade Offs

As we were building fence for the soon-to-be-lambing ewes this morning, someone drove by and asked my partner Roger how long it took to set up the electro-net fencing we use for the sheep. Roger replied, "It's not too bad," to which the driver said, "Seems like a lot of work." Roger's answer - which both of us use with some frequency, was, "Yeah - but this way we don't have to feed any hay!" The driver, who obviously wasn't a rancher, didn't understand - and I suspect even some of my rancher friends don't understand the trade off we're making. Building electric fence is a lot of work - wouldn't it be easier just to feed hay?

The paddock that Roger and I built this morning encloses about 5.75 acres of high quality forage. Since the ewes are on the verge of lambing, their forage demand is peaking. They're eating nearly twice as much grass now as they need in the late summer - after all, many of them eating for three (and p…

No Easy Answers Part 2

In mid October, some friends who graze their cattle in the mountains of western Lassen County (less than 200 miles from our home), became the first ranchers to have cattle “officially” killed by wolves in California in nearly a century. Wildlife officials confirmed that the Lassen pack killed a 600-pound heifer; four more heifers died (and were partially eaten by wolves), but the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) couldn’t confirm the cause of death. While I learned about the depredations shortly after they happened through the rancher grapevine, news of my friends’ losses weren’t made public until the California Cattlemen’s Association and California Farm Bureau Federation issued a joint press release this week. The October 28 edition of the Sacramento Bee ran the story.
If you’ve read my previous blogs about wolves, you’ll probably know that I’ve frequently been frustrated with the Bee’s coverage. The paper has run guest opinions disguised as news articles, and appar…

Humbled and Excited

More than 20 years ago, I went to work for the California Cattlemen's Association (CCA). After two internships, I'd been hired by my friend and mentor John Braly as the membership director in 1992. By 1996, I'd been promoted to assistant vice president - pretty heady stuff for a young guy who hadn't grown up in the industry. I started looking for new challenges. Dr. Jim Oltjen, who was (and is) the beef extension specialist at UC Davis (my undergraduate alma mater) suggested that I think about going to graduate school to prepare for a career in extension. I considered it, but the timing wasn't right.

Fast forward to 2013 (or so) - I'd been working as a part-time community education specialist in our local University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) office for several years. The farm advisors in the office - Roger Ingram and Cindy Fake - suggested that I consider getting a master's degree and applying for a future farm advisor job. This time the id…