Tuesday, December 29, 2015

When livestock are your livelihood - #sheep365

As a new month (and a new calendar year) approaches, I'm exactly 90 days into my #sheep365 social medial project.  Since October 1, I've posted at least one photograph of something related to my family's sheep operation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  Other producers (especially in the United Kingdom) have started using the hashtag, too - search for #sheep365 on Twitter and Instagram for some great sheep-related photography!

While many of the photos look very similar from one day to the next, the photos that I took in October look very different than those I took this week.  Now that I'm roughly 25 percent of my "sheep year," I can see differences in our rangeland and pastureland (we've moved from irrigated pasture to wintertime annual rangeland) and in our sheep ("open" ewes in October versus mostly pregnant ewes in December).  I've also photographed some of the mileposts of our year - from turning out the rams on day 1 to moving the sheep to winter pasture on day 66.

The project has also initiated conversations with my fellow shepherds (and shepherdesses).  While we have not lost any sheep to predation during this first 3 months of my project, every shepherd must cope with predators.  While the arrival of wolves in California is a high profile example, I worry more about more mundane predators - especially coyotes and free-roaming dogs.  I especially appreciate the sentiments expressed in a Facebook conversation about predator losses early this month.  My friend John Harper said,
"Non livestock producers [are] amazed to hear that producers grieve over their losses from any predator.  Their belief is that since producers raise livestock from the food chain that we don't care about them.  They [non-producers] [are] in awe that we believe in providing the best life while they are in our care until [they fulfill] the service they were genetically selected for.  They don't understand that since the animals have been bred to abandon their defenses to serve humans that we have a special bond to protect them."
Another friend and sheep producer, Jasmine Westbrook (who had recently experienced a lethal dog attack in her sheep), responded,
"I have also encountered the misconception that ranchers do not become emotionally attached to our livestock.  It seems obvious from the inside that when you raise an animal from birth you would become fond of it....  I don't think people realize how much our lives intertwine with our livestock....  It's our job to protect them, and we failed today."
I guess the point that I'm trying to make here is this: Even though raising sheep is a business to me and my family, it's more than than that.  As Jasmine said, "When raising livestock is your livelihood, livestock is your life."  Part of this is economic - while my savings account isn't very robust, my ranch-related assets (sheep, fencing, dogs, equipment, etc.) are more robust.  But it's more than that for me - I love working with livestock (sheep, especially).  Weaning a healthy group of lambs and sending them off with our buyer feels like success.  Losing a ewe to a coyote feels like failure.

This brings me back to this project.  As I try to take photographs that tell a story about what I'm doing on any given day, I'm realizing that these small, seemingly insignificant activities add up to my life and to my livelihood.  I'm also realizing that spending time with our sheep is part of what I look forward to every day.  Only 275 days left in this project!  In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite photographs from the last month or so.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy your constant flow of sheep photographs on Facebook. Sheep are such peaceful appearing creatures....(whether they are or not, I do not know.) Just wanted to tell you that I really appreciate your #sheep365endeavor! Thank you.
    Pat Margaret Schmidt, Folsom