on the road

on the road

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Shepherd's Spouse

As I wrote in my previous post (Pastoral? Some Days!) I'm currently reading a wonderful book entitled Of Sheep and Men by R.B. Robertson.  In the chapter I just finished, he describes the varied responsibilities of the shepherd's wife (at least as she existed on the Scottish borders in the mid 1950s):
"But the shepherd's wife, like the wife of the diplomat, the missionary, the innkeeper, and the man of any other profession where an interested and cooperative partner is essential to the performance of the work, must be a woman of a very rare but definite type.  It might almost be said that her qualities are more important than those of the shepherd himself, for certainly most of the year she works harder than he does, and at times her work requires more expert knowledge and a higher standard of skill than does his.
"She must know the job of sheep-herding thoroughly, for she assists at the clippin', the dippin', the lambin', and all other busy periods in the sheep year, usually looks after the bit of hill and fields around the house where the delicate in-bye sheep are kept.... She must have an all-round knowledge of farming, for the little croft, with its two cows, pigs, chickens, large vegetable plot, and hayfield - all the sidelines with which the shepherds supplement their small wages - is entirely her responsibility.  She is the veterinary surgeon of the glen, and all ailing beasts - lambs, sheep, cattle, dogs, humans - are immediately placed under her care.... She must run a kitchen herself which is capable of producing hearty dinners, and right on time...."
Obviously, much of this writing reflects the traditional gender roles of the 1950s.  However, I've found (as have most of the ranchers I know) that "an interested and cooperative partner is essential" to our operation.

I learned in one of my animal science classes that it is critical for a rancher to develop a relationship with  his or her veterinarian. When I give talks about raising sheep, I joke that I took this advice to heart - I sleep with my veterinarian!  Beyond the veterinary advice, though, Sami is the type of partner described by Robertson.  While I'm the one who talks about shepherding and who does most of the day-to-day work with our sheep, Sami is busy taking care of the animals at home - raising bottle lambs, raising a pig for our freezer, seeing that the dogs are healthy.  She's taking kids to soccer practice and riding lessons.  She's helping me cope with lambing problems that require 2 pairs of hands or midwifery skills beyond my own. She's dealing with my often filthy laundry!  And she's running her own large animal veterinary practice.

On most of the ranching operations I know, at least one spouse works at least part-time off the ranch.  The extra income - and especially the health and retirement benefits - are part of the risk management strategy for many operations.  As I talk to families who have ranched far longer than we have, I realize that this has almost always been true (at least for family-scale operations).  And these roles are not gender specific - many of the commercial-scale sheep operations that I know are managed by women whose husbands have off-ranch jobs!

All joking and philosophizing aside, however, this post is meant as a thank you to my wife for putting up with my sheep habit and for all of the hard work that she puts in - both with the sheep and with everything else she does.  Ours truly is a partnership!

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