Sunday, March 4, 2018

Of Sheepherders and Social Media

Like most farmers and ranchers I know, I keep a close eye on the weather forecast. My attention to impending weather is especially intense during lambing season - a stretch of cold, wet and windy weather creates challenges for shepherd and sheep alike. Last weekend, as we were just starting to lamb, all of the weather apps on my smartphone were showing significant rain and even a chance of snow at the end of the week. Since we lamb in our pastures (rather than in a barn), we knew we'd need to spend extra time and effort checking the sheep during the storm.

Thanks to a project I started two years ago (#sheep365 - I posted a photo of our sheep every day for a year on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter), I've become virtual friends with shepherds from all over North America and the United Kingdom. I've enjoyed comparing our production practices, learning from my colleagues, and sharing the often dark humor that comes with raising livestock (especially sheep). One of these colleagues, Jemma Harding (who raises sheep near Dorset, England, and who writes the excellent Me and Ewe blog) posted a photo of a lamb wearing a raincoat. (My UK friends have been grappling with some incredibly harsh winter weather this week - far worse than the rain and snow we've had). Intrigued by the rain coats, I sent Jemma a message via Facebook last Sunday evening. She told me that they were called Lamb Macs and were sold by Shearwell, an English company.

On Monday morning, I checked Shearwell's website and learned that the company has a US sales rep based in Minnesota. After a brief email exchange, I ordered a package of 100 Lamb Macs from England - and assumed it might take 2-3 weeks to receive them. Imagine my surprise when I received an email telling me they'd be delivered on Friday - less than 5 days after I'd ordered them! And this was despite the fact (as I learned via Twitter) that Shearwell's UK offices were closed immediately after I'd placed my order because of blizzard conditions.

I should probably describe these lamb rain coats. Lambs can typically handle wet weather if they can retain body heat. These coats are made from biodegradable plastic. They have a hole for the lamb's head and slits for all for legs. Once they're on, they look like a tiny horse blanket. The ewe can still smell her lambs' heads and bums, so she'll continue to let them nurse. When we tried the first ones on some new lambs on Friday evening, the ewes were puzzled by the rustling sound made by the coats - but they worked! Despite rain, sleet and wind overnight, the new lambs we'd blanketed came through the storm just fine!

All of this is not meant to be an advertisement for Shearwell (although I will say I'm VERY impressed with their customer service). It's also not meant to be an endorsement of Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Instead, I'm amazed by the connections I've been able to make with shepherds in other places. I'm amazed by the opportunity to learn from, and share my experiences with, people who share my love for working landscapes and devotion to my livestock. In an era of heated online arguments, of trolling those with different view points, and of misinformation, maybe sheepherders are making the best use of social media!

1 comment:

  1. I think a certain amount of social isolation comes with the territory for a lot of sheep operations. Social media certainly helps with that. Also I think live satellite radar weather reports are the greatest ever.