...and big satisfaction!
We moved sheep this afternoon. Not a momentous occasion - we move sheep at least once a week most of the year. Moving sheep during lambing is a bit more complicated, though - the lambs are old enough to be rambunctious, and young enough not to realize that the move means fresh feed (and that the border collie is serious about pointing them in the right direction). So while our little move up the road wasn’t a big deal, work-wise, I took great satisfaction in it.
Part of my satisfaction comes from getting work done. Too often, I think, many of us are unable to see the results of our work at the end of the day. At 4:30pm, the sheep were in a paddock that was running short on feed. By 5:30pm, they were happily grazing a new pasture. For a stockman, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing livestock with their heads down grazing. I find the sound of sheep grazing to be one of the most relaxing sounds I know.
But my satisfaction from afternoons like this is more profound than simply accomplishing a task. My partner Roger and I are students of livestock behavior - a simple move like this fascinates both of us. My current top dog, Mae, is an amazing working partner - she intuitively knows how much pressure to apply to a stompy ewe versus an airhead lamb. And just as importantly, the ewe flock we’ve spent a decade and a half building is mostly comprised of outstanding mothers. Before we left this evening, we walked through the sheep to make sure everyone was “mothered up” (that is, that lambs were with their mothers). I glanced up to watch Ewe 1386 (a ewe that tried to run me over when I “marked” her lambs three weeks ago) happily grazing with all three of her lambs nibbling grass beside her. She’s exemplary, but even the lesser mothers had their lambs in close proximity.
As I’ve said before, I think good stock people work in livestock as artists work in other media. Our sheep represent our “body of work” - a corpus that is always evolving and (hopefully) improving. Our sheep fit our land and our management - as Wendell Berry has written, we’ve “let the farm judge” the quality of our breeding program. Similarly, I take incredible satisfaction in the partnership that I have with my working dogs (both border collies and livestock guardian dogs). My “day job” can be stressful and, at times, unsatisfying. My sheepherding job, too, can be stressful - our current drought is a case in point. But there are days - and parts of days (like this afternoon) - that remind me why I love doing this.