When I reflect on 2021, I think of the losses from covid, both my cousin and my friend and daycare provider, and the sudden and tragic losses of my “online” friends, Lauren and Kamel. I think of the vaccine! But, then I also think of the conspiracies surrounding the vaccine and the ongoing political strife.
I also think of my beautiful babies, and watching them grow and getting livestock for the first time in my adult life, starting with the bottle calves and ending with the Icelandic and Shetland sheep.
I planted seeds and watched them grow and wilt and die, and I built fence with my own two hands, and sheared sheep, and applied for tenure, fed sourdough starter, and fed my babies, and put them down for naps, and felt overwhelmed and over extended, and also, sometimes, I carved out time for myself, and I made a little time for creativity and joy, and I’m hoping for more of that in the coming year.
The favorites from Instagram this year were a photo of lichen on an old wooden fence, bringing home my Shetland ewe, Lavender, Melody, looking very dark out in the pasture, a blue stripped flower from my great grandma’s garden, which I lost access too this year, unearthing my decades old chore coat to bottle feed calves, orchids reblooming, a new year’s day landscape taken from my home, grape hyacinth in springtime, and a light blue chicory flower that grows like a weed here on my little farm.
When I was a little girl, I was given a bummer lamb (a lamb that needs to be bottle fed) and the 1976 copy of Raising Sheep the Modern Way by Paula Simmons. I named the lamb “Sweet Pea” and loved taking care of my little pet. Growing up on a cattle ranch, I found the size of the cattle to be a little intimidating. I’ve never been a huge horse or dog person (although I’ve met many lovely individuals). Sheep, on the other hand, were just the right size!
I used my birthday money savings and bought two purebred Montadale ewes and started my little sheep herd. I did 4-H and FFA and quickly transitioned to Suffolk and Suffolk cross sheep, since that was primarily the breed used for market lambs in my area. Over the years, I read Raising Sheep the Modern Way many times as a reference book.
I enjoyed every minute of my time raising sheep and always hoped that I would be able to raise them again some day, although, with the price of land and so many other factors, I had a hard time imagining how that would ever happen. My mom kept a little herd after I graduated, but sold them nearly a decade ago. As for me, it’s been over 20 years since I personally owned sheep. Now, so many years later, I am finally at a place where I can raise sheep again. I have a little farm of my own, and this year I began the process of building sheep-tight fences, researching the breed of sheep that would best suit my situation, finding breeders, and, yes, purchasing sheep!
I decided on two polled Icelandic ewes, Frida and Freya, an Icelandic ram, Duncan, two Shetland ewes, Lavender and Melody, and a Shetland ram, Hugh. I wanted a multipurpose breed of sheep, and I wanted to keep the numbers small. The two breeds of sheep, Shetland and Icelandic, are quite similar, both have great wool for spinning in a variety of colors. I will also be doing all of my own shearing, so I also need a smaller breed that is manageable.
Since I have sheep again, I dusted off my old copy of Raising Sheep the Modern Way and read it front to back. This time, I was much more interested in reading about fleeces, recipes, and other sheep-related products that I was less involved with the first time around. It’s a great reference book with an author who is clearly knowledgeable about sheep and loves the species. Over the years, I have read several other sheep reference books, and they are not as good. Frequently, the author has much less experience with sheep, raising them for only a few years before attempting a book, or raising hair sheep, which are far less common, with much different management needs, or they aren’t specializing in sheep, but raising a small flock, alongside many other species of livestock. Meanwhile, the author of this book, is deeply specialized in sheep, with decades of experience.
This book obviously isn’t for everyone, but if you’re raising sheep, or interested in raising sheep, this is the book I recommend.
The author is a friend and colleague, and I’ve enjoyed reading his individual poems here and there and so was pleased to finally sit down and read his latest book, Not Your Happy Dance. And what a delight it was. Each poem was full of beautiful imagery and the kinds of thoughts and feelings that are difficult to name, but true and recognizable in the poems.
Once again, this is a short reading year for me, and so I was grateful for the reprieve that this book delivered. Now, having been read, it sits happily on my campus bookshelf. That’s where I’m keeping most of my books these days, the bulk of my collection having spent the two previous winters in my garage, neglected and still boxed up from my last move.