Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I have been drawn to sheep ever since farming became a reality in my life. I was pulled to them for the same reason most of us form relationships: affinity, tangibility, and proximity.

I liked sheep, always have. As a spinner and a knitter I find the fact that I can make hats and scarves out of what eats grass in the backyard nifty. And it’s not just the fiber fix either—sheep have always brought out a stillness in me. Their presence is stoic, but warm, like your Norwegian grandfather after Thanksgiving Dinner. So the pull to be around sheep was always there, but what made me actually acquire some was the ease in their care. Out of all the animals at Cold Antler, the sheep are the lowest maintenance. They need little more than grass, water, and the option of shelter. They are hearty and health care is basic and cheap. They aren't big like cows or horses, so for livestock they can make a backyard or a small pasture home if you're willing to buy hay. They don't eat much.

Their wool feels like October. Sometimes I touch them to remember when I am lonely.

When out in a field with my sheep I feel as if I am sharing some moment with the ages. A bond between two animals so ancient it’s engraved on pottery and stone walls. We have been living side by side for a long time, and they have been keeping us fed and warm since long before our great great grandparents rose for work. Sheep have been watching over us just as much as we have been watching over them. It’s a partnership I mean to honor and continue as a shepherd in the 21st century. We may have electric fences and ride out to the field on ATVS, but we still hold that crook in our white-knuckled fists and holler “Away to me!” to our fine black dogs. And the moment of tension and electricity when a border collie bursts away from his handler to gather is beyond me or them. It's everything. When a sheepdog runs from you, time gasps.

We are a part of a tradition and an oath. I will keep it long as I breath.


Blogger Julia said...

I was working my Beagle on a fifty-foot long tracking line in meadow grass that was over his head in a Boston park today. Along came a sassy young Border collie who sized up my mostly white, wildly running Beagle and decided that he would stand in for a sheep nicely. A good game ensued, until the collie discovered that he could use the line to reel my dog in like a fish. That didn't go over as well with the Beagle. I'm glad Gibson will have the real deal. Herding dogs need a herd. You're going to have a great time together.

May 18, 2010 at 9:24 PM  
Blogger Flartus said...

Oh, you just made me so excited for all the training & work you and Gibson are in for! As you feel about sheep, so I feel about dogs. And there is no more heart-twisting, breath-taking sight than a happy collie running, halting, turning, in silent and mutual communication with its human. So amazing.

May 18, 2010 at 10:17 PM  
Blogger L and M said...

You're connection to sheep will stay with you always, and Gibson is the perfect sidekick...

May 18, 2010 at 10:38 PM  
Blogger Paula said...

You're so right about sheep being with us so long...sheep and goats.

Which reminds me to ask you, are you going to ever milk any of your ewes for sheep's milk cheeses?

May 18, 2010 at 11:33 PM  
Blogger SouthernHeart said...

I wish I were younger and had the promise of a sheepdog and sheep in my future. I'm happy for you and Gibson.


May 19, 2010 at 12:10 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Montero said...

I find them easy to keep too, in spite of the old adage around here that goes " Sheep only have two aims in life: to escape or to die" I think that's meant for the commercial keepers who are a bit more...lax...in their attentiveness to their huge flocks.

Glad Gibson is coming on so well.

May 19, 2010 at 4:18 AM  
Blogger Crystal said...

Paula -I just had a vision of Jenna trying to milk Maude...

Jenna- Beutifully written! I'm so happy you're on your farm. Makes me think it's not such a pipe dream for us. That people do it, make the change, fit in farm life into the spaces city life once took up but are now vacant from disappointment and unfufillment. Thanks.

May 19, 2010 at 7:15 AM  
Blogger Mud Mama said...

I have friends who just jumped right in with 30 lambs, 4 ewes and a ram. I was a bit boggled that they started with so many! We move onto our mini farm June 1st and will be getting our livestock next spring (lots of renos and fencingneeded before then). We have 3/4 acre of our own and 3.5 extra acres we can use for grazing. I'm a toymaker and really want to be a primary producer - which means I need a sheep or two for fleeces (felting and stuffing). I'm hip to the needs of goats, but a bit concerned about keeping a solitary sheep. Do you think we have room for two? It's be 3 goats and two sheep, a whole passel of chickens, and rabbits and gardens on the property (big family of 6 to keep fed here)

May 19, 2010 at 7:15 AM  
Blogger Sense of Home said...

My parents raised sheep for a number of years; Suffolk and Columbia.
I have a photo of my son when he was one year old with the sheep, wearing a wool sweater that was knit for his father when he was a toddler. I have always loved that photo; there is something about sheep and times long ago that goes together.


May 19, 2010 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

This post was so beautiful. I think there should be an addendum to the Bible, and this shall be nameth The Book of Jenna.

My friend rescued a beautiful little shetland sheepdog mix from the shelter. It's hilarious to watch the dog herd cats, people, grocery bags, bicycles...glad you finally have the real thing!

May 19, 2010 at 9:59 AM  
Blogger Kaat at MamaStories said...

What a beautiful entry, so very true and touching.

We don't have room for sheep - neither could we hide one from the town ;) (we live in the burbs). And the cost of keeping a dog deters us. But we WILL get those chickens.

I started with bees just two weeks ago and they are our first "livestock" and I am so proud and protective of them.

Thank you for sharing your journey with us. There are many of us walking more or less the same path.

May 19, 2010 at 10:04 AM  
Blogger Tricia said...


I have been following your blog since almost the beginning, and am so excited for you. You've arrived!
I've been planning my homestead unknowingly for a long time, even though I'm a little ways away from getting there. I couldn't quite put everything together, but I felt the need to teach myself how to do "crazy" things like brew, make soap, can, grow my own food (imagine that!!) I've had my old tattered copies the foxfire series since I was 15. Growing up in Los Angeles, I was considered a total nut, but when I found your blog, it all kind of made sense, and I don't know how I couldn't have seen it before- I was probably all clouded by the southern CA mentality- no one I know ponders where their food comes from, among many things. Anyway, thank you so much for giving me motivation, and showing me that I can do it. (And that I'm not crazy!)

P.S. I printed out “Barnheart,” and “We’re Not From Around Here” and taped it to my desk. It’s beautiful, and when I feel crappy, it always makes me feel better to know that someday, I’ll be there.

May 19, 2010 at 11:13 AM  
Blogger Jen Chandler said...

I love this post. It's beautiful. I've wanted sheep for a long time. Now I want them even more. "They feel like October"...beautiful!

Happy Wednesday,

May 19, 2010 at 11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is how I feel about farm life in general. It IS a bond and I feel a strong connection with animals more so than people at times. If I am feeling sad, I just hang out with my dogs and all is right with the world again. :) Silly but true!

May 19, 2010 at 11:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's such a beautiful piece of writing. Makes me want sheep myself--even though I'm fiercely allergic to lanolin so it would be difficult even if we had a sheep-friendly setup!

May 19, 2010 at 6:36 PM  
Blogger CL Field said...

I stumbled on your blog today, and am so glad I did. What a lovely post. I look forward to reading more about your new life. I love living in the country. Treat winter as your "vacation" time!

May 19, 2010 at 6:41 PM  
Blogger joie said...

Jenna, welcome to New York! I'm reading your book right now and you're in northern Idaho! We're practically neighbors now! (we're 15 mins. from Albany--in Rensselaer Co.--across the Hudson) Just discovered your blog tonight. I know I'll enjoy reading about your everyday life and adventures. My family dreams of having a small family farm. I homeschool 3 boys: 13, 11, and 5.5. Farming would fit into our lives perfectly! I hope we get there someday. blessings, joie

May 20, 2010 at 12:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a lovely post.
I also love sheep, and live in a very rural area (in Wales) but I am no farmer, I just enjoy the sheep I see in the fields.

May 21, 2010 at 7:41 PM  
Blogger Monique said...

Beautiful. You captured that first instant when the dog has left my feet perfectly. Thank you.

May 23, 2010 at 2:33 PM  

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