Laura has always wanted a flock of sheep, she really has. She has spent a few weeks touring and probing around local sheep farms asking questions and helping with shearing, lambing, shots and bottle babies. She doesn't have a lot of money but she does have a library card and plenty of free time since losing her job four weeks ago. She was one of dozens laid off when her advertising firm was bought out by a larger firm. Being forced out of her day job made her reconsider what matters to her, and where her life should go next. She always wanted sheep, and decided she was going to become a shepherd. Come hell or high water, she would be spinning her own wool come next winter.
Laura doesn't have a lot of land, or any really. She's an apartment dweller in a small town. But she recently attended a LandShare meeting in her town hall, where wealthier landowners allow small farmers access to a few acres of their land in exchange for some of the farm's profit or a share of what the land produces. There Laura met a woman who runs a Bed and Breakfast a mile bike ride away from her town apartment. She has seven acres of fields and offered her four of them for a small flock of sheep. It benefitted them both, as the B&B owner gets some bucolic critters outside the window and the farmer gets use of the land. Laura has kept this woman's number in her pocket every day for three weeks.
So one day, while helping with lambing at one of the largest sheep cheese farms in the county the farm owners are so pleased with Laura they offer her the gift of five ram lambs from their herd if she wants them, but she has to take them today. She is frothing at the mouth, but her mind is reeling. These aren't the wool sheep she wanted? These are dairy males, so pretty much lamb chops. Why take these sheep if they aren't part of her mental business plan. What if she says yes and the B&B owner changes her mind? And not to mention Laura doesn't even have a single fence up or out building put together. What to do?
Laura heads home from her farm apprenticing that morning with five ram lambs with full bellies on a blanket in the back seat. of her sedan.
She gets home and sets up a puppy gate in her kitchen her trusty Labrador Rocket used to need during potty training. One by One she carries the ram lambs into the kitchen while Rocket watches, golden tail wagging at the new house guests. She calls her dog back to the very sheepy-smelling car and they leave the little ones with a bowl of water. They peel out of the driveway for the local town's farm supply store.
There Laura buys a dozen t-posts, a post pounder, and some woven wire fencing. She buys two feeder rubber bins, nipples for soda bottles, milk replacer, and some castration rings and a bander tool. The total is around $400. It's a quarter of all the money she has in her checking account. She has no savings. On the drive home she calls the B&B owner, shaking. The woman she spoke with weeks ago remembered her, and was thrilled to have sheep but not until two weekends. She was hosting a May wedding and needed the place pristine for white tents and a band stand. She could come and set up her fencing and such anytime after that. Laura and her make a date to do this, and she lets out a long sigh.
So what happens to Laura and the five sheep in her kitchen? They live together in less-than-optimal circumstances in her apartment. It's far from perfect, but temporary. Every day of their two-week-to-pasture-wait Laura prepares for the big day. She has three friends coming to help run the small fenced enclosed and found a plan to make a simple A-frame shelter out of wooden pallets. Her friend Mark offered her a morning of power tools to help cobble it together. With a shelter, fence, grass, and a backpack full of bottles at the ready she is ready to go. She is on her way, and even in her smelly kitchen a bonefied shepherd.
Zoom to three years later and that first summer of milk-born wethers is long behind her. That first crop of apartment sheep was where she cut her teeth on fencing, nutrition, electric fences, pasture rotation, and marketing. She sold two and a half of the lambs in shares to friends and family and kept half of one for herself. A whole lamb went into the B&B freezer for payment of land use. A fifth lamb died of coccidia. It was a harsh lesson learned. She got a lot of flack from the farmer who gave her the lambs for letting it die. A lot of people around the area had bad things to say about her in general. Her family and friends are supportive but the lifestyle changes having livestock inflicted have caused a lot of conflict. Her life is far from perfect, but he is happy with the slow direction of it.
Now another two seasons have passed and the little fenced paddock is still there with some slightly improved animal housing and a flock of ten wool sheep, all pregnant and expecting in a few weeks. She sells wool, lamb, and works part time at the book store in town. She's not a full time farmer yet but well on her way, and no more lambs were loss to disease or mistakes since that first rough year.
Laura is, however humble, a farmer.
Stephen has always wanted sheep, always wanted to be a shepherd. He grew up reading books about the fells and dales of England, where his parents were raised and where he still carries a bit of their accent. He's got a good job, working for himself from home as an IT consultant. He doesn't mind the computer stuff but his passion, what gets him going, is farming. He wants to slip on a driving cap, get a border collie, and walk out to his flock with a crook in his hands.
Stephen is not one to do anything without planning though. Lots of planning. He has a bookshelf full of sheep care books and manuals. He has attended all his local Ag extensions classes. He has set aside thousands of dollars for supplies and gear. His backyard, which opens up to a fifty acre property he inherited from his uncle, is already fenced. His uncle used to keep a small flock of dairy goats and then cattle, and so the fencing is well ready for sheep. It's a bit overgrown, but a small army with weed whackers and some hoes could get it looking sharp.
What's holding Stephen back is his partner, Jessica. Jessica loves him and he loves her, but she just doesn't think their life is ready for livestock or a puppy. To her it's a commitment that means weekend trips to Montreal or last-minute adventures to camp in the mountains are gone. She loves animals but doesn't want to be so tied down to a farm or a dog. She has already told Stephen this, and that if it's what he really needs to be happy they need to have a longer conversation. Stephen, who hates any sort of long, controversial, conversation that may end up giving up on his flock idea - puts this conversation off constantly. He isn't ready, right? His life isn't where it needs to be.
So instead Stephen goes to watch sheepdog trials, save for his future farm, attend workshops and classes, and add to his growing library of dusty farm books. He researches breeders and looks up pedigrees. He can spot hoof rot from a dozen yards away. He has already picked out the sire and dam of his future puppy. All his friends are tired of hearing about sheep and farming. Jessica has gown so weary of it their relationship is in its last throes.
Shoot ahead to three years down the road and Stephen still does not have his flock of sheep. Jessica and him parted ways, but all the things she and his extended family said about livestock keep him away from lambing pens. He still has paintings of old shepherds and their dogs on the walls and even flew over to Scotland to watch some of the Big Hat trials post-breakup with his girl, but has yet to fix a fence or email a puppy breeder. He's just not ready yet, the support isn't there. If he gets sheep now he'll never have the time or energy to meet a woman if he's tied down to a farm. So perfectly prepared, wealthy, with land and fences to spare he keeps putting it off. Waiting for the perfect time when he is ready.
Stephen is not a farmer yet. Maybe next year.