Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Flock Is Gone

This morning my friend Patty backed her horse trailer into the driveway. It was around 10AM and I was standing there, helping her direct the awkward sharp turn while flies buzzed and Falkor the rooster crowed. While I was trying to keep her truck's flank away from a large potted bush in the driveway it finally hit me: the flock would be gone soon. This was actually happening.

The red trailer was soon parked and open, awaiting the sheep. We would be moving Monday the ram, five ewes (including little Bette) and Joseph the older wether to their new home. They were going to my friend Leah's farm, Moxie Ridge.

Leah has a dairy that specializes in amazing goat cheeses. But they always wanted a small meat flock to raise lamb and some fiber alongside the chickens, eggs, ducks, horses and their herds of goats. However, Moxie Ridge wasn't planning on getting sheep this year and so the flock wasn't in their farm budget, which Leah explained when they first took interest in the flock. I told them to take the sheep because they were a perfect home. Pay what they could when they could. I'd rather the flock be in good hands then cash a stranger's check tomorrow. Leah agreed and set up their pasture during this past week.

It took Patty and I an hour to get all the sheep into the truck. Three were easily bribed with grain and hopped right in, but the three younger ewes took off for the far field and hid under the horses' bellies in hopes it would stop the dogs from moving them back towards the trailer. One by one (with the help of Friday and Gibson) Patty and I caught them and used a sheep halter to get them all loaded in the trailer. By the time we were done I had been kicked in the head by a leaping Jessa, coated in sweat from the humid morning, and was basically ready to cry.

Every time a sheep went into that truck it felt like failure and it felt selfish. It felt like had I made a choice to make things easier on me instead of figuring out how to make it work another breeding season. The guilt was worse than the decision.

It's guilt, not regret. I don't regret selling the flock to Leah. I do feel guilty, though. The honest reason they are leaving is my exhaustion in maintaining a four-season breeding flock and the costs to keep it. It's hard to keep telling yourself you'll figure out how to buy firewood before August when you're still pouring cash into their care and feeding and would into snow fly. As the days roll closer to fall I am scared if I don't cut back on a lot of expenses and get very lucky with sales I'll be back into fears of foreclosure and lights being turned off, not just cold nights. And that feeling is what I can't handle anymore. I need to make the choices that keep that feeling far away.

I am trying like hell just to get into August a little more stable. It was as much a business decision to scale back as it was an emotional one. The colliding storms of wanting more freedom, spending less money on animals, and being so very tired meant today was the right choice. It still hurts.

These sheep have been here for my entire time in Jackson. Joseph was practically a lamb when I drove him from the rented cabin in Vermont to this farm. That was 2010 and so sheep have been here since I turned the key on this farmhouse. And while I still plan on raising lambs every year (there are four outside this farmhouse right now that belong to customers); they will be in freezers come winter. After that there won't be a sheep here till new lambs are bought in the spring - born somewhere else.

Them not being here frees up a little money. It frees up a little time. It means no one is escaped to the neighbor's lawn, in the road, or needs to be checked on at 3AM during a March Snowstorm and while all of that is a huge sigh of relief it is also a huge pang of loss. I was never unhappy caring for these guys just very tired from it. Sleepless nights during lambing season and cursing at escaped rams became pretty wonderful the moment I drove away from Moxie Ridge.

I cried on the way home, even though I knew they were in great hands of an amazing person. I cried because change is unsettling and scary and part of me feels this is the beginning of a lot of other big changes I haven't even figured out yet and that is terrifying. I feel unsteady in my footsteps but sure about the walking. I have a lot to figure out pacing behind Friday on those forest trails.

I was their shepherd. They were my sheep. I learned so much from them. Now it's time to learn something from me.