Four years hardly constitutes an era, but for our family the past four years surely does.
Four years of keeping sheep.
Four years of homegrown fiber and fresh new lambs. Four years of helping mamas give birth, then laying in the straw gently aiming still damp heads towards their first taste of milk. Four years of tears when we failed them and triumph when things went better than we ever imagined. Four years of deciding who would stay and who would go – to another farm or to the freezer to feed our family for the coming year.
Looking back on who we were then and who we are now, four years feels like a lifetime.
When we lived in town and dreamed of the farm we hoped to someday build, mostly I dreamt of sheep.
Of lambs scampering in green pastures; of wool in my workbasket from sheep I knew by name; of the most difficult yet rewarding meat we could possibly eat placed gratefully on our table.
And we did that.
This flock has been central to who we are and how we live. They are interwoven into our day-to-day lives and annual rhythms and our very identity. For the past four years sheep have determine our land use plans and our meal plans – even our vacation plans.
For nearly a quarter of the kids childhood (give or take), sheep have ruled.
And so this spring, when we decided it was time to turn a new page, the decision was not made lightly.
To say "we decided" is misleading. More accurately, we discussed and debated and agonized over the possibility. We flip-flopped, we wondered. And then – somewhat nervously, somewhat tentatively – we decided to turn that page.
It was time, as Pete eloquently put it, to paint gesso on this canvas and start again.
A new painting. A new vision. A new chapter in our lives.
And how fortunate we were to find someone willing to pick up where we left off.
No stressful sales barn for our animals, no unnecessary culling, no feeling stuck, wondering how to facilitate our next move. Just Isaiah and his sustainable family farm where he raises organic beef and chickens. Like we did those years ago, he wanted sheep for food and fiber.
His farming philosophy and vision are similar to our own – rotational grazing, sustainable management, and connection to the animals and the earth. It didn't hurt that he grew up homeschooled either – we spoke the same language from the start. He felt like a perfect fit for our animals from the very moment that we met.
So early this spring, while there was still snow in the barnyard, the three of us made a plan. He'd be back in July and take home his flock.
And yesterday – well, yesterday it was July.
Almost four years to the day from when our first sheep arrived, it was time to say goodbye, to these dozen sheep whom we all know by name. I felt some trepidation but also excitement to turn this page. I think Pete and I – and the kids as well – knew that it was time. Time to try on a new vision on and see how it fits.
A vision where the four of us can travel together and where we have a bit more time to pursue other passions, interests, and projects.
Because, we have learned, we really can't do it all, no matter how we try.
Isaiah arrived mid-morning and we got to work.
As sheep transport days often are, our farm was a comedy of errors all morning. Isaiah arrived just as our steer escaped into the neighbors field (for the first of two times that morning). Much running and sweating and swearing was involved on Pete's part, but eventually Tiny was back in the pasture. And then he was gone again. (More running, more sweating, more swearing.)
After Pete managed to wrangle him back in a second time (and convince the fence to hold a charge), Isaiah, Pete and I talked for an hour or so, discussing all things sheep: minerals and herbal wormers; hoof trimming and shearing; flock genetics and soil health. I promised him an email with a flock family tree and some tips to identify one sheep from another.
These things we take for granted – who is whose baby; who twinned last year but singled this year – they are fixed in our memories. We'll jot down all that seems relevant and pass that along, too.
Then I took some pictures, and wondered what it would be like to have this barn empty once more.
And then, with surprisingly few mishaps, we loaded this dozen into the trailer and said goodbye.
It was strange. But good strange, I think. (At least I hope.) There is so much that has been waiting here, for just a little breathing room. Like projects around the house, or finally finishing Sage's treehouse, or taking Lupine fishing in the creek like she asks so often.
Things there just aren't time for when sheep need a fresh pasture and we need to stack bales and it's hoof trimming time again.
Will moving the flock along give us time for those things we want to do while we still can? Those things that only happen in these fleeting moments of childhood? We'll find out soon enough.
Less busy. More presence. That's my goal.
In case you were wondering, Grandpa the guard dog stayed on. To guard the… I have no idea. The ducks? I hope Grandpa is happy here without his sheep. He's been feeling more and more like a pet and less like a guard dog for months. Here's hoping he's not restless without sheep at his heels.
And we loaded them into the trailer and (with a few more mishaps along the way) they were gone.
And a new chapter begins.
As for Pete and I? I guess we're just grateful for what was, what is, and what has yet to be.