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flock in pastureToday is the first day in over two years that we’ve woken up without sheep in the pasture.  I still remember the excitement of bringing them home on the 4th of July: the sunny drive to Starkhollow Farm in Huntington, where we loaded two ewes and four lambs into the pickup truck; dodging independence day parades on the way home; unloading them into their new pasture in front of our yurt at Applecheek Farm, where we lived at the time, only to have the sky open up and storm down on us.  After it passed, we found the sheep drenched and eating grass, seemingly un-phased.

I remember moving them to our land that fall, how beautifully they dotted the pasture, bright red and orange foliage framing the field.  I remember our first lambing season, how they all did it themselves, except for Dove, who we got to too late, and her big ram lamb was born dead–how my heart ached for her the next few days as she baaa’d and walked from lamb to lamb, sniffing to see if it was her own until finally her cries calmed as she came to understand he was gone.

And our first fall of harvesting lamb, the tender goodbyes was said as we touched their fleece before driving north to the slaughterhouse–how delicate and delicious the meat was afterward.

Then, of course, were the many hours we spent moving fence, herding the sheep back into their paddocks after escapes, chasing them out of the garden, asking the question why do we have sheep?

That question set hold this spring and grew stronger each day as the sheep demanded we leave the garden and tend to them instead.  But the weeds!  The seeding!  All the work of the garden called for us, too.  After months of questioning, the sheep have all finally left, some for greener pastures, some for the butcher.  Part of me wishes we could have found homes for all of them, but we got into the sheep business to raise meat, and so the last six will serve this final purpose: to feed our family and customers, giving back some of the energy we gave to them.

Some day we’ll bring grazing animals back to the land, but for now I must admit it feels good to have a reprieve, to wake up to a quiet morning and not worry that the sheep are having breakfast in the garden; to hear coyotes at night and not worry if the charge in the electric fence is too low.  I’ll enjoy the extra hours each day to devote to the garden and the many half-finished projects waiting for our attention.  And when we pick up the meat at the butcher, I’ll eat with awareness, my eyes closed in gratitude, thankful for what the sheep gave us.

Looking after the flock