We entered the sheep industry in 1988, accidentally and without a plan. Neither of us had a farm background nor a dream of living on the land. We had adopted 2 Belgian Sheepdogs that needed a job and agility, obedience, tracking just wasn’t enough. A herding clinic inspired their passion. The goats immediately jumped the fence to escape their enthusiasm. Recommendations were to start on sheep–generally more cooperative.
We sourced some rough land to lease of no value to cropping, bought an RV, and added a few sheep—then more sheep—then more. The dogs and the land–desperately in need of grazing, advocated for more and more sheep. At around 300 breeding ewes it was obvious we had no time for herding trials much less agility, obedience or tracking and that the human partners needed training in managing and leading a flock.
We enrolled in seminars and training, purchased audio tapes, videos, books and magazine subscriptions on topics such as intensive grazing, guardian dogs, herding dogs, sustainable agriculture and holistic management. For 3 years we lived in the RV with electricity but no running water. In the winter the water in the dogs dishes, inside the RV, would be frozen solid. Two-dog-nights took on a personal meaning when they packed on the bed with us. We eventually adopted a third dog, although the additional heat was degraded by settling-down turf issues.
I, Judy, imagined being a nomadic shepherd and following the flock through highlands, grasslands and deserts. My father, the son of a successful Syrian immigrant, was appalled that I was becoming distracted from a profession and died at 92 never fully forgiving me. Our sheep could never be mentioned without an angry response. My oldest sister tried to help him understand his discomfort but he would just shake his head and refuse to speak.
Initially, doing this as a business never occurred to us. Coming home from city jobs to be greeted by dogs and sheep was a joy in itself. As the flock settled during the evening hours their sounds and calls could clearly be heard inside the RV. The vocalization of ewes calling to their lambs was especially beautiful. Living with working dogs was another pleasure.
How does one live without the companionship and passion of dogs?