My dad tells the story (a lot) of my being a child and communing with animals. He remembers me coming home with the neighbor’s dog, a stick wedged into his collar and my telling my father that this dog was surely lost and surely we should keep it.
Each time we would take a Sunday drive I felt it necessary to announce “HORSE” every time I would spot one. Obsessed would not be too strong a word.
Neither of my parents were animal lovers and my sister was terrified of dogs. Needless to say, it took some time for me to convince/cajole them into letting me have a dog of my own. But, once I began that journey...I have never been without one.
For a few years now I have sacrificed some cello practice time for competitive herding at sheep dog trials with my border collies, Sam and Bronte. What I love most about doing this is developing inter- species communication. This is something that requires not only my skills at giving appropriate commands but, perhaps even more, it requires the development of my skills in listening to my dogs and letting them tell me what should happen next.
We’ve done all of our herding practice work on various kind friends’ sheep farms. But Paul and I have made the decision to bring sheep on to our property.
This decision is really not about working toward trialing. It is a decision about using our land for something more than mowing. It is about developing parts of ourselves that we have not yet met, it is about going bucolic!
We had a company come out and give us an estimate on what it would cost to have the desired pasture land fenced and gated. Their estimate was nine thousand dollars. It stopped us in our tracks. We know that we need to begin with fencing but there will also be the cost of building a small barn, all of the necessary equipment, as well as purchasing the eight to ten sheep we intend to begin with. Interestingly, I have been the one pausing, coming up with excuses as to why maybe this isn’t such a good idea. But Paul rescues the plan each and every time: clearly, while he is not actually doing the herding, he has the heart of a shepherd.
We put an ad in both Front Porch Forum and Craig’s List asking if anyone had sheep fencing materials that we could buy for a reasonable amount. I am now changing the adage “If you build it, they will come..” to “If you want to build it...they will come.”
Today Paul, Josh and I made the two plus hour drive to Pawlet, Vermont to pick up two hundred and fifty wooden fencing stakes, a post driver and mallet, electric fence charger, five metal gates, various fittings, a bucket of twisty things (that’s sheep-tech talk) and an enormous hay feeder that looks very much like a circus ring. We had to rent a trailer to pick these things up and had to drive home under sixty because there was so much weight in the trailer. To say we are all in is an understatement.
In Pawlet we had to decide what things we needed and drag them over to the trailer. We loaded the trailer there for the trip home. Once home, we emptied the trailer in our driveway in a blistering fifteen minutes as it was due back a the rental spot post haste. We then had to load our own trailer pulled behind our ATV and make several trips up and down the hill to where we are storing fencing stuff. At the bottom of that hill we had to unload (again) that stuff. That made us feel strong, like it was the true beginning for our new adventure, like we were farming. We worked shoulder to shoulder in total silence, not because it was hard (it was), not because we are stoic (we aren’t) but because we knew every time we opened our mouths we would eat another black fly.
And so, tonight I look out the window at the start of it all. Rain is falling on our fencing which makes me feel like it is really ours now, as if whatever newness is being washed off. Paul is going to help me pull the slivers out of my fingers and we will sit and contemplate what comes next.
Don’t you just love beginnings?
To be continued…..(from time to time)