Keeping Sheep | The Accidental Shepherdess

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There were cows and calves aplenty on their dairy farm when Diane Young was a girl growing up in South Albany, Vt., but for some reason her baby brother Alan had his heart set on getting a lamb.

Seaver, the Ram. Diane calls him "The Greeter"

Seaver, the Ram. Diane calls him “The Greeter”

Julia Shipley

One day their father relented and brought home the pined for lamb, but it was white, and not black, as Alan had wanted, and so Diane, scarcely 10 years old became its caretaker, bottle-feeding it throughout the summer.

waiting for grain

waiting for grain

Julia Shipley

Later, after Diane was grown and married and living about 10 miles from her parent’s home farm, a similar opportunity arose. One night a neighbor phoned and asked would she take some bottle babies. “Well, I suppose,” she replied, and a day later she was farming again—feeding her three new charges every four hours.

tending the yearling ewes

tending the yearling ewes

Julia Shipley

Twenty- six years later she remains a shepherdess, and presently her flock of Dorset tops off at about 100.

the lambing chart

the lambing chart

Julia Shipley

Each November 1st she introduces her ram to the adult ewes, and starting about March 28th in the midst of sugaring, lambing season commences.

For a few years, after the lambs are weaned in mid- June, (a noisy affair, as the shut off lambs bleat mercilessly for milk), I’ve driven over to the Young’s to buy and load up three or four wooly lawnmowers.

This ewe disowned her lambs so twice a day Diane helps them nurse

This ewe disowned her lambs so twice a day Diane helps them nurse

Julia Shipley

This morning I joined Diane for her morning chores as she fed handsome Seaver, the ram, named for the road and brook near her childhood farm. Then I trotted after her as she tended to the group of yearling ewes, and then out to the pen of 60 lambs, and then I tagged along as she led them into pasture. Afterwards we ventured way out to a far pasture to check on the ewes, who are “on vacation.”

headed for pasture

headed for pasture

Julia Shipley

Watching over the field Diane says, “Yesterday there was a deer just lying in shade.  I stood on the knoll to see it, at first all I could see were its two ears sticking up. She just laid there, taking in the day, and finally she got up and bounded into the woods.”

Pasture!

Pasture!

Julia Shipley

The ewes are fanned out, avidly grazing; they barely notice us.

Diane Young

Diane Young

Julia Shipley

“These lucky creatures,” I think, as Diane and I head back to work.

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