Okay, I have to be honest. When I speak of riches, I’m not talking about monetary riches — one is unlikely to find themselves surrounded by gold and silver during their shepherding career. Yet there is much more to life and happiness than silver and gold; and I would argue that in working with my flock, I have found many of the riches to be had in life. I am truly blessed to do what I do every day, and I’m fully aware that this is a rare occurrence.
Working with my flock, I see the cycles of life before my eyes. Each spring, we welcome new life into the flock as dozens of new lambs take their first breaths, stumble with their first steps, and find the teats that will keep them alive for the coming weeks. We watch them play in the fields and climb the manure piles, learning how to survive and thrive on their own in their world of green. They grow at what seems to be lightening speed, and before we know it, they are nearly adult-sized and ready for our breeding season in the fall of their first year.
I would be remiss if I were to paint my life as only fluffy lambs and gamboling sheep, yet even death and the hard choices I must make pull me into that circle of life — and that, too, is a gift. Simply bringing lambs into the world would be irresponsible if there wasn’t room for them. As such, we move some older sheep out to make space and sell lambs to other flocks or into the meat market based on their qualities. It is a difficult thing, but critical to the survival of the flock. If we don’t make selections based on strong survival traits, the flock becomes weaker; and if the flock is to survive, all members must carry their weight and pull the flock forward. It is the survival of the fittest in a micro-system. It is the way of the world, and we are a small part of it.
What else do I count among my riches? The bright, smiling eyes of new customers who buy their very first sheep as starter flocks, excitement so great that it can hardly be contained. The mellow, calm demeanor of my ewe-friends as we sit together, spending time in the pasture and enjoying the gentle breeze on a hot day. My old boy, Goliath, choosing to come forward for a chin scratch rather than staying with his rammy friends. Or Olive, still looking for me every day as I check the lamb flock, coming forward for a bit of love and a quick rub-down before returning to her friends. My riches also include sharing all of these things with shepherd friends, who know exactly what I mean when I describe an incredible bonding moment with one or more of my flock.
Yes, there are riches to be had when you oversee a flock of sheep. The more time you spend watching and experiencing the flock, the greater the returns. They may be “just sheep,” as many would have you believe, but it’s amazing what the life of a sheep and its flock can share with the shepherd if we but take the time. You shouldn’t expect financial riches — the work is hard and demanding, and there is little pay —but if it is a labor of love and you invest yourself, you will find riches that cannot be quantified. I find myself truly and greatly blessed.