Last week we spent most of our time traveling. Livia and Ophelia needed a ride to Tawanda Farms in California, and three ram lambs (O’Connor among them) needed a ride back from California to Iowa. Rick and I left our farm on the afternoon of Friday, August 21, and drove across Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and a bit of California before arriving at Tawanda Farms in northern CA near the Oregon border late in the day on Sunday, August 23. We stayed in town for a couple of days to unwind and then made the trip back, using the same stopping points and arriving home on Friday, August 28th — almost exactly one week later.
All of the sheep were happily ensconced in an open crate in the bed of our truck. In this way, they got plenty of air and if/when temperatures rose into the 90s, they were still comfortable — more than they would have been in a field, since the air kept moving at 55 to 80 mph as the truck continued on its way along the various highways.
The crate actually works very well for this type of transport. We usually bed the crate with straw, which the sheep recognize from the bedding in our barns. We also surround the crate with hay, stuffing it all around the wheel wells and up to the top of the tailgate. The sheep inside can munch from pretty much anywhere in the crate, which is a big advantage when you have sheep of different sizes (like Livia with Ophelia). The adults can’t keep the lambs from eating, as they could with a hay bag. With our hay distributed over twelve linear feet of truck bed, every sheep has access.
The other advantage to the open crate in the truck bed is that we end up being a moving road show. Whether we are driving down the road or tanking up with gas, people can’t help but look, take pictures, and stare at our sheep. While in Wyoming, we even had a vet pull up next to us in his truck and then keep pace to get a good look at our sheep before passing us! Our sheep are obviously interesting to a wide audience!
At nearly every stop, I check on the water and hay — and that gives people an opportunity to stop and ask questions as I work. It’s not unusual to come back from the restroom and find the truck surrounded by onlookers hoping to touch the sheep or snap a quick photo. Questions abound: Why are they wearing those coats? (To keep their wool clean for our wool buyers.) Why are they chewing like that? (Because sheep are prey animals and eat really fast, knowing they can rechew it later when they aren’t so worried about being out in the open.) Where are they going? Are you going to eat them? (They are going to a farm for breeding, so no, they won’t be eaten — at least not for a very long time!) These basic questions often lead to other questions, and as I answer the first group, other onlookers arrive to see what all the fuss is about. It wasn’t unusual to leave a gas station waving to literally dozens of people after breaking up the meet-and-greet around our truck!
Hotel stays bring their own excitement. We’ve had a whole wedding party out to see our sheep when the reception was held at one of the hotels where we spent the night. Even better, the next morning when we came out to water and feed the sheep, we found the truck bed and the area around it inundated by jelly beans, which had originally been handed out to the wedding guests as a token gift. Obviously, a lot of those guests wanted to see whether sheep would eat jelly beans. (Answer: no, sheep hate jelly beans — both the taste and the texture!)
I love answering questions for the public because I know that the number of sheep in the US is dwindling. Unless each and every producer allows a peek into their lives, it’s unlikely that the US sheep industry will remain as strong as it is — and it could even die out. For this reason, we welcome interactions with the public. We love what we do. We also love the sheep we do it with. It is only in sharing that love for shepherding that we’ll plant the seed that raising sheep is still a recognized vocation — that yes, you too can become a shepherd or shepherdess!
Heaven knows how many of the people we talk to in our travels will actually get sheep someday. But in the end, that isn’t the point. The point is that it is a possibility, and possibility makes life interesting. Perhaps someday, long after we are retired, we may come across a truck filled with sheep in our travels. When we ask the young people driving their sheep across the state how they got into sheep, they might just tell us that once when they were young children, they petted some sheep in a truck and remembered how soft and sweet they were — and that’s all it took to make them look at the possibilities as adults. Heck, you never know….