This has been an exciting week for us. First, Grace delivered our last lambs of the year on Monday. Then, about forty-eight hours later, our farm played host to a field trip for students and parents who participate in the Marion Home School Assistance Program. Although we have hosted such a visit before, this time was a bit different. Word must have gotten out that we have cute baby lambs this time of year, and as a result, our original session for forty people filled up so quickly that we added a second session for an additional forty. In the end, we hosted the first group from 1-3 pm and the second group from 3-5 pm. It was a fun-filled afternoon for all involved!
I do feel that this type of activity is very important. Not only do community members get the opportunity to come and talk all things sheep, but I also get to plant the seeds of shepherding in the children of our community — and that benefit is huge! Sheep numbers in the US are declining so steadily that unless we do something, shepherding will become an occupation lost to history and meaningless to the new generation. I find that an incredibly sad thought. As a result, we do our part to encourage others to see their own shepherding possibilities in a whole new light.
Upon their arrival, visitors were divided into two groups based roughly on age. The youngest group took the first shift in the house, where two friends of mine had set up activities having to do with fiber arts. The kids got to try their hand at spinning with a drop spindle, spinning with a spinning wheel, and felting. (Each member of the group felted a star in my kitchen.) They were able to handle both raw wool (Zoe’s last fleece) and processed roving, and each took a sample of Romney roving home with them. The kids also received a calendar printed by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship that encourages farming in Iowa, giving them a chance to enter this year’s calendar contest if they decide to draw their experiences once they returned home.
Each participant also had a chance to visit the lambing barn during their visit. Although our lambing is now over, we had set up a viewing area within the barn so they could each get a good view of the flock as the ewes ate their hay and cared for their young. Odessa, our smallest lamb and our newest farm ambassador, was happily passed from one person to the next for nearly the entire four hours of visitors. She snuggled into one pair of arms after another, only squirming when her mother, Natasha, entered the barn calling for her. After a quick nursing session, Odessa once again returned to our visitors to be held and passed around until the last person left.
Odessa wasn’t the only one enjoying the company, however. Most of the ewes were happy to come forward when enticed by graham crackers. Even without the bribes, January was quite happy to welcome our visitors. Having been raised for weeks inside our home when she was a new lamb, January is very happy to be in contact with humans. Besides that, she also knows that most of our guests will eventually be handing out treats, and she definitely doesn’t want to miss that! Within moments of their arrival, the kids were giggling as January’s tongue and lips pushed through the mesh of the panels and nibbled at anyone who came too close.
Discussions in the barn ranged over countless topics, including the different types of wool and their uses, what sheep eat, how sheep digestion works, how often we shear, and how much wool sheep can produce. The conversations were directed by the interests of the guests and no topic was off limits as we shared what we do on the farm.
By the end of the final session, as the last vehicle pulled out into the road, the sheep were full of graham crackers and I was thrilled but exhausted! It was all a lot of fun, sharing my passion with so many people! I have heard that there were multiple postings that night on Facebook; photos featuring smiling children with cuddly lambs, and small fingers offering treats to nimble ovine lips. For a shepherd and sheep-lover, can it get any better than that?