Sheepcote Farm - A Connected Heritage
Morning lit the rural road and created dew-glimmers in the fields as I approached Sheepcote Farm. Now, a mere 10 minutes later, that same morning cast a soft light in the barn and a soft glow on Faith.
There she was: Faith, that tiny Tunis lamb born weighing only 2.9 pounds, and now a three-week-old scampering at Beth Warner’s heels. I don’t know what struck me more: seeing Faith alive and viable, or watching her follow closely behind Beth.
I’d seen this little lamb on Instagram posts…had seen how much tinier she was than all the others. Yet now, once she had gotten used to me, Faith was right there on my lap, drinking from a bottle. But I wasn’t really the one that Faith wanted feeding her.
The one Faith had bonded with was her surrogate mother, Beth.
Beth had always wanted to be a shepherdess, despite the fact that as a child she had never even seen a sheep. Well, clearly, she is now a shepherdess, and for the time being, a mama to a little lamb as well.
I first met Beth through seeing images of her sheep in posts by my friend, Cynthia Perryman. Cynthia had spent a day photographing the sheep to use as images for her beautiful impressionist-style paintings. Seeing those images and subsequent paintings, I “followed” Beth, taking in her thoughts on farming, faith, and community, and enjoying her story-filled photos that accompanied the writing she shares almost daily.
There was much that Beth shared with me in person on this particular day. She shared with me the story of the steps in life that led her and her husband Steve to start raising a heritage breed of sheep when most people are thinking about retirement. After all, childhood dreams can take a lot of work. As Beth poured the feed into the troughs, she patiently explained to me that heritage breeds are ones that were raised on farms a few generations ago and bred to withstand the specific climate and environmental needs of the area.
Importantly, they are disease-resistant and thrive in a pasture-based environment. Today, many heritage breeds face extinction due to modern farming practices. Here at Sheepcote Farm, though, this small herd of Tunis sheep is thriving in their naturally-fertilized pastures. This hardy breed creates beautiful wool and delicious meat, and, as I experienced first-hand, exhibits a kind demeanor. Their reddish faces are also quite delightful.
Beth shared with me her time. We walked the sheep from the barn to a pasture and simply watched as the sheep calmly grazed. We took in the affection of her three Great Pyrenees – dogs that are intended to guard the flock, but who took every opportunity to be patted as pets. She shared about the interconnectedness of everything – including why farms often have donkeys in the pasture to protect the sheep. (I had no idea that donkeys are territorial and will ward off vultures and hawks that try to go after the newborn lambs.[!])
Beth shared with me her vision: her desire to bring people together in community, and her desire to be part of educating a future generation of sheep farmers -- people who will keep alive the practices that keep alive the land. This vision supports Beth’s longing that everyone be more connected to the source of the food they eat and to the local farmers that bring it to the market.
Beth also shared with me that which is hard. Being a shepherdess isn’t just the fulfillment of a childhood dream. It comes with harsh realities of sleepless nights during lambing season and the deep emotions of loss when a little one doesn’t make it. It means experiencing all of the joys and the depths of sorrows in the circle of life. It means a life of sacrifice, in every
sense of the word.
As I spent time at Sheepcote Farm, I was struck by all of these aspects. They are, indeed, all a part of the whole.
As I listened and photographed, I was entranced by the light as it filtered into the barn and reflected a gold sheen off of the hay and onto the faces of these beautiful sheep. Likewise, I was drawn into the beauty of the pastel light of morning on the spring pasture, the sheep grazing in the new grass. I was filled with laughter as the herd-dogs came in, en masse, for a Great Pyrenees pile-up of pats. I was delighted to actually see little Faith, scampering around and thriving at three weeks old. I was in awe of the difference between sheep breeds when Beth took me to Hope Springs Farm that raises Gulf Coast sheep, another heritage stock. I was reconnected to a past in my own life, where it was important to be calm in a barn of animals, as I spent many hours in such a place throughout my teenage years. I was reminded, again, that life in all places has its cycles, and we need to be present to them.
I feel so fortunate to meet different people and learn about their lives from what they share. More deeply, however, I am so thankful for opportunities to enter in, to see, to photograph, to experience…to take a closer look at what is in the everyday environment of someone else. It may be a day and a place that are very different from mine, and yet they are all so very connected.
To see the full album of photos from this day, please visit http://sheepcote-farm.wren-photos.com/
To learn more about Beth Warner and enjoy her writing and glimmers into life, faith, community, Tunis sheep, and life at Sheepcote Farm, you can follow her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/beth.sheepcote.0123) and on Instagram (@sheepcotefarm)
To learn more about Hope Springs Farm and Gulf Coast sheep, please see www.hopespringsfarm-ga.com.
To learn more about heritage breeds, including Tunis and Gulf Coast sheep and a variety of other farm animals, please see www.livestockconservancy.org.
To see the paintings of Cynthia Perryman, please see www.cynthiaperrymanart.com, and follow her on Instagram (@cynthiaperrymanart)
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