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Life on the Sheep Ranch

There’s a ranch in Sonoma County, with sheep and cows mostly – some horses, turkeys, bobcats, jackrabbits, a family of deer, and a tall redwood where ravens harass red-tails, and owls just try to blend in.  A three-mile dirt road winds off of a twelve-mile, farm-lined paved road (that leads to ‘civilization’), and at the end of that road is the ranch, a house, and us.    We are caretakers of this land for the owners (who live elsewhere).  Our lives are rich with sheepy-details and sheepy-learnings; we are the shepherds here.

We love this place.  We love the rolling California hills, which were kelly green and smacked of Ireland when we arrived six months ago, and are now a deep, golden-brown .  Here is a little video of us and the property only a few days after we arrived.

We have both lived in plenty of off-grid situations before, but neither of us knew anything about animal husbandry.  There are two flocks of sheep we’re responsible for, one for meat, one for milk, about 150 sheep in total.  We feed them, water them, repair their barn, and generally keep an eye on them.  They tend to get their heads stuck in fences,  sprain ankles, and sometimes they escape their pastures, only to get left behind by the herd.  As herd animals, being alone is the worst.

A month or two after we arrived a mama sheep died, and we raised her baby, who we started calling Lambikin (rhymes with ramekin).  We fed her lamb formula from a bottle twice a day for about two months.  She stayed around our house and slept in a barn across from us rather than wandering with the herd.

Here is a Lambikin photo collection, from our first feeding when she was just a  baby lamb, to a photo from just the other day, where you can see her as the robust, trouble-making teenage lamb that she is now.

Lambie's first feeding. She was terrified of us at first.  But it only took a couple of days for her to change her mind about us, and soon she was following us around.
Lambie’s first feeding. She was terrified of us at first. But it only took a couple of days for her to change her mind, and soon she was following us around.
Lambs don't really like to cuddle or play the ways dogs or cats do.  We guess that as "prey" animals it feels like an attack.  But Lambikin does like having her neck scratched, she also likes bumping up against you so that she knows where you are, and resting her head in your hand.
Lambs don’t really like to cuddle or play the ways dogs or cats do. We think that as prey animals it feels like an attack. But Lambikin does like having her neck scratched, she also likes bumping up against you so that she knows where you are, and resting her head in your hand.
Kind of the best photo of Lambikin ever, with our dear friend's wonderful son.  He was scared of Lambie at first (he'd never seen such an animal before!) and she was scared of him ('cause she's scared of pretty much everything) but they got used to each other and we think they even shared some baby mammal secrets with each other.
Kind of the best photo of Lambikin ever, with our dear friend’s wonderful son. He was scared of Lambie at first (he’d never seen such an animal before!) and she was scared of him (because she’s scared of pretty much everything), but they got used to each other and we think they even shared some baby mammal secrets with each other.
A very patient lamb.
A very patient lamb.
Lambikin on the runway.
Lambikin on the runway.
Lambie is starting to get Sheepie.
Lambie is starting to get Sheepie.

Eventually, and with trepidation, we re-introduced her to the flock.   She is doing really well there.  We think she is a well-adjusted sheep.  When we go out to feed the sheep  they all run away (they always run away, that’s what they do), but Lambie runs towards us baa-ing her baa that is so distinctive only to us.  We love her the most.

This is an experiment.  Testing the waters of living off the map, with the hope of one day parking our tiny house in a place like this.  A place that has room for community; a place with open land where you don’t have to worry about running the tractor into anything and the circadian rhythm of life takes over.  A place where we can step outside and take a deep breath when we need some space to create or wander.

This is one of many seeds being sown right now.  We’re learning new skills at every turn and planning way down in the sub-conscious for something still to come.  What it looks like…well…how can we know?

Or as Lambikin would certainly say…..  Baa.


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