A Shepherd’s Calendar

Sheep have always been a part of my life, but when I started my flock of Border Leicesters in early 2008, it was the first time I was in charge of flock management decisions. Despite having worked with several flocks in different areas of the country, there is a serious learning curve when it comes to calling the shots (pun intended). Not only is the flock adapting to its new environment, but the shepherd is adapting to the specific needs of the animals. Each breed is different.

As the calendar changes, so does the work. Here in central Indiana, we’ve had an unusually long growing season. Spring arrived early, and the warm, dry weather of early fall lasted almost to Thanksgiving. In early October, I turned two of my rams in with separate groups of brood ewes (a common term for adult females who have lambs), and so began the five-month wait for bouncing lambs. Until the cold December drizzle arrived, the farm was a flurry of harvest, haymaking, barn repair, and the numerous tasks associated with tucking the farm away for the winter. All of this is exciting but taxing work as the days quickly become shorter.

Shepherd's Calendar

Top left: Border Leicesters have both lovely fleece and a quiet intelligence. Top right: Kate learned about intensive rotational grazing while working with a Vermont flock in 2005. Bottom left: Her new natural-color Border Leicester ram lamb, Thomas, and his first true love, Nora. Bottom right: Happy rewards for hard work: three (of many) bags full.

One of the most important lessons I have learned as a shepherd is to always be flexible. It sounds so simple, but I have to remind myself of this over and over. The weather from one year to the next dictates when and how I graze; breeding and lambing season fluctuate depending on my spinning workshop schedule, all of which impacts shearing dates; and on and on. Being a responsive shepherd is complicated and laced with hard decisions, long hours, and so much work. In my travels, I meet many shepherds who, like me, forge ahead out of pure love for our flocks and their beautiful locks.

—Kate


Samples of wool from Kate’s flock and those of shepherds like her are available in the Wool Breeder’s Premium Spinning Collection.