Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

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©Katherine Dunn.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Soaking up every shepherdly moment

One of the most heart wrenching facts about the eventual relocation to Maine, for me, is to leave my flock. It is unlikely they will come with us and it has been the hardest realization I have had to grapple with. It is not only letting go of my relationship and stewardship to them, it is knowing they will find places that are suited to their remaining health and life.

Sheep are sensitive creatures to stress and I think it is best they aren't hauled around for five-6 days. I think they are also plenty happy when they have grass, hay and a water, and their flock, even if that flock changes. A wise horseman once told me,

"Don't ever think you are the only person in the world that can care for your animals-that's how you can get into trouble down the road,"

Even if we find the perfect place for sheep, I think it would be hard on them to relocate. Not to mention it would be another separate hauler to fire.

My goals are to sell the best breeding ewes, and rams, and hen rehome my retirees in pairs, hopefully to friends or followers who know how many animals I've cared for and helped over the years. There are a few, like Daisy, that will die here, it is the way it needs to e for her, and me. She is in her last year and I can tell her arthritis is worsening, it will be a hard goodbye, but she will be of the land she so helped graze so we could share her bounty.

Even though there are pending details floating about, I am soaking on every moment with as much love and admiration for all we have done here together, my flock and I. The first lambing-oh, I am sure Daisy will always roll her eyes if she thinks of it-I checked her udder so many times I'm sure she just was so relieved to finally lamb, which she did on her own as they often do. All the learning curves we had, the biggest of course the Spring of Death. I wouldn't change one day.

I'm not a perfect shepherd, nobody is. But my flock comes to me from the upper hills when I call, and I have never lost sight of my responsibility to them. perhaps along the way my biggest mistakes have been not shepherding myself enough, not culling the flock as well as I could have to reduce the number of non working ewes. I thought we'd live here for ever and figured at a certain point, I could let them all die naturally, one by one, on the land they lived on. That was always my covenant to them.

But plans change. Our move to Maine is the right thing for us, as people, as a couple, as a team, and as an evolving farm. Part of me is terrified, literally, not to have sheep anymore. I identify with being a shepherd. But then I realized there are many ways to shepherd, of course we all know this. I am researching raising bees. A friend sent me a copy of the Bee Bible and I'm excited about shepherding bees! It seems so funny, that we named the farm "Apifera" which means "bee bearing" and now, finally, I will have them, only in Maine. And they have wings, let's not forget the Calling All Wings symbolism this year and last.

But, as we worked today on what I assume will be our last fencing project, the flock gathered. Those are the moments, these are the moments, that sting the heart but also just make me swell with joy and pride-and gratitude of all I have done here, and all they have done. I guess that is what these days are for me-all that we have done is flashing in front of me in a constant film reel, like a clip montage of a movie of my life. All the fencing, the changes, the lesson, the deaths, births, sunburns, sprained backs, smashed thumbs...holding a lamb for the first time, or burying one next to her mother....it's here in every second as I walk around doing my work and chores.

The pregnant ewes, only four, are preparing their bodies to shift and push those lambs out. Their hips are starting sink a but, vulva's are getting puffy and they flag their tails a lot. All are the signs they have taught me that motherhood is about to begin in a couple weeks. It will be my final and most important lambing season.

We have had some very good showings of late on the property. My inner queen is telling me...it is coming, perhaps quite soon-so enjoy I will revel every second here, even when there are goodbyes-becasue there will be many hellos too.