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

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©Katherine Dunn.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Shepherdly relevations

I used to kiss that guy on the left. And so began my education about sheep...and testosterone...and why a sheep is a sheep, and not a pet.

People see the beautiful faces of the new lambs, many of them, ram lambs, and they see only that moment. Those tiny faces turn into 300# hunks of testosterone with testicles the size of small butternut squash. We started our flock with two ewes, and Joe Pye Weed, the fine gentleman on the left. He was 3 months old and he sired 4 lambs that fall.

I write short stories about my creatures and I merge their real personalities into story, often embellished for my humor, and to make a better story. I remain true to their personalities that only I know well, since I interact with them daily. But I do make them stories.

Rams are creatures with three things on their agenda - eat, procreate and stay alive by maintaining a hierarchy system that keeps them safe, and at the top of the herd. If there are two rams, or three in our case, in one pasture, there is a clear communication between the animals about who has bedded the most ewes, who should bed the most ewes, and who is in charge of banging the shepherd if she comes too close to the ewes during bedding season.

As charming as these faces are in these pictures, these two fellows are not leaning on one another in friendship. They are in fact, jockeying for the best position to show the very female shepherdess which one of them is in charge, and worthy of their attention. Chickweed is out of the picture for a reason, he doesn't bother to try to climb up the ladder at this point.

I have been writing this blog for over five years, and it started as a genuine document for myself, of our experiences on what was then our new farm. It is still a genuine, heartfelt account of what happens here, and what I feel, fear, and love here. It is an account of not only my triumphs, but failures as caretaker to so many creatures.

The blog shows snippets of this life. It carefully edits posts, and pictures are culled from many choices of the day. The din of ATV's in the nearby coast range, the fact I yelled at the dog right before sitting down to write, the fact I look like an aging rag- a-muffin and not at all like a romantic version of me I paint - none of that is shown here.

I feel like I have two lives. The one I think people think I'm living, and the one I live. I have a wonderful life. But it's just like yours - life, death, aging parents, dead parents, bruised knees, thickening middle, imperfect word choice when I'm angry, impatience leading to exhaustion, fear, of being found out for the real me. You just don't see that in these faces, do you?

Would you stop reading if you knew how imperfect I was? If you heard me speak in real life,would my voice not sound at all like you thought it was going to, and it somehow ruined the picture you had of this place?

I think in many ways, I've learned more about myself, and the order of nature from raising livestock than any other thing in my life. I see so many people start small farms and they can't separate their love of animals from the way an animal is instinctively born to act. I work at this every day. A ram is a ram. It starts out all small and cute, but within weeks, it is mounting other lambs. And someday, it is 300#. It is on the same mission each day, and it isn't to sit by and be your friend, but nor is it to be your enemy. But it has to allowed to be seen for what it is, not a romantic notion of what it is. That is one of the best lessons Joe Pye has taught me.


Ward Schumaker said...

the way i see the photo before reading your note is so different from the way i see the photo after reading your note. i'd assumed they were best buddies! alas, real life.

Sharon Stanley said...

what an interesting post and one i can relate to as the wife of a farmer. people think that farm living is the bucolic thing of beauty, this surreal pastoral tale of porchsitting and perfection. as you well know, most of the time, it is not. it is bone crushing, ditch-digging, dirty smelly work that there is no vacation from. it is 24 hours a day including sundays and christmas day. and yes, for us, as i am sure for you, it is a chosen way of life that suits us and that we appreciate everyday. in answer to your question, yes i would read your blog even if i did know the "real" you which i don't because i don't want to read blogs that romanticize life whether farm life or otherwise. i can read a novel for that. i like seeing that other people struggle, have bad days, lose loved ones, age, have bad hair days. it makes me feel like it's ok to be me, bad hair and all. i am inspired by real living, not fake living. i never get the idea that you are putting a "happy meal" version of farmlife on your blog and i would not be interested in it if you did. I personally have always had a bit of a problem just being "me"...as if i have to put my best self forward at all times and plaster on the happy face to be liked. reading your blog, and others that are indeed "real" helps me see that in some ways, we are all just plastering on that happy face from time to time, maybe just to get through the day smiling rather than crying...and that might not be a bad thing either. maybe we all fake it till it's real sometimes. i like you and apifera just the way you are.

Katherine Dunn/Apifera Farm said...

Ward, see, it is why I have reservations of always sharing the exact reality like I did in this post- because people want to see those faces as something they perceive them to be, which is okay, I guess.

Sharon, I really appreciate your comment...this post was provoked by a visit with a good friend yesterday, who knows me as I am, and I think like you said, I realized I am not alone, we all have moments of 'oh my god they are going to discover the real me!"

Emma said...

I much prefer you as a real person! That's what adds depth to what you create here, I think.

Katherine Dunn/Apifera Farm said...

From Emma- I'm posting this since Blogger Moderation is acting strangely....

Emma has left a new comment on your post "Shepherdly relevations":

I much prefer you as a real person! That's what adds depth to what you create here, I think.

Claire MW said...

Great post, and I know I am guilty of the "loving the animals too much" problem, but I'm still in my early days of this farm adventure so maybe I'll change. It would help if my rams behaved like yours maybe. Even in breeding season, they come over for head rubs and attention and do not charge or behave aggressively in any way. Maybe it would be easier for me to be able to have some meat sheep if they weren't so sweet.

Katherine Dunn/Apifera Farm said...

Hey Claire-It's not 'loving them too much' that I attempted to write about, it's understanding they are not people with people sensibilities. I care deeply for Joe Pye, really, but I am able to see his 'motives' are not human, they are sheep, and 'motice' is the wrong word, it should be 'instinct'. As for meat, the rams are 5 months old when they are butchered, they are still only 70# or so, still lamb like, but VERY ram like- they are not mean. But it is a process, and if I am going to eat meat, which I've chosen to do - even though we were vegetarians for years- then I want to meat that is cared for each day, and is killed swiftly, in the sunlight. It's a process, I've written about over and over and probably will continue to write about ti. Is it a conflict? Absolutely. But if I don't raise my own meat, or eat meat from small farms I know, I don't want want to eat it, that has become even more of a conflict if it comes up for me [like I admit, I love hotdogs, now there's a conflict!] When we first moved here, I had no intentions of raising our meat. I naively thought we could just raise 'breeding stock' which is very naive, and will inevitably lead to an unhealthy flock. If you're going to breed, you have to cull and you have to deal with rams to keep a viable, healthy flock.

Anonymous said...

Nope. Wouldn't stop reading. (Actually, phew, thank goodness.)

Tina T-P said...

Ah, that's why I leave the farming part to The Shepherd - I, too, am guilty of those little stolen kisses on those sweet faces - and cry like a baby when they have to go down the road. At least the Shetland Rams are only 100-125# - maybe you need to change sheep breeds. :-) T.

marilyn said...

It's our imperfections that make us human and lovable. I don't care what you look today or how you sound, you are interesting, fun and informative and I am glad that I found your blog.

Katherine Dunn/Apifera Farm said...

Jennifer- what a relief! Thanks!
Tina, oh those shetlands are nice, we have friends that have them, but I have no desire to change breeds, love the Katahdins, besides, no sheering. And you still have to deal with those little rams.
Thanks, Ima Weed, that makes me feel good, even though I still look pretty scruffy.

Claire MW said...

I read, I read again, and I hope I can make it to your "mental place" one day. Our ram from last year, that we are considering butchering, is now 1 year old, and only 60 lb. At 5 months, he was barely 30 lb. But he doesn't run over for pats like the others do. Maybe I can face it. My meat eating habits are odd. I choose not to eat factory farmed meat for the most part, but I still haven't managed to eat anything from our farm except a really mean rooster who ripped my leg open. I feel bad about any meat, except for bacon, for which I have such a constant hankering that I cannot ever, ever have a pig.

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Thank you for reading! The farm and my art/writing keep me hopping, so might not respond immediately. Thank you for understanding. ~Katherine & Apifera ~