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~~*  Black Sheep Newsletter............Issue 124............Summer 2005  *~~


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THE HOMESTEAD: The Whys and Wherefores of Being a Shepherd


Today I think upon Dick Regeney's question to us who are shepherds and goat herds. It was found in a previous newsletter. A few of my shepherding cohorts have already answered his question with their own thoughtful ruminations. Today I will attempt to give an answer also. I think the question was worded thusly: "Why in the world, of all crazy things, would you so desire, in a temporary moment of non-lucidity, to be a shepherd?" No, not really. He merely asked us, "Why did you choose to be a shepherd?"splash dot!


Well, to be truthful, I have asked myself that very question dozens of times during this long sojourn that we have kept the angora goats. Sometimes it makes sense to us to keep them and at other times, when the chips are down, we must ask ourselves yet again if this is what we wish to do. We, of course, are not technically "shepherds" in that we don't keep sheep. We are close to that, however. We are goatherds. Angora goats have been ours for close to 28 years.splash dot!


The kids, this year's crop, are a few weeks old and curious about life, They have been romping alongside their mothers, joining them in wide meadows. I join them often just to keep an eye on things.splash dot!


As usual, we traipse up and down steep hilly terrain. They love to lose me. I think it's a game with them. How I can possibly lose sight of 60 or more angora goats by simply turning around to check on the Suffolk sheep for a moment, still amazes me. Suddenly I'll turn back to the goats and they will have disappeared in thin air (with their Tolkien cloaks of invisibility fast around them!) I listen for noise and search high and low for them, but somehow they meld into the scenery.splash dot!


Eventually, and mostly out of breath from traversing hill and dale, I finally discover where they are. All their heads look up at me as if to say, "Oh, here you finally are. We've been wondering what was keeping you."splash dot!


young luba

Pup Luba

Well, even if they lose me, I can be assured (and it is a great assurance!) that the two livestock guardian dogs are ever with them and can't be lost by them. We now have two of these faithful "baby sitters," a four year old Maremma/Polish Tatra named "Tatra" and a new purebred Great Pyrenees pup that is supposed to be his helper and back-up, Luba. Luba is just learning the ropes.splash dot!


So, what occurred recently to again cause me to pause with reflection upon my current vocation? Why indeed did we nearly conclude that it was time to sell the herd and do something else with our lives?splash dot!


It was, of course, another unexpected loss in the herd. This time it was a little black badger faced buck, only a couple months of age. All silky silver mohair and a bouncing way about him, he came up missing one rainy day after all the goats had gathered back at the barn. Stan and I had been gone from the farm that day, a rare thing for us. Sickness in the immediate family called us away.splash dot!


"I'll let the goats out. Things should be fine here without us," I told my husband before we left. "I've locked all the gates and Tatra and Luba will watch things closely."splash dot!


When we arrived home before evening shadows fell, I did the requisite "head count." It was then that I noticed the large badger faced doe had one kid at her side and not two. Alerting Stan, we both went into distant fields to see if perhaps we could locate him.splash dot!


It's a very disconcerting thing to lose a kid, but we've learned to take it in stride when at first they are missing. Often we have found that the lost goat returns on its own - or is found tangled up somewhere the next day. Of course I had full anticipation of a happy ending for this little tyke.splash dot!


It was not to be, however, and for days - though I searched near hedge rows and through thickets, up mountain tops and down again, neither "hide nor hair" belonging to him was to be found. He was indeed lost and for good.splash dot!


In short order, though, my husband and I began again to look on the bright side of things. We took some time to sit together watching the herd. We decided (as we often do) that this year was a particularly good year in the way of improving the herd. The loom was filled to its limit with mohair yarn. The goats were, in effect, paying for themselves.splash dot!


tatra the guardian

Tatra sounding the warning

Yes, there would always be losses, to be sure, but we braved the storm and carried on. With time comes experience and experience makes us wiser. The losses now are considerably less than they were in the years we first began to shepherd. Our instincts tell us there will always be some losses out of our control.splash dot!


The Goats, Our Livelihood

Another reason that I give as to why we shepherd is a simply prudent and financial one. The angora goats and the mohair they produce have become our livelihood. It's a small struggling livelihood to be sure and sometimes Stan works out on the side to keep bills paid. Nonetheless, we are a growing small business.splash dot!


In the beginning it was not this way. Our goats were an integral component of our lifestyle, but we were not in "business" per se. I loved to spin mohair and weave it into soft blankets. Those were the days we lived in Montana and at the time I worked for lawyers and collected a salary. Stan built our log home and I taught my friends how to spin and weave, though I was such a novice myself. If this business were water, we were only getting our feet wet.splash dot!


It wasn't until we moved here to Oregon that we diversified a bit. We began, ever so slowly, to acquire our colored herd. Now we had jumped into the water with both feet. In time we purchased all the necessary equipment for our small cottage industry. We were beginning to swim.splash dot!


tatra the guardian

Tatra on patrol

So often we feel we are going against the tide. It's been a learning process, keeping these goats. Just when we felt we had mastered goat husbandry in Montana, we moved to Oregon and all the rules changed. We were experiencing a different climate, different forage and a totally new environment altogether.splash dot!


But we "rolled with the punches" and over time have tried to keep a close vigil on our herd. As time passed their numbers grew, in spite of depredation by wild beast and domestic dog.splash dot!


Just as a gardener is constantly fighting his own battles, whether they be in the form of cut worms that slice down his cabbages at the root or yet another droughty year when water pools dry up, so we as angora goat farmers fight our own peculiar battles. We don't fight the cut worms, of course, but we wage war with internal parasites that would ruin a good animal in no time.splash dot!


Proverbs 27:23 states: Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds. Without constant and attentive vigilance on the part of the shepherd, the flock soon is diminished. Through blustery rainy days or long cold nights, through days fraught with scorching heat, the condition of our charge is constantly being analyzed. Is there hoof rot because it is too cold and wet? Have the low-lying pastures wet for so long a time increased the parasite load?splash dot!


As the gardener who wanders down his garden paths to observe the size of his young tomatoes or gently pinches back branches so that an even more abundant crop will be his, we walk amongst our herd on a daily basis making our careful observations. There are some goats that don't meet our standards and they are marked in our minds for the hard decision of culling.splash dot!


Small taupe-fleeced "Hony" who is a total embarrassment to us because of her poor conformation, with horns that swing full circle so that they almost seem to dig into her head, should have gone long ago. We know that. Every year we know that, and yet we find her still part of the herd, the "pet" goat always coming close to us and nuzzling our hands, hoping for a hand-out. We shake our heads and tell each other firmly, "this year she goes." That's been going on for five straight years in a row.splash dot!


Pure Poetry

My Third Reason: The Poetic Side of Itsplash dot!


And, after all, there is the poetry of this lifestyle.splash dot!


What is lovelier than seeing the pastoral scene unfold on a summer evening when the sun begins its farewell for the day. Above is a sky painted with hand strokes of lavender, orange, vermilion and gold. The goats by then are satiated. They have become fat. Their browsing for the day (beginning with a voraciousness that makes it hard for one to keep up with them as they mow down the forage around them) is nearly over. Now they are slow in their movements and their sides are inflated like balloons. Even the big bucks look pregnant.splash dot!


As they hug the fields close to the barn where they feel safest, long distant shadows make the pasture appear dark green. The goat fleeces are clean, long and lustrous. A mother bleats and a kid answers from across the field now on a run to her. At once she is ready for him to drink sustenance again. It seems she is comforted when he is under her punching around her udder with his insistence. She looks into the distance as he drinks and continues to chew her cud.splash dot!


As the waning sun dapples the pastures, I stand at the loom on the upper floor of the barn, weaving yet another project. There, as I look out on the goats, is our "harvest." Overwhelming joy is mine at times like this. With poignant remembrance of a loss so recently experienced, I look over to the one remaining young buck next to his mother. They are both eating peacefully. She doesn't allow him to wander too far from her.splash dot!


She no longer calls softly for her lost kid buck. It seems she's resigned herself to keeping this one close by her.splash dot!


A Laugh and A Cry

And Finally, the Laughtersplash dot!


I'm convinced that nature can be a jokester and a sublime one at that at times. I close by telling you of yet another goat escapade.splash dot!


Our property is mostly fenced. There is a stretch of fencing, though, that needs mending badly. It's actually far away - on the other side of the creek. My goats don't venture over there until later in the year when the stream is down. They don't like to cross any raging waters.splash dot!


I do have six animals who choose to cross the creek right now while it flows so nicely. In recent days I found that they had not only been crossing the creek, but that they had again found a "break" in the fence line and were venturing onto my neighbors' property. The trespassers are our small band of angora bucks.splash dot!


band of bucks

Band of Bucks

Each one is in the prime of his life and they have formed a "gang" of sorts. They hang out together and you'll not find a young buck or a doe amongst them. In fact, they'll have nothing to do with the does right now since estrus does not begin until the Fall. This is the time of the year when these big boys form form a congenial club. I imagine them laughing and playing cards together at some big table, gin and tonics at hand.splash dot!


These bucks have me concerned. Just the day before yesterday my neighbor left a message. She'd seen my "sheep" in her yard. I suspected the hairy bucks immediately, for all my goats are called "sheep" by her.splash dot!


Out of breath I arrived on the scene. There they were. No, not the goats, mind you. The plants. Tall, lacy leafed, verdant. In my neighbors' yard, in big plastic tubs. The three plants were growing gracefully, full and lush. They spread themselves like luxuriant trees in the middle of an otherwise forlorn yard.splash dot!


"Oh no," I recoiled instantly. I searched for the prodigals diligently, hoping upon hope that I was not going to find six stoned goats wandering the yard in circles. The plants were none else than cannibis sativa (marijuana.) My neighbors say they grow them for medical reasons, now legal in this state.splash dot!


When I had exhausted myself calling for the bucks I finally determined that they may have been there in the recent past but were not there now. Then suddenly, behind a bush (not one of the marijuana bushes, thankfully) appeared the dark brown face of the one we had named "Earth."splash dot!


None of the bucks had touched a leaf. Thankfully they had not. The fact remains, however, that they are going over there purposely, probably just to loiter. Will it only be a matter of time before they indulge? I decided to fix fences that day and did so to the best of my ability.splash dot!


May your fences be like citadels - strong and impenetrable. As the old saying goes, a saying first given to us by good farmers everywhere: "Good fences make good neighbors." I, for one, truly believe that. I am sure my neighbors would agree.splash dot!


goats butting heads


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Alexandra Scribe
Homestead Home


Stanley & Alexandra Petrowski
34620 Tiller Trail Hwy.
Tiller, Oregon 97484