I first got the idea of raising sheep from ranchers I worked with in Eastern Montana last winter and spring on a photography assignment. I started to learn then to see the land differently. I noticed things that had been background before, like the cairns that served as markers for shepherds across landscapes spanning tens of thousands of acres. The cairns grew larger when the places were active, with shepherds adding courses of stone. The current ranchers there showed me how the grasslands could be built up too, layer after layer, year after year, if managed well.
The building up, instead of wearing down, is the key. Whether it's management of grazing lands or of our own energy, we are constantly seeking that right balance point and adjusting the plans. We face tough issues, like many sheepherders before us, but the challenges of neighboring, searching for good land, and learning how to give our livestock the best forage as possible, has been both a joy and a tremendous responsibility.
These sheep are one more way that we have been slowly, at times painfully, learning to live off the land and our harvests: our produce, our meat. We work with what we have, and in the silent times when we don't know what to do, we take comfort in foraging for our animals, dreaming, in the openness of how we'll build community, the internal cairns we'll place, and build upon, layer upon layer.
Images: Sheep Cairn, Eastern Montana and fresh forage, collected from gardens to provide forage for our animals. Just like our farmer friends in the hills of Western Java who drive up into the hills on motorbikes and then hike to cut animal forage, we harvested from our own garden and gathered the leavings from other neighborhood gardens as well to provide food for our animals. For anyone interested in reading an adventure story and hearing what happened the last time these animals broke out of the fence, we recorded our tale a summer newsletter. The full version, which we're told makes a great bedtime story is here.