For six years, every summer I took my sheep down the road to my neighbor Betty’s field in May and brought them home in the fall. Unlike my farm, Betty’s field had been cultivated for decades: first for alfalfa and then for hay. Long ago it was carefully picked for rocks.
In recent years, following the death of Betty’s husband, the field had been neglected. It was brush-hogged every few years to keep down the woody brush, but otherwise allowed to go back to weeds. Still, it much greener than my acres of rocks and bare dirt, which my friend Larry compared unfavorably to poverty farming in the Dominican Republic.
After only a couple of summers of being grazed by my flock, Betty’s pasture was clean and lush again. The sheep loved it.
Taking care of animals at a satellite location was challenging. I had to truck water, move the sheep, shelters, and fences daily, then mow for hours every few days. Still, it made me happy to see the sheep thriving and content. It was thrilling to see the land come back, and I felt deeply connected to all the men of my youth who had worked that field.
It was also, I must admit, gratifying to be working in such a public spot, where my work was noticed and complimented. The vast improvement to the field was credited to the sheep, not to my mowing the weeds after them, but apart from a wry inner smile, I didn’t mind. I was accustomed to laboring for hours, days, weeks on my own farm and nobody noticing the result at all except myself (and Allen, who always noticed every detail and said, “Good girl”).
However, last fall Betty moved into an assisted living facility. Her children put her house and land up for sale. As a courtesy, I’d always “paid” Betty for the use of her land every year with two freezer lambs. One of her daughters told me that unlike their mother, they did not like lamb — but if the land did not sell right away, I would be welcome to keep my sheep on the field another summer. “We’ll figure out what is a fair rental price.”
I had already been coming to the conclusion that while my sheep were happy, I might be investing too much time, energy, and money into improving someone else’s property. The innocent suggestion that I might pay more to do so merely made my decision easier.
Kyle kindly came back on a snowy weekend day in October, and we packed up everything from Betty’s field to bring it home to the farm. The mower, the water troughs, the mineral feeder…
… and all the portable shelters that for six years had been stripped of their tarps and set neatly along the woods to over-winter there.
The shelters were too long for the trailer, so we tied the trailer door and hoped for the best as we carried them a mile down the highway. We made trip after trip.
We gathered the fencing panels that I used each year to build a catch pen. The snow fell.
We brought it all home.
(Kyle’s muscle and cheeriness were a big help.)
This summer the flock will stay at Fairhope. The grass will not be as good. I have been feeding hay and alfalfa pellets every night to keep their protein levels high — so in the short term it will be more expensive.
However, with luck, all the grazing benefits and hard work I invest will improve my own grass and my own farm.