The first time I found myself on a sheep farm was in high school back in Virginia. My AP calculous teacher said they could use some help deworming if anyone was interested. Who could refuse? I was in, and showed up ready to wrangle some Suffolks. A few hours later, covered in the excrement of sheep that needed deworming, I think I knew deep down that one day I too would be a sheep farmer. I went back and worked on that farm for a few summers and it was one of the best jobs I think I have ever had.
I started doing research and field work in the summers while in college and got to that farm less and less. I moved to Vermont for grad school in the summer of 2012 and felt a need to find work on a farm. I went to a farmers market and started moving from booth to booth offering myself as a mercenary farm hand. I would do whatever work needed to be done for whoever would pay. I got a call from Jericho Settler's Farm that they were short handed the coming weekend. I showed up at 6am to collect hundreds of eggs from their solar chickens. The next job, to my surprise and delight, was getting some sheep into a trailer. We rode over to the field where the sheep were and, as chaos began to ensue, I made a few suggestions about where we should position ourselves to move them where we wanted them to go. This ultimately led to sheep in the right place and steady employment.
The second summer of grad school provided less time for farm employment. I had met Diantha and we were raising our own chickens and rabbits and planting our own garden at a cabin we rented on the Otter Creek. I remember that summer for the fresh eggs and sunshine. Diantha reminds me that the chickens got eaten, and it rained everyday single day until the lake was so high our cabin on the river became a cabin on an island. We had to drive through 1/4 mile of flooded road to get in and out until after 2 weeks the water was too deep. We had to evacuate to her parents' where the barn cat ate the male rabbit, which ended my breeding program.... I still remember it as a good summer.
The next summer we got married and lived as nomads until we were able to move into our house in Maine where I started my PhD in wildlife ecology studying wood frog migration through developed areas. The field work was demanding and we were doing a ton of work on the house so no real farming got done. Those two summers were full of frogs. I stayed up all night tracking individual steps of frogs using florescent powder and a black light. I drove 4 hours north of Bangor, where I found myself trespassing waist deep in a bog with a metal net in a thunderstorm at 11pm chasing a single frog by its call thinking, "this is the most bizarre way I have ever risked my life." Then I attached thousands of dollars of radiotransmitters to frogs to track them throughout the summer. Two years into that program I had to reassess. I loved the work but our family had grown and I hadn't been on a farm in years. Looking to the future, I didn't like where I felt I was dragging Diantha and Lily and we decided something had to give.
Two years later we have started our own sheep farm. I am teaching, we have another baby, Lily is a budding shepherd, and life is good. I have been thinking a lot about how life circles back to what is good. I loved being on that sheep farm in Virginia, and now we have our own sheep farm. We love Vermont and being close to family, and now we are back in Vermont close to our families and growing our own. As I was sitting on the stone wall by our barn the other day watching the sheep, I heard the wood frogs start calling from our pond. I looked to the nearest forest. There are houses, roads, fields, and even a swimming pool between those frogs and their non-breeding habitat. It's a long way to those woods I thought, but studies have shown they'll make it....