Our ram, Aeris, is a sweet little creature. He is still young and hasn’t realized he is supposed to be a strong and lusty man-sheep. I have studied how aggressive rams can be toward one another and even people; there is a reason the noun “ram” led to the verb. But we only have this one adorable ram, so no worries, right?
Aeris has spent his months at Shangri-Baa with his “not-so-intact” buddy, Joey, in a pasture that shares a fence line with the ewe pasture. When the ladies congregate near that fence, the boys scurry over to graze as close as the fence will allow. Keeping them apart hurt my heart, but such things must happen at their proper time. Finally a few days ago we opened the gate so that Aeris and Joey could scramble into the pasture with the ewes and then we stood by to witness the joyous and long-awaited mingling. Enormous Joey moved confidently amongst the ladies like a prince - a dusty, wooly prince. Amiable Aeris, however, was quickly surrounded by haughty ladies ready to put him in his place.
Then the ramming commenced. The elder stateswoman of the flock took a few steps back and forehead lowered, slammed into him with a hollow crack. He attempted to hold his ground, but that little dude was no match for the bulk of older-than-thou sheepitude. I wish I could say it happened only once. When a second ewe decided to have a go at him, their shaky shepherdess raced inside to consult “sheep chat forum” on Facebook, as sheep folk surely have done for centuries. Gene, a more seasoned farmer, quickly replied to my distress, “This is the start of your entertainment for the day. It is perfectly normal.” Others chimed in with much the same, I thanked them kindly, and by the time I got back outside a few minutes later, the sheep were all grazing peacefully.
None of my books said anything about ewes harassing rams. The truly endless resources at my fingertips attempted to be comprehensive, but they all have their limits. It was then that I realized that the way many people today are learning to keep livestock (and engage in all sorts of other undertakings) is kind of weird and truly new.
In the vast span of Interwebs-less human history, a novice shepherd such as myself would have been almost unheard of. In fact, a novice of any kind would have been an anomaly. Any shepherd would have learned their trade watching older family members and gradually joining in. Sheep would be in their blood. The blacksmith would have observed a neighbor for years and then apprenticed as a teen before finally graduating to “real” blacksmith.
But who learns anything at their papa’s knee anymore? How many go into the family business? We are a nation of novices learning our trades and our hobbies from books and blogs and YouTube videos. Even when we go to college, we still cobble our knowledge, and only to a modest extent are we “eased in” to anything, beneficiaries of years of imbibing the wisdom of others. Many of those small farmers you meet at the Farmers’ Market didn’t grow up tending rows of vegetables or watching an entrepreneur start a business. The same is often true of those amazing bread bakers and cheese makers everyone is so excited about. Most apprenticed as adults, and they cobbled and then leaped. That means more fresh ideas and cross-pollination and also more uncertainty and terror. And when there are lives or livelihood at stake, it is all the more exciting and terrifying.
I don’t know what to make of my minor revelation except to say that I want you to be aware that as hard as it can be to be a novice in our little operation, those doing it on a larger scale have panic akin to unexpected sheep aggression times a thousand. What they are doing is astonishing. So when you pay more for their products, you aren’t just getting a more delicious, local, sustainably produced product and supporting your community; you are supporting people who are providing a model of a potential way of being in this brave new world. Hopefully they will inspire you to embrace the fear and become a cobbling novice at something yourself. Knowing next to nothing to begin with doesn’t have to be an obstacle, in fact, it is where almost all of us are starting now. Lean in.