Friday, December 18, 2015

My Sheep Can Dance

I never imagined  thirty-one  years ago when we bought our first four sheep that they would kick start my writing career, but they did. Three adult sheep books later, I have branched out into children's books. This year, Northcroft Press published My Sheep Can Dance, with wonderful water color illustrations by my friend Linda Christensen.

When I asked her if she wanted to do some illustrations, she said "I've never painted a sheep." I sent her a bunch of photographs and the results were outstanding. Linda combined ideas from different photos to create new scenes. I actually had no photos of children dancing with the sheep, but Linda painted one.

Her illustrations also changed the story. I had sent her a photo of Bob the ram because he was a good example of a colored sheep, not because I had written about him. I thought she'd just add him to the flock somewhere. But when his painting appeared in my mailbox, I added a stanza and a page to the book.

Bob, the ram, was a crotchety guy

You could tell he was mad by the look in his eye.

But when his sheep danced home, he welcomed them in
and danced as old Davy played violin.

Collaborations are great fun for the writer and the illustrator, and the resulting book, My Sheep Can Dance, is great fun for the reader.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Still not local

 We stopped in Iceland on our way home from England and were taken to visit an Icelandic sheep farm. Ingi and his sheep live at 66 degrees latitude and we live at 46 degrees latitude so they are much further north. They struggle with cold winters, but even more importantly, with fierce winds.  Their shepherding year is very different than ours. In November, Ingi brings the sheep into the barn, shears them and then breeds them to the ram.

For older sheep during shearing, they leave the wool on the rear end of the animal to help them withstand the cold. After shearing, the sheep don't go outside again until after they lamb in May. Even where the ground wasn't snow covered, I saw almost no grass. We did see plastic wrapped hay bales, so they had enough grass land to cut hay which they fed to their animals all winter. Then, in the spring, the animals are turned out onto the slopes of the mountains where they graze happily and completely alone (except for birds and nonpredatory  small animals.) In the fall, all the shepherds and their sheep dogs go up into the mountains to collect the sheep. They bring them to sorting areas where the animals are sorted by the marks on their ears that identify to which farm they belong.

On the other hand, we breed in the fall, shear in January and lamb in February and March. Our sheep are only restricted to the barn for twelve hours after shearing and during blizzards. Local farmers have told us  how important it is for the sheep to get exercise during their pregnancies, so we feed them hay all over the farm to force them to walk. Also, as much as I'd love to, we can't turn the sheep out into the federal land beyond our pastures because there are too many neighborhood dogs and coyotes. Our sheep must be protected not from snow and ice cold winds, but from predators. Farming is so local.