Our Favorite Child

Confession: we have a favorite child.

They say parents shouldn’t have favorites, but we do.

When you’re responsible for feeding, sheltering, doctoring, funding, and caring for the welfare of 158 living creatures, you start to feel like you have a very big family to provide for. But we don’t carry equal affection for all of those 158 creatures.

No, we have a hands-down favorite when it comes to our animals.

It’s not the chickens. For me (Jodi), they’re actually my least favorite. They’re not cute or cuddly, they peck at your hands when you’re collecting eggs, and they poop everywhere. Not nice.

It’s not the pigs, either. Though they do have some amiable qualities, and their antics often make us laugh. They’re cute when they’re small, they’re actually very smart, and they can become quite tame in small operations like ours (and often do).

But tame does not mean easy to handle when you’re talking about pigs. Andy has some wicked scary stories about his stint working on a local, commercial hog farm as a teenager they can hurt you. And they stink. When thinking about the nature of pigs, picture Napoleon, not Wilbur.

But the sheep now that’s an animal we can talk about at length with pleasure. Of course they have their frustrating qualities … they can be stubborn, and stupid.

They’re herd animals so if one of them doesn’t want to get on the trailer, none of them will. If one of them lies down out in the rain, eventually they’ll all end up there. They move as a group and rarely think for themselves as individuals. (Remind you of any other species? Ha!)

They’re not for everybody. When my aunt left home after high school, she vowed she would never raise another sheep again in her life.

But for us, their good qualities far outweigh the bad. They’re gentle, you can handle them without risking serious injury, they convert feed to meat much more efficiently than cows, and their unique personalities are endearing (except for the occasional high-strung ones).

Part of the reason our sheep are so easy to handle is because we started small. Our first three lambs had lots of contact with us and developed a comfort level with humans in close quarters. The next group we bought were show sheep so they were used to lots of handling, leading, loading and unloading, etc. With that foundation, their lambs follow suit. We know them by name, and we generally have a good relationship with each of them.

We’re unashamed to call them our favorites.

But our favorite of the favorites is Susie. We named her after my granny in Texas, as the matriarch of the farming and ranching blood in this family. We started our flock with three lambs, and Susie was one of them.

She and Andy the ram give us the prettiest, gentlest, and most good-natured little ewe lambs we could ask for. Her daughters Sis and Shirley are gems in personality and appearance, and we try to take an extra minute to scratch their necks when we can.

We know we shouldn’t get emotionally attached to our animals. The farming life cycle would make life an emotional roller coaster if we treated them like pets. Death is an ever-present reality to come to terms with on a farm, so we try to keep good boundaries.

It’s an interesting line to walk with these creatures whose lives are intimately tied to our own, for better or worse. Our paths are connected, and we’d be lying if we said we were only financially invested. There’s something in us that wants to see them thrive in every way, no matter their ultimate purpose. That’s just what shepherds do. They care for their flock and lay their lives down to protect them. That’s our calling.

We have committed to caring and providing for 158 creatures, great and small. You can call it farming or shepherding or parenting, but whatever name you put on it, it’s a lifestyle that demands our hands, our time, our strength, and our hearts. You can’t sustain this kind of lifestyle if your heart isn’t in it. And that means we care for our animals with our pocketbooks and our tears.

Because that’s what parents do.