Technically, as I write this I’m 103 days into my year-long #sheep365 social media project. As you might recall, I’m posting at least one photograph on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram every day for our entire “sheep” year, each with the hashtag #sheep365. My intent with this project is to document the day-to-day work of raising sheep – both the big events (like lambing and shearing) and the more mundane activities (like feeding our livestock guardian dogs). With the beginning of a new calendar year (not to be confused with our sheep year, which begins on October 1 when we put the rams with the ewes), I thought it might be interesting to look back at what I’ve learned so far!
First, as I suspected they would be, many of my photographs are similar – they feature lots of sheep! Despite this similarity, however, I can detect the changing of the seasons and the changing of our daily tasks based on these seasons. The photos from October, for the most part, show sheep on green pastures (we graze the ewes on irrigated pasture during the breeding season). The photos from December and January show sheep on annual rangelands – a combination of last year’s brown grass and newly-sprouted green grass. To my more practiced eye, the sheep have more wool now in January than they did in early October – they’ll have even more by the time we shear them in early May. And as we approach lambing season (about 6 weeks away), I can tell that the ewes are bred – they are much wider and rounder now than they were in October!
Second, some of the ewes seem to be posing for photos! Our sheep are used to my presence – they aren’t tame, by any stretch, but they do recognize the people who care for them. I think this shows in the photos. They’ve become accustomed to the crazy shepherd wandering around the pasture with his camera. We have several ewes who were bottle-raised (we bring the smallest lamb in a set of triplets home to raise as “bottle babies”) – and these ewes are especially photogenic!
Third, this project has connected me with other shepherds (and other farmers and ranchers) – in this country and around the world. Early on, a number of shepherds in the UK began posting photos with the #sheep365 tag. Because of this connection, a number of us have discussed sheep-related topics – like economic conditions, grazing management, and lamb markets. I’ve realized that farmers and ranchers share many of the same satisfactions and challenges in their work – regardless of culture, language or region.
Finally, the response from my non-shepherd friends has been great. A number of people have commented on Facebook and Instagram that they love seeing the photos every day. The photos have created opportunities to educate my non-farming friends about everything from wool to meat production to predator protection. And I find myself looking forward to posting each day’s photo! Only 262 days to go!
If you want to follow along, search for the #sheep365 on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. You can also go to www.facebook.com/flyingmulefarm or follow me on Twitter at @flyingmulefarm or on Instagram at @flyingmule.