I’ve been looking after our small flock of sheep for a little longer than I’ve been running a business…After a reflective start to the year I was feeling grateful not just for their lovely presence but also for all that we have learnt from being their guardians.
Some of the things are basic sheep keeping skills like how to trim a foot, persuade an angry ram that wormer is really good for him or how to fix electric fencing. AGAIN.
But as well as these useful skills there are some less obvious things which I thought I would share with you now.
1. Start before you are ready
I’m often asked ‘Why do you have sheep? Do you live on a farm?’ (Spoiler alert – we don’t. We live in a pretty normal 70s cul-de-sac). Before we got the ladies I had a dream of having a small holding, keeping some animals, growing some vegetables and baking some bread. With small children and a mortgage that was already stretching us the full dream was a bit far away but I am not a patient person, I wanted the good life! “So why wait,” I decided. Why not find somewhere to keep a few sheep and get the experience and have a small part of the big dream right now. We found a little paddock to rent and then began the search for the perfect breed for us. There are a LOT of breeds of sheep (over 90 in the UK alone) and they all have different characteristics, similar to dog breeds.
We went to lots of agricultural shows, meeting the owners of different breeds and speaking to experts about what would be a good choice. We had small children so “no horns” was essential and I wanted a rare breed as this seemed like a good chance to help boost numbers. Nothing too wild, too big or too small. We found our perfect breed, the Grey Face Dartmoor, not only did they meet all the criteria but they were among the cutest sheep we had seen. And at a local show we found a farmer with 3 for sale, they would all be in lamb and the sheep adventure had begun.
Now nearly 10 years later we have had over 30 sheep in the flock at one point, watched many lambs being born, lost some of our very favourite sheep to old age and illness and met some excellent sheep people. But apart from these very sheep related things there are some other things I’ve learnt…
What I learnt… if I’d waited till we had the house with land we would have missed out on so much. Rather than wait we have had 10 years of all that the sheep have brought, without any of the hassle of buying land or moving house. And as a result I’m actually pretty happy where I am. Maybe one day we’ll have a house with land and sheep in the field but for now I can stop hankering after that and appreciate what I’ve got. This has been so useful for me as a general approach, rather than going straight for the big goal I ask “what’s a small step towards the place I want to be that will bring me happiness!” and often that’s enough.
2. Being different is good
Our sheep are not average. You won’t see very many of them around even though they have the curliest coats and the sweetest little black noses. Between you and me they aren’t a very good sheep if you want them to make you money which is the main reason most people keep sheep. They fail to tick pretty much every single ‘good commercial sheep’ box.
- They tend to have lower numbers lambs, often just one when two is ideal.
- The lambs grow really slowly… they are unlikely to be big enough to eat till they are nearly a year old rather than the 4-8 months of most.
- The ewe lambs can’t have babies themselves till they are nearly two compared with the faster growing breeds that can go at a year.
- Their wool is designed to keep them warm up on the Dartmoor hills so it’s great for carpet and tweed coats but not so much a nice soft jumper. It costs us far more to have them shorn (twice a year ideally as they are so woolly) than we would ever get for the wool.
If you did a cost / benefit model or took them to Dragon’s Den they would not get any funding. Do they care? Not a jot. While commercial farmers won’t give them the time of day, these lovely sheep are in high demand with their perfect owners, small holders, for their very friendly nature (ours come over and lie down in your lap!) and actually cost more than the average ewe to buy because of this. In other words they have totally nailed their niche and are not trying to appeal to the masses.
A regular ‘useful’ sheep
Our beautiful ‘useless’ sheep
3. Be memorable
Having something slightly off topic to talk about has really helped me to be memorable. As part of introducing myself I will often mention the sheep which gives an easy start for conversation.
And then people then started to associate me with the sheep! I would go to in person networking and would be greeted with “Oh you are the sheep lady!?” I have a little stock of photos that I can use to catch people’s eye and even had a professional photo shoot done in the springtime so that I was able to have photos of me with the lambs. What do lambs have to do with running a tech based business? Nothing! But do they help people feel like I’m more approachable and memorable? 100%!
What I learnt… as well as your core business, find something quirky and memorable to share. This will put people at ease as well as helping out stand out.
Getting outdoors always helps
When it all gets to much take some time to yourself.
Being one of a flock is great, there’s always someone to chat to, someone to have a nap with. But sometimes it can all get a bit too much. When this happens it’s important to take some time to yourself, sometimes you might need to get creative with how that happens if you live with quite a few other people.
Elsa still thinks she’s small enough to sit on your lap!
And our lambs are super cute!!
4. Getting outdoors always helps
Sheep need checking a couple of times a day so they make sure we get outside. Even on the cold, wet miserable days I always feel better for a quick trip to see the girls. I know it’s a cliche but it’s true – a bit of fresh air really can help with most things.
5. You can’t beat a good photo!
However much effort I put into crafting the perfect post, a picture of a cute lamb will always do better! I know when I’m beaten and I hope you have enjoyed this #lambspam!!
The time Elsa got a bucket on her head
My beautiful girls