My wife and I were in Wisconsin several years ago, staying at a bed-and-breakfast, which was also a fully operational sheep farm. It was an interesting getaway. I had never been around sheep before. Come to think of it, I’d never been around Wisconsinites, either.
Luckily, I found both sheep and Wisconsin folks to be pretty cool. Although truthfully I was not enthused about my wife’s idea of vacationing on a sheep farm.
I suppose the idea of a winsome barnyard with cascading green pastures seemed romantic to my wife. But, I can honestly tell you, there is nothing remotely “romantic” about the smell of hundreds of sheep.
Still, it was a great weekend.
One of the things I liked most was watching the sheep dogs. It was amazing to see canines herd hundreds of sheep. The dogs were always on duty. They herded the lumbering animals into different locations, constantly patrolling the outskirts of the farm, always making sure the sheep were safe.
There were several times during the night when we would awake to the sound of dogs barking like maniacs. The farmer told us this was usually the dogs alerting him to the presence of a poisonous snake entering the pasture.
“Do your dogs know the difference between poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes?” one of the guests asked the farmer.
The farmer proudly nodded. “These dogs know a lot.”
Another time, one of the dogs spotted what might have been a coyote or some other predator. The dogs went into primal defense mode. They circled the flock, emitting low growls, occasionally yelping to alert the farmer to danger.
Eventually, the farmer came cruising up on his all-terrain golf cart and scared the would-be coyotes away, and everything went back to normal again.
But by far the most interesting thing about that weekend was hearing a story about when a few of the sheep went missing.
One evening, the farmer and his helpers were taking stock of the herd on their muddy four-wheelers when everyone suddenly became nervous. It was clear to many of the inn’s guests something was wrong.
“What’s going on?” the guests asked the farmer’s wife.
The woman looked like she was going to have a cardiac event.
“The herd count came up two short,” she said. “And that means the dogs are with them, they could be hurt.”
What happened next happened in a flash. The farmer and his sons prepared for an all-out expedition. They were equipping their four-wheelers for action. They had rifles, rope lassos, head-mounted lanterns, two-way radios, you name it. These guys meant business.
“How will you find them?” the guests asked.
“Follow the barking dogs,” said the farmer.
It was a long night for the farmer. As it happened, two sheep had gotten stuck in wire fencing at the edge of the property. One sheep died from the stress of trying to free itself. The other ewe was still alive, tangled in barbed wire, covered in blood and screaming.
They tell me the farmer used his own jacket to stem the flow of blood, cutting swaths of fabric as tourniquets. They say the farmer scraped his forearms all to heck trying to snip the barbed wire with cutters, painstakingly working to free the ewe. In fact, the farmer was so torn up after the rescue, he required stitches himself.
Once they loaded the bloodred animal into the souped-up golf cart, they sped toward home. There was an emergency veterinarian who had just arrived, waiting to operate.
The farmer stayed by the animal’s side, keeping the ewe calm while the doc sewed the creature up. The next morning over breakfast, the guests learned that everything worked out and the ewe survived.
The guests all visited the bandaged animal, which was kept in a special pen. People fawned over the animal and took turns letting it eat out of their hands. And the farmer never left the animal.
After I heard this story, I was getting the sense that I had just heard something special. Something remarkable. Something that I guess my childhood preacher forgot to tell me about God, maybe because he was too busy telling us who wasn’t going to heaven.
I suppose you could say a story like this helps me put words to something I believe firmly. And that is this:
I don’t care who you are, what life hurtles at you, or what you think you know, when you can’t come to the farmer, the farmer will come to you.