I just finished the book “The Shepherd’s Life” by James Rebanks. It was on the New York Times best seller list for a while and was given to me as a gift by a dear friend. Normally I find these types of books to be a bit vapid and un-relatable but this one was different. Throughout the true story of this farmer, this land, and this family, Rebanks is able to portray a completely realistic portrait of the triumphs and tragedies of a modern day sheep farmer. Many of the issues and experiences he details are exactly what we as stockmen and women have experienced in years of rearing livestock. I often found myself putting the book down, overwhelmed and recounting similar memories of situations in which I had momentarily lost control. Rebanks spends equal time on the good, the bad, and the ugly and his family figures prominently in the story (of which many of you can relate). In the end it is a tale of his homeland and the pressures to adapt or disappear. Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book.
“There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.”
“Away at the old end of the barn an old ewe I had brought in days earlier, because she looked worn out, it is lambing and doesn’t’ have the strength to push it out. After a fight I get two dead lambs out of her and she looks sick like she may die. I prick her with antibiotics, but I fear the worst. There is no romance in a morning like this.”
“Blood was everywhere when I was a child. Sheep lambing, bloody hands, dehorning cattle with blood spurting out of the horn stumps like something out of a zombie movie as they careen off across the yard before being let out in the fields for spring. Cow caesareans, men with armfuls of guts and blood, then shoving it all back in and stitching it right.”
“And then we do it all again, just as our forefathers did before us. It is a farming pattern, fundamentally unchanged from many centuries ago. It has changed in scale (as farms have amalgamated to survive, so there are fewer us of) but not in its basic content. You could bring a Viking man to stand on our fell with me and he would understand what we were doing and the basic pattern of our farming year. The timing of each task varies depending on the different valleys and farms. Things are driven by the seasons and necessity, but not our will.”
“My grandfather worked hard and turned that run-down farm around. He supplemented his farm income by working on other neighboring farms. He was a good horseman. He dealt in livestock. Was an opportunist, like so many of his peers: If pigs paid, breed or fatten pigs. If Christmas turkey paid, fatten turkeys. If selling eggs paid, get hens. If wool was wanted, grow wool. If milk paid, milk cows. If fattening bullocks paid, buy bullocks. Adjust. Adapt. Change. Do whatever you needed to-because you stood on your own two feet, there was no one to pick you up if you fell down.”
“This is a landscape of modest hardworking people. The real history of our landscape should be the history of the nobodies.”
Photo Credit: James Rebanks, Herdwick Sheep