There they are – all 2,999 of them. They are spread from the dense forest-edged mountain across hundreds of grassy acres, and all the way up to the white line on Highway 14, just north of Cedar Breaks, Utah. Most are contentedly grazing; unaware, and completely unconcerned that I am in awe of the panoramic scene before me… and no, I didn’t count them. I left that to the Sheep Herder, Carlisle, and I’m about to learn a lot about sheepherding in Cedar Breaks, Utah.
Sheep Herding In Cedar Breaks, Utah
THE SHEEP SOUNDS ARE NOT OUT OF STORYBOOKS
Lowering the car window, I slow to a mere 10 miles per hour to listen to the cacophony of bleating sounds as they echo across the valley. What I am hearing is not the typical baaaa sounds found on pull-string toys, “the duck says quack, the lamb says baaaaaa“. These sounds are not like the written words in a storybook to describe the voices of a sheep. No, these sheep are sounding like the quiet babbling of a contented baby, a toned-down version of the rhythmic staccato of a woodpecker at work on an old dead tree, a cow mooing, many meeeeehs, and the stereotypical baaaa. The variety of vocal sounds of the many sheep surprises me.
CARLISLE, THE HERDER
A battered pickup truck is parked alongside the road…I am curious about the sheep, so we stop. Carlisle, the owner-sheepherder is more than willing to talk about his flock. He explains that the man on the horse is a Peruvian Herder – “the best herders there can be,” according to Carlisle. His job as herdsman is to take his sheepdog and ride among the sheep day and night to assure their safety from predators. In this particular area, the threat mainly comes from coyotes and mountain lions. They must also watch for poachers who seek unguarded opportunities to steal and kill. This is open range – no fences or corrals. Diligence with ever-watchful eyes keeps the herdsman and owners always alert.
Each day, the Herdsman brings the sheep to a place where they must cross the road to reach the water. The sheep are herded by the sheepdog and the herdsman to a place where they can safely cross as a herd….but today, things are a bit different. One of the sheep, a one-year-old lamb has decided to make the crossing without the herdsman. He is hit by a truck, and now Carlisle has come to tend to the injuries.
Carlisle stands beside his truck, constantly leaning over the lamb, patting his head, speaking softly to him. He gently moves his calloused hand over the lamb, searching for any sign of labored breathing, or swelling. There is no external sign of injury, but the lamb had been unable to get up after being struck.
I watch the tender, compassionate touch of the shepherd on the lamb. I ask, “Will he live?” His voice is quiet, slightly hesitant. “Maybe he will, maybe he won’t. His injuries seem to be inside. Time will tell. If he lives, he’ll probably always be in great pain.”
I notice the ear has been cut. The shepherd explains that this didn’t happen in the accident. All his sheep have a cut on their ears; the mark of the shepherd identifying whether the sheep will be sold or kept.
CARLISLE EXPLAINS HIS ROLE
Carlisle had turned the shepherding over to his son because he himself had developed a heart condition. He says his job as a sheepherder had been to lead the sheep to the shepherd.
In the evening the two sheepdogs would move among the 3000 sheep, nipping at the legs of the sheep, working together with the herdsman to round them up. When the sheep were drawn into a tight mass up in the hills among the Aspen trees, they would be safe for the night and be able to rest in safety.
While I watch, all the sheep begin moving – the movement is immediate and fast-paced. There seems to have been an alert sounded, and all respond instantly, across the meadow and away from the forested hillside. I study the scene before me as the sheep move. I watch Carlisle. He is alert and watchful.
In one fluid motion, Carlisle begins moving toward his truck. “Something spooked them.” With a quick hand wave toward me, and calling to his sheep-dog, “Rudy, Go!”, he rushes down the highway.
I watch as his truck disappears from sight. Rudy is racing across the field after a few stragglers. The Peruvian herdsman across the pasture on the edge of the Aspen forest works with his dog to begin gathering the sheep into a tight cluster. The sheep who moments before had felt threatened are now slowing and beginning to graze quietly. The alertness and immediate response of the sheepdogs to the sheep and the vigilance of the shepherd and Herdsman, brings to mind the beauty of God calling me a sheep, and picturing Himself as the Good Shepherd.
THINGS I AM MORE FULLY UNDERSTANDING BECAUSE I MET THE SHEPHERD
The actual names for sheep had never been of interest, but as I listened to Carlisle speak of his flock, I discovered that a female is a ewe, a male is a buck or ram, a baby is a lamb, and a group of sheep is a flock. Not only is there a category name for each, but the shepherd is aware of each one, and is watchful of them as individual sheep – not just as a mass. He has several black sheep among his flock. He calls them “counters.” These counters help him keep track of the number of sheep moving about in the pasture. At all times, he knows how many there are.
‘…I know my own sheep, and they know me…”
I think about the wayward lamb making his own crossing on the highway and I remember the many times of my self-willed decisions that have oft’ times brought me to harm.
“…all we like sheep have gone astray…”
I think of the watchful, loving diligence of the shepherd as he keeps his eyes always moving over the flock, watching for any danger that lurks – always ready to give aid and protection.
“and I shall lie down in peace…for you alone O Lord, make me dwell in safety…”
THE TAKE AWAY QUOTE
I think back over the conversation with Carlisle as he describes what it is to be a shepherd, a herdsman, or a sheepherder. It is this one thought I burn into my memory…it’s the “take-away quote” from my whole experience there on the side of Highway 14 in Cedar Breaks, Utah, 2015.
The sheepherder always ” knows where he is taking his sheep – he knows where there is food, shelter, and water. He knows his route” (-Carlisle, the sheepherder). Now, where have I heard those thoughts before? Ah, yes… David, the Shepherd wrote them about The Lord, The Good Shepherd.
- He is MY Shepherd
- He Makes me to lie down in green pastures
- He leads me beside still waters
- He restores my soul
- He is with me in times of fear
- His staff comforts me
I can’t wait to see the next flock of sheep along the roadway or nestled among the Aspens…or even a little lamb at the zoo. I’ll look more closely, listen more intently, and pay attention to the differences in vocal sounds. How about you…have you ever really studied the sheep you have seen or heard? It would be interesting to hear what you discovered that you didn’t know before.