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From left to right: Brother Joseph blows a whistle to direct the monastery’s fl ock of Katahdin sheep. The Clear Creek Monastery is located near Hulbert, in northeastern Oklahoma. A Pyrenees dog serves as a perfect guard, watching over a fl ock of sheep.

SHEEP Continued from page 17

The commands the dogs need to know are “left,” “right,” “gather” and “lie down.” The last command tells the Border Collie to stop where it is placed. Broth- er Joseph says these dogs have extraordinary percep- tion in staring down animals. In a fl ock mentality, if the dog can stare one sheep down, it essentially has secured the attention of the entire group. In order to reduce the available herding area, Broth- er Joseph suggests using an electric fence. Barbed wire cattle fencing can cost about $10,000 a mile; what Brother Joseph has done costs only about $700. The monks used 12-gauge high tensile wire, which has more fl exibility for pulling and stretching. They also used existing trees for posts instead of installing metal pipe. Many of the techniques the monks use are skills they learned in France. Brother Joseph spent nine years working with sheep in the mountains of Central France, and he has transferred that technol- ogy from there to here.

For instance, local experts have told the monks they need to lamb in April when the most grass is avail- able. However, when sheep go to lamb they give all their mineral reserves into giving milk. Brother Joseph said this time is the sheep’s lowest levels of resistance, when the worm levels are the highest. “It was like playing tennis in a mine fi eld,” Brother Joseph says.

After years of watching his fl ock fade away, Brother Joseph decided to try lambing during the winter. Ever since then, he has experienced great success with his fl ock. His recipe for success? Using worm-resistant sheep, whistle-trained dogs and an electric fence. However, while the amount of lambs are increasing, he claims the art of traditional shepherding has been decreasing for quite some time.

The Black Sheep of the West

“In France, there was this whole culture who viewed these techniques as completely normal. People saw that as a normal way of life whereas in Oklahoma we have lost our link with the shepherding tradition,” Brother Joseph says.

According to the American Sheep Industry Associa- 18 OKLAHOMA LIVING

tion, in 1945 there were about 56 million sheep in the United States. Now the numbers are down to around 5 million. Brother Joseph thinks the reason for the decline stems from the advancements of refrigeration and the subsequent demand increase in the cost of packing. For instance, a butcher will spend 20 minutes cutting a lamb and return 10 percent of the meat the same butcher would get from spending just 25 more minutes to do an entire steer. Seventy years ago, this difference would not have been as infl uential. One family couldn’t consume an entire steer in one meal, nor could they properly refrigerate it for storage. One lamb, however, made for a perfect family-sized meal. Brother Joseph described how during the Passover in the chapter of Exodus, each family had its own lamb. If the lamb was too big, they were instructed to invite neighbors. Today, a family can cook up a lamb in a couple hours, much like a big turkey. The logic of lamb economics may be somewhat lacking encourage- ment on the packing side, but for smallholders sheep can be a great asset.

Because of the abundance of wool breeds, the ani- mals are often tied solely to the fi ber industry. But the sheep of today are cut from a much more diverse cloth. According to Brother Joseph, less than one percent of the world’s fi ber actually comes from wool. He said the sheep at the monastery are profi table for many reasons beyond the decreased mowing costs, includ- ing increased lamb sales. He explained he can run sev- en hair sheep for one cow. If a calf is normally worth $500, and he can get $100 per lamb, a lambing sale will yield $700 for using the same amount of land. If the sheep had twins, he could get up to $1400. “That’s got cattlemen interested,” he says. “But there is a psychological hang-up or prejudice against sheep in the great Western cowboy; sheep were always considered to be the outcast.”

Now there may be more who are in the market for sheep. The monastery sells their fl ock at the Rural Smallholders Association (RSA) Cooperative. Ac- cording to Ben James, the general counselor for the organization, the program is only in its second year and is already seeing great signs of success. The RSA sold more than 2,090 head of sheep and goats at the last fall sale. In addition, the organization hosts lec- tures on pasturing, fi nancial programs and worming techniques. James says the Katahdin has proved to be

a great fi t for Oklahoma.

“It’s a good breed, but we don’t have a lot of people trying to develop it and we need to,” James says. To combat the packing problem, James suggests

fi nding ways to get bigger rams and produce a better meat sheep. He has found breeding Gropers, a meatier sheep with lower worm resistance, with the hearty Ka- tahdin yields a more resistant meat sheep. “There’s a lot more sheep and goats in Oklahoma than people know about,” James says. “Our biggest concern is getting the best price on livestock when you sell them and to educate people on their worm- ing practices.”

The monastery is a member of the RSA and sells their sheep there every year. But selling sheep for the monks is more than profi table; they see the sheep as a way to connect with the community around them. “These things, these hair sheep, they are all second- ary things but they have their infl uence; they incor- porate our life here into Oklahoma,” Brother Joseph says. “It’s not some evaporated nirvana, some personal quest for self -fulfi llment, you really have to give your- self.”

Brother Joseph’s next venture is to spend his time restoring the soil back to its original state in accor- dance with another forgotten concept that is as old as dirt itself: stewardship.

Steward of the Soil

To Brother Joseph, the whole aspect of stewardship has roots in the beginning in the Garden of Eden. He believes the land is something we have been given and are responsible to cultivate.

“That was the original mandate of the Garden of Eden: cultivate the land, not exploit it,” Brother Jo- seph says. “So you do what’s right by the earth itself, given the current climate and the situation.” Brother Joseph wants to use this sense of steward-

ship to restore the historical habitat to its original Savannah-type landscape. Through the Environmen- tal Quality Incentives Program, the monastery will be able to reduce the amount of trees blocking the natu- ral sunlight. Eventually, the current canopy cover will be reduced from 90 percent to about 35 percent, using mechanical and biological means.

Part of the plan involves using the sheep: Brother Joseph says they help eat the brush and dispose of it

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