Hands, clothes, everything smells of sheep. Wonderful.

Milking Sheep Is Pure Joy

Three weeks living and learning on a sheep farm – on my second station as a wwoofer I was particularly happy. Lamb cuddles, milking sheep, and making sheep’s milk cheese were some of my tasks. A textbook example of farm life. And yet I had to leave the farm much earlier than planned to protect myself.

Sheep milking goes like this: First, push the shoulder into the sheep’s woolly buttocks. This prevents her from leaving the milking box backwards (which she’d love to do). At the same time grab the two hoses and milking device. Due to your own head position – which is located right of the woolen butt – you blindly trigger the suction mechanism of the milking machine and use your thumbs to carefully tinker the sheep’s two teats into the milking cup. Fortunately, it sucks the milk automatically. However, an udder massage is necessary in order to trigger the milk flow. This mimics the lambs, who usually push their noses into the udder while drinking. Two liters of milk (and a lot of nerves on my part) later, the job is finished. This leaves me with a feeling of pure joy.

Feeding, Milking, Cuddling Sheep

Hands, clothes, everything smells of sheep. Wonderful.
Hands, clothes, everything smells of sheep. Wonderful.

I think sheep are incredibly cute. The way they look with their funny ears, big eyes and a little naiv. I think it’s adorable. That’s why I was especially looking forward to my second wwoof station in Alberta’s praries. My hosts: a couple in their early 40s with eight-year-old twins, dogs, some cats. He runs a huge cattle farm, she has a small cheese shop where she sells homemade sheep’s milk cheese. Instagram shows a textbook family. My anticipation was big.

Twice a day I jumped into the rubber boots, wrapped a scarf around my head in order to protect me from the sun, drove out in the field together with the mom and the twins to feed the animals, cuddle lambs and milk the sheep in the evening. All this in a fantastic setting on a wide field. And we made sheep’s milk from the milk we got. A lengthy process, because cheese making is all about how long and at what temperature the cheese-to-be must be during the manufacturing process. There are whole books covering this topic, so I don’t want to go into detail. But to be fair, I otherwise can’t say much about the farm itself. I left after a week. Two weeks earlier than planned.

Yelling Mother, Crying Children

For me, wwoof doesn’t just mean gaining experience and learning something new, but I always consider myself a guest in a family. It involves mutual exchange, learning from each other, living together in all facets. The latter was painful for me in this family. Children who can’t do anything fast enough and can’t do anything right, even though they tried so hard. Children, who are constantly being yelled at, are exposed to an aggressive tone of voice. I felt the kinds’ needs were being hardly noticed by their mother who – it seems – felt it was more important to be on the mobile phone to create a perfect farm and family world on Instagram. This made me sad and left me helpless. So much I could no longer hold back my tears when the weeding eight-year-old girl beside me in the flowerbed was crying silently and desperately.

On the first evening and over a glass of wine the mother had revealed to me that she likes to travel, that she had been a wwoofer on farms in southern Europe to learn about cheese making but never wanted to have children. She rather wanted to travel on her own, which her husband doesn’t support, as she said. Obviously, this woman doesn’t live the life she imagined. This, of course, holds potential for aggression and dissatisfaction, if I may write some kitchen sink psychology.

I’ve hardly seen the father, who has incidentally shown a lot of understanding for the children – as well as for his wife. He was always at work, early and late – agriculture is dependent on the weather. He had already pointed out to me on the first day that it often gets loud with the family mother, but this would either be directed against the children or him, never against me. This turned out to be true. To me the mother was always friendly, always interested and ready to share her knowledge, which I greatly appreciate. Nevertheless, this precautionary apology of the father of the family gives a deep insight, I think.

As a childless person I don’t want to judge. It is up to each one to decide how to raise their children and how to shape their family life. I feel this is nothing I should have gotten into as an outstanding person. However, the cold atmosphere in the family has put a lot of strain on me and made me freeze physically. And even as I write this, I notice my breath catching.

I wonder if I could have done anything for the children except to encounter them with my own kindness. I wonder if I should have informed an outside body. I have decided to not do this. There were loving moments, and at least the father and grandmother were understanding for the children. I just hope they get a good foundation here. And maybe I made a difference in the mother, too. The question of why I leave early, she answered herself. “Is it because I yell at the kids so much?” And that, too, gives a deep insight. Maybe it’s just my own story that makes me react so sensitively here.

So, I left this second WWOOF farm early. Too bad, because handling the sheep was a lot of fun. So much that I can imagine helping out on a small sheep farm after the end of my journey. I have learned a lot in this one week – professionally, but also personally. Milking sheep, flipping sheep on their sides to cut their hooves, giving sheep medicines, making cheese. And last but not least, this week has confirmed to me that it is pointless to have children only because large parts of our society see it as a mission of women and the meaning of life. Different people have different life plans. This has to be respected. In this case for the benefit of the children.

How I found a new farm and how incredibly lucky I was will be the topic of the next post.

The good thing about the flat prairie is that you can always see ahead of time whether a storm is approaching from a distance.
The good thing about the flat prairie is that you can always see ahead of time whether a storm is approaching from a distance.
Evening mood and galloping lambs.
Evening mood and galloping lambs.
Go for it! When milking sheep manual work is needed.
Go for it! When milking sheep manual work is needed.

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