It's almost always best to start with the literal.
At least, if you're going for a laugh or two. So pull on your woolen chuckle hats and follow me!
THERE ARE FOUR BASIC SLICES OF SHEEP HUSBANDRY:
1) Range Band Flocks
This is the big one, with flocks of sizes numbering in the thousands. These will be be free range, or possibly in a fenced area, but covering a huge stretch of land. With this many sheep in play, you'll have multiple full time shepherds, in many cases living with the sheep day to day. And because of grazing practices, they cover a lot of ground, so sheepdogs and traveling from prairie to prairie using horses or motor vehicles will be needed. Although, getting a sheep to ride a horse through the moutainous regions of Chile or the Brindabella Australian Range is tougher than you think... and even in more modern locales, your Hoggets (teenage sheep of both sexes) will have trouble learning to use a clutch.
2) Farm Flocks
A little smaller, these will be the more contained and managed sheep populations... seen throughout Great Britain and New Zealand these are the sheepsters found on more confined, fenced pasture land. You'll need to supplement your sheep menu with additional food and incredibly dry humor, but you can get there.
3) Purebred Flocks
Stud sheep. Yes, insert the laugh track <here>. But I've herd that all manner of wooly animals will flock to an alpha sheep if you let them. Breeders will seek to raise strong icons of sheep pulchritude to genetically bless future flocks with their strength and good manners. Extras here will go to 4-H for showing and eventually to a Greek restaurant, where something vague, sad and delicious happens.
4) Hobbyist Flocks
Suppose you want to get into handspinning, but don't want to buy yarn online. Well then, a hobbyist sheep flock is for you! You can grow your own yarn on the cuddly back of your small little yarn factory for the low, low price... of a 4-H lamb that doesn't want anything to do with a freshly baked pita and feta cheese.
Shepherding Part II:
I'm a fan of the show Firefly and of the movie Serenity and of the creativity of Whedon in general.
I recently picked up, "The Shepherd's Tale" from the the graphic novel Serenity Series... story by Josh and Zack Whedon. The artwork above is from the graphic novel cover. It gives us a sequence of events, artfully done in reverse order, that allows us to piece together the story of Shepherd. Filling in the back story of the enigmatic preacher who intersects the crew of Serenity and becomes a key piece of the loveliness of the whole.
The story is a good one, answering enough questions to be satisfactory... while remaining open enough to let us dream and let our imaginations run a bit.
At one point in Firefly, Kaylee asks Shepherd why he doesn't care about the destination of Firefly, and Book answers, "because the journey is the worthier part." That's a good line... and one central to the character of Shepherd.
And in a particularly poignant sequence, Shepherd recites the famous prayer of Francis... bound up in opposites and paradox and love:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, union;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Words added to Shepherd's story by a confirmed atheist. But an atheist I think that sees the beauty in the life Shepherd is choosing to lead and in some small part assenting to that choice as honorable.
Someone recently compared me to Firefly's Shepherd and I was muted by the depth of the compliment. I'm definitely not a worthy filler of those shoes. But I would like to be.
Lord, make me that kind of instrument, and place me on whatever ship You will.
Shepherding Part III:
I grew up as part of a family that raised cattle. Not sheep.
But to get cattle from one place to another is surprisingly simple. You stand behind them and yell at them. You wave your arms and make obnoxious noises and they will head out in a direction that is not toward you. Even a single experienced rancher can move an entire herd of cattle the direction he wants them to go. Just jump and yell and you will drive them on.
No so with sheep.
If you run waving your arms and yelling at a flock of sheep they will scatter in every vector imaginable. They'll try to get away... or they'll lay down and hyperventilate in unmoving terror. Or they'll bump into each other and become even more agitated. Or they'll run in ridiculous sheep circles.
But they won't go where you want them to. Ever.
You have to lead them.
Sheep have an interesting relationship with Shepherds. They trust them. They follow. They look to them when they're hurt or hungry or wounded. You have to be gentle. You have to use your sheep voice. They love to be touched and rubbed. They love still water. They love to be scratched when the wool is growing in again.
And they know that the Shepherd will protect them when the wolves come to call.
Shepherding Part IV:
It seems to me that the Range Flocks of thousands and the Hobby Flocks of one all have something in common.
Shepherds and Sheep just kind of love each other.
You can see it at the Fair, when Sally brings in her lamb for show and proudly hangs the blue ribbon on his neck. You can see it in the eyes of the Australian shepherds as they care for their little ones. You can even see it in the more sophisticated sheep, as they ride their horses and dunebuggies through mountain passes in search of better prairie.
You can see it in fiction, as Shepherd Book declares himself in charge of caring deeply for his ragged band of pirates.
And you can see it in a handful of people around us, who think it is a good idea to give their time and money and lives to help those who may need it. A thousand thousand unsung acts of kindness, shepherding love to a safe place the heart can eventually call home.
It might be a listening ear, a hot meal, a bit of good counsel or someone to carry a couch. It might be a ride, a few bucks or a message filled with love and genuine desire to bless and inspire. It might be a well placed silence, that rare moment when the wisest message is the slow not speaking at all. It might be a hug, or a trip to the movies, a letter or a simple touch on the shoulder.
It might even be a prayer, filled with love and heard by no one but a Good Shepherd Who, after all these many years, still looks after a flock who needs Him deeply.
All of us, everyone, are sometimes sheep and sometimes shepherds. That is as it should be. To my sheep / shepherd readers, I leave you with this:
Raise your staff and wool. Lead and follow well. It means more than you think.