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When we read of Christ being the Good Shepherd, we often think of Him cuddling a little lamb.

However, our Lord knew that, in reality, the life of a shepherd is fraught with hardship and strenuous work which demands an indefatiguable amount of mental and physical energy.

It is time we moved away from a sentimental view of shepherding and towards considering it as a very real and demanding job.

James Rebanks wrote an excellent article on shepherding, published in The Telegraph. He says this is not a job for dreamers, romantics or the fainthearted.

Rebanks also wrote a book of his own experiences called The Shepherd’s Life, published by Allen Lane.

He warns:

You need to be tough as old boots. Imagine working for weeks on end in the rain, and then snow, and lambs dying of hypothermia, with the difference between life and death being you and your knowledge. Even if you do your best they still die, and you will need to keep going. The romance wears off after a few weeks, believe me, and you will be left standing cold and lonely on a mountain. It is all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on.

And there are other serious considerations: having the patience to put up with wayward sheep behaviours, knowing that lambs will be slaughtered, the necessity of being able to train sheepdogs, being considered an apprentice even after decades of shepherding and the willingness to suffer frequent verbal abuse from a seasoned head shepherd.

Rebanks and his ancestors have been shepherds in the Lake District for 600 years. Moving to a different part of the British Isles involves different shepherding techniques. For example, in Wales:

You will need to have studied the Welsh Mountain sheep so you are not completely clueless when it comes to making key breeding and selling decisions. It takes about three generations to acquire the knowledge to “be someone” in the world of shepherds. I am a fairly experienced shepherd but if I went to Snowdonia it would take me a decade or more to learn how to judge their sheep properly.

Whilst Rebanks’s late father Jim, who died in February 2015, trained him well and the family understood the hardships, newcomers to shepherding have their hopes dashed and family relationships destroyed. One of the commenters on Rebanks’s article said that he knew a shepherd who had suffered respiratory problems for decades and lived in a tied cottage. His wife left him for a ‘normal’ life.

Our Lord had a much more difficult mission and life than today’s shepherds. However, both demand complete dedication and devotion.

This excerpt from James Rebanks’s book explains more about shepherding and our modern misconceptions about it. Well worth a read.


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