Thirty sheep, 24 rabbits, three llamas and two alpacas. For most people, that amount of animal responsibility is unthinkable. For Kathy Sletto, it’s everyday life. And going from being a full time office worker to full time shepherdess has been an interesting journey, to say the least. Ten years ago, Kathy inherited a spinning wheel, originally built in the 1870s and handed down through her family for generations. It was still a fully functioning spinning wheel, and she wanted to make more of it than a decoration. So she decided she would learn how it worked. After learning how to use the spinning wheel, the next step was to get wool producing animals, which led to the Sletto’s purchase of two sheep. “From there,” she laughed, “it just snowballed!” As Kathy’s hobby and herd continued to grow, she quickly realized that keeping up with the responsibilities of Shepherd’s Bay Farm, their uniquely named home and farm, was a full time job in itself. Kathy soon resigned from her full time office job to spend more time at the farm with the animals. And while she still does some part-time consulting work, she considers herself a full time shepherdess. So what does a day as a shepherdess look like? Kathy says her schedule relies primarily on Mother Nature. “Each morning I get up early to make sure all the animals were safe through the night and that they have water. Walking through the pasture is an incredibly peaceful way to start the day,” Kathy shared. After a morning inside spent catching up on consulting work, Kathy is back outside with her herd. She heads back out to the pasture to feed and water the animals. “And count them; I’m always counting to make sure they’re all here! With coyotes, dogs, and other animals putting them at risk, I’m constantly checking to make sure they’re all still with me.” Shepherd’s Bay Farm is a busy place year round. With the animals and their crops, there is always something for Kathy and her husband, Terry, to do. “Depending on the time of year, we’re harvesting crops, harvesting wool, or are busy with any number of other tasks. There’s not enough time in the day!” Kathy spins the wool from her animals into yarn, which she sells raw to crafters, spinners and weavers, among others. She also uses the yarn herself to knit as well, although she admits that there is often not enough time to keep up with her many hobbies. Beyond the tangible fruits of her labor is the true meaning of a shepherdess’s work. “It’s very rewarding to care for and work with the animals. It provides my husband and me with a real sense of contentment.” Kathy also admits that their love for their animals is not always good for the strong bottom line that so many other businesses are after. “We keep our animals well into old age, even after they are no longer productive. I like to think we’re offering them a peaceful retirement. But it’s always tough to turn a profit when you’re supporting a bunch of old sheep geezers. It’s a struggle to balance the sentiment and the profitability.” Through all of the responsibility and struggle, Kathy wouldn’t trade her position for anything, and she recognizes how leaving behind the office world for her farm has changed her perspective. “It feels like the world is always running a mile a minute. There is so much focus on instant communication. Living this way really helps you lose sight of all the nonsense out there and see what’s truly important,” Kathy proudly points out. Kathy has put her experiences as a shepherdess into writing, with her recently published book titled Keeping Watch. The book is available at Cherry Street Books in Alexandria, through Barnes and Noble, and online at www.shepherdsbayfarm.com.
Alex woman quits job to be shepherdess
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