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SHEPHERDESS    
  “Sheep were among the first animals to be domesticated 9 to 11,000 thousand years ago in Mesopotamia.   Their wild relatives have several characteristics—such as a relative lack of aggression, a manageable size, early sexual maturity, a social nature, and high reproduction rates—which made them particularly suitable for domestication.”  Wiki 
   Harlow and her sheep were first on my list of interesting and talented valley characters to highlight here in Paradise Valley.   She and her parents Vaughn and Naomi Johnson live on the Pinto Ranch, just north of Mill Creek road, on Hwy 89.  Things I had mistakenly assumed about her got cleared up right away in this interview.   For instance I had told people  played the fiddle for our choir now and then, an error in terms, on my part, and not the last.  She kindly corrected me that she plays violin, and mostly classical. Fiddlers…play fiddle apparently, so there it is.
Goats and sheep get confusing too, as I will prove and not just for me. Some people swear they see mountain goats in the cliffs on that ascent to Mammoth in Yellowstone Park.  They are big horned sheep!  I keep telling them you have to go to Glacier Park to see Rocky Mountain Goats. Correct? [I was corrected by a local rancher who said that mountain goats live high on Emigrant Peak; both the peak and goats look down upon our valley.]
Kindra said she raises Rams, too. I said, “Rams are goats, right?”  And by the subtle squint in her eye, I knew I’d stepped in it again.  She showed me her 3 Rams, correction:  The One Ram, the “lamb daddy,” I called him, from Oklahoma.  There were 2 young males with him that are wannabes, that she will watch mature with hopes they will …you know.   They looked sweet, nothing like the macho Dodge Ram with show-off big horns, which is about what you might expect me to say by now. 
I said, “what a nice long curly beard!” (goat-like I thought). “Manes we call them,” she replied.  I asked her about the shearing part of it all which I had googled before I arrived so I would have informed questions to ask.  She…was that a sigh?…explained that this breed does not grow a long coat;  that these sheep looked shorn because they actually shed.  Katahdin is a registered brood stock, relatively new, named  after the tallest mountain in Maine where the breed was developed in the mid 50’s.  “No shearing needed!; friendly, very maternal instincts in the ewes, hearty, and easy birthing,” she said.
Kindra is smart, and sparkly, has a unique and bright singing voice and has played violin since she was five.  She played in the Bozeman symphony and studied music on a scholarship at MSU.  She’s has a diverse and colorful palette of talent and passions for life.  Born in Billings but raised in Bozeman since five years old, like many native youth took off for other territories either to work, go to college or just adventuring.  She graduated from MSU with a B.A. in Science, Physiology of Exercise.  Done with school she went to Portland to study dance, and on to Arizona, and Minnesota before she returned finally in 1994. So what it boils down to is this:  Kindra is a Music and dance decorated Native Montana Shepherdess.
She stands before me, almost five feet tall including hair, dressed tidy but sensibly ranch-correct, her jacket matching the sky, her dark curly hair free and hatless, and feet firmly planted in the earth, in case, I assume, there’s a rogue gust of wind? She is tolerant and patient with this dyed-in-the-wool, city slicker who has been here 25 years and still doesn’t know what’s what, and worse, who wears the wrong shoes to a corral.  I did not ask how many head of sheep she had because I learned years ago at the Winter Fair in Bozeman that local cattlemen squint at you funny when you ask about that and acres;  I assume it’s the same for sheep. Kindra said the original ranch was “so vast,” and she spread her arms out and pivoted to suggest half of the valley, and that “the ranch ran cattle and sheep, as most did in the old days–their “bread & butter.”  For a moment I envisioned the brave, hard, colorful past of ranch life here in the valley.  Those memories are still and forever the essence of Montana.    

I can safely say in the present, that Kindra has just finished lambing; has 3 adorable little bottle baby lambs around two weeks old in the images.   Her last pregnant ewe, an 11-year old that has never needed any help, who this year wears a pink heart sprayed on her side for a hopeful Valentine’s day birth, had her lamb a couple days later;  a bouncing little male which I shall name for her: Valentino. She has one great Ram, who I thought was a goat, two intern rams, and dozens of ewes and lambs here in these images enjoying a sunny windless day in Paradise Valley.

Her Parents, the Pinto Ranch owners, Vaughn and Naomi, originally bought a dozen sheep for the purpose of training border collies.  Vaughn organized a formal performance Dog Trial on the ranch first in 2001, and Kindra did much of the work for four years in a row.  It was well known and attended; a judge was flown in from Scotland every year.  Proceeds, after generous prize money, went to local Valley charities.  There were various contests, and an art show. I remember attending a trial, and loved watching the dogs running the sheep low to the ground, so sharp and focused, fast and smarter than most of us can imagine.  When asked why they were discontinued she said, “unfortunately, it was so much work, and finding enough year round help was hard.”  When I asked hopefully whether they might happen again, she smiled and said, “You know it’s just possible.” One of Kindra’s five border collies, named Squeeze, came up to greet me. I got a rather goofy picture, not shown, as he was too busy keeping an eye on his charges to stay still in the frame as I requested.
I asked, “What do you love about your life here? And she simply pointed to her sheep.  I asked, “What are the challenges?” and she said “It is that I basically do it all alone, although my mother helps with the bottle babies. I don’t have the muscle that is sometimes needed.  My good friend, and also a Shepherdess, Barbara Gunness, who owns and operates an Icelandic Sheep ranch across the valley in Pray, comes over to help when she can.” Kindra’s recent big challenge, and victory over cancer, has left her with a wanting to give back.  “I received so much help then,” she said, and help came on many levels.
An interview with a Montana rancher is not well-rounded with out mention of predator issues.  I asked about wolves, and also Guardian dogs, those big breeds that are trained to protect sheep 24/7.  She had one of those at one time, and smiled affectionately regarding their effectiveness; a different training altogether from border collies.  “To have several would be very good,” she said.  But the valley is more developed now, and neighbors are more and closer. Pets stray or gang up at night. Wolves normally stay up at the timber line.   Coyotes have been a problem. Regarding killed ewes, “I have lost some sheep over the years with some question whether it was wolves.”  What is the answer to the wolf issue?  I asked.  And she answered without hesitation:   “The solution to the problem of predators is to let the ranchers protect their own land and livestock.”
On a tour of Scotland, I heard a bus driver yell “mint sauce!” out the window to get a flock of sheep off the road, and it worked!  I asked Kindra about that part in ranching that must include sending a sheep, whom she has nurtured, “down the road,” as she called it. She reminded me that she is a rancher; as well, she hunts.  Then she got quiet a second or two, and spoke of the cycle of life, birth and death, and with compassion, and reverence.    
She said there are many references to sheep in the bible.  One she liked:  “They will hear my voice and know it is me.” I looked around the flock and felt that peace that the gentle creatures emanate, and a certain savvy of heart in this Shepherdess, that no words can express. What special, giving animals sheep are to have among us, wool to keep us warm, meat to sustain us, for all these thousands of years.  The sound of a sheep’s “baaaa” is as comforting a universal sound as birds tweeting or the smell of bread baking, and the sight of lambs gamboling in the sun.   
And at last I thought of my favorite mantra and sheep quote; The 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul…”
A Peaceful and Happy Easter to Everyone!
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