One of my favourite sheep hang-outs is Överjärva farm just outside Stockholm. There has been a farm at Överjärva for centuries. In the beginning of the 20th century it was the biggest farm in the parish. Today it’s a city farm with sheep, horses, chickens and organic farming.
Kulturlandskaparna is the organization that looks after the sheep and works to maintain the farm and the biodiversity in the area. This is where I first learned how to spin, where I bought my first fleece (and a few more after that) and I took a course in small-scale sheep farming.
The Patron and head sheeprdess of Överjärva is Ulla. She knows all the sheep by name. If you present a fleece to her she can name the sheep just by smelling it. She is passionate about the sheep and the landscape management. She passes on the knowledge about the importance of sheep by teaching young and old as much as she can about sheep and why we need them.
At the farm, Ulla teaches kids to be helper shepherds and shepherdesses. For the moment there are only helper shepherdesses, and around 10–15 years old. They learn how to take care of the sheep and are a big help at the farm. It is also evident that the helper shepherdesses grow when they learn about how to take responsibility for the sheep.
With the sheep in the pasture
People come to the farm all year round to see the sheep. They are very used to humans and most of them love to be cuddled. During the lambing period in the spring they get privacy, though, but in the end of April it was the first day visitors were allowed to go in to the pasture and cuddle with ewes and lambs. Of course I was there.
The big sheep walk
Moving the sheep
When the lambs are big enough and the grass has grown a bit after the winter, it is time to move the sheep and their lambs to their summer pastures. This is done on the great sheep walk in late May. Visitors are invited to take part in the move and walk all the sheep families through the neighbourhood to the fresh grass in the new pasture. Of course I was there to take part in the big sheep move.
Organizing the walk
The sheep walk is a whole machinery. The sheep families are moved from the farm pasture one at a time and assigned to a human family, and they all stay around the farm until every sheep is out. Anna, her family and I were in charge of the Swedish finewool sheep Anemone (you have seen her before, in this video) and her lambs Tim, Linus and Vilda.
The sheep are a bit wild and difficult to handle at the beginning of the walk, but after a while they settle down. Since the walk goes through traffic, the sheep need to be led in in leashes. One human family family taking the responsibility for one sheep family. The sheep family must be held together with the ewe just in front of her lambs and you are not allowed to pass another sheep family. There can’t be a gap in the long row of sheep families. The herd strives to be together, and if there is a gap they will start to run to cover the gap. This can have chaotic consequences in a traffic environment.
One of the most difficult tasks on the sheep walk is to keep the sheep in the middle of the lane. If they go too far to either side, they will get close to the grass and all the work with keeping the sheep orderly is wasted.
Ulla, the head shepherdess, doesn’t walk with the sheep. She goes ahead in the car and organizes things at the pasture. Instead, the helper shepherdesses are in charge of the walk. And the y do it with great skill and pride. They watch all the families along the lines and make sure everything is in order, that the ewes is just in front of her lambs, that there is no gap in the lane and are always ready to give a hand when needed. The smaller children are in charge of stopping the traffic. When a car comes on the same road or when the caravan crosses a street, the kids stand broad-legged with their arms out to the sides to stop the cars and protect the caravan. They take their task very seriously.
Dancing in the streets
It is almost like a choreographed dance to keep all the sheep in the right place in relation to their families, other families and the road. But it is a dance I am happy to entertain the audience with. And there is an audience – all along the walk are happy citizens watching with their cameras ready. For some people watching the event is something they are looking forward to all spring. It certainly is for me as a participant.
Half-way through the walk the whole caravan stops at a big castle park for a mid-walk snack. This is vital if the sheep are going to arrive to the new pasture without sheep chaos. The walk is about 5 km, mostly on asphalt and straining for them. With a grazing break they will get enough energy to walk the last bit without trying to escape to the grass every chance they get.
After about 5 km and perhaps an hour’s walk, we are finally at the summer pastures. From this moment, everything goes very fast. When all the sheep are in the pasture, they go wild. At the same time, they have to be freed from their leash collars. When that is done, the whole event is over. But for the sheep, a whole summer of grazing awaits.
I made a video of the visitors in the pasture and the great sheep walk. In the photo above you can see how I have attached my phone camera with a gorilla pod wrung around my bag strap.
I published the video and blog post yesterday, but I had to unpost it due to copyright violations. I had chosen an old folk tune for the video, Hårgalåten, performed by a well known Swedish key harpist Åsa Jinder. Due to the copyright violation the video wouldn’t be able to be viewed in some countries, one of them being the U.S. So I removed the video and replaced the tune with a song by Josh Woodward, from the free music archive.