Have you ever seen a large group of sheep feeding in green pastures along a hillside? They might look like peaceful, docile creatures, but they can actually be a lot of work.
To get them from one pasture to another can be a challenge that requires the help of a sheepdog and a person responsible for herding the sheep. Who are we talking about? A shepherd, of course!
Shepherds have been around for thousands of years. In fact, shepherding is probably one of the oldest occupations in the world. Shepherds are discussed in the Bible and featured prominently every Christmas in nativity displays. But are there still shepherds around today?
You bet there are! Although modern farming methods and reduction in natural predators have made raising sheep easier in today's world, there are still many places in the U.S. and around the world where shepherds still roam the pastures, tending their flocks.
From the mountains of the American West to the highlands of Peru and Chile, you'll find shepherds tending flocks of thousands of sheep. Sheep are still popular animals today, both for their meat and their wool.
In the western part of the U.S., large sheep ranches often hire workers from foreign countries to herd their sheep. It's not uncommon for Peruvian and Chilean workers to travel to the U.S. to herd thousands of sheep on open ranges that can be hundreds of miles long and wide.
While the long hours make their pay small compared even to minimum wage jobs, these workers make more than they could in their home countries. After being a shepherd for several years in the U.S., many of them return home with their money and use it to build homes, educate their children, or even start their own small businesses.
So what's it like to be a shepherd today? Although it might seem peaceful to lead obedient sheep across a green pasture, it's actually a very tough job. In addition to difficult weather, shepherds must keep a constant eye on their herds, for fear of predators, like wolves and mountain lions.
Shepherding can also be demanding physically, as work days are long and filled with exercise. In cold weather, the days seem even longer. Plus, tending thousands of sheep can be a lonely and dirty job, too.
Shepherds might travel on foot or on horseback. They can go days without seeing another human being. They often sleep in tents and have no source of running water for days at a time. Are the green pastures peaceful? Maybe, but the scenery quickly begins to pale in comparison to the demands of the job!