|Sheep Tracks Archives|
Sheep That Don't Flock
The characteristic of flocking together is very important for those of us with sheep, particularly when the number of sheep exceeds 50 or 60 head. The larger the flock the more important it is that the sheep have a strong flocking instinct. Protection from predators is a primary reason sheep stay together. In the face of danger a scattered flock of sheep in a pasture will flow together as if they were caught in a huge funnel, or as though some huge magnet near the center of the flock had suddenly been switched on.
This flocking instinct is an asset to the shepherd. With the help of our sheep dogs a flock of 300 to 400 head of sheep can be gathered and lead out of a 20 acre field in less than five minutes. A good stock dog can gather other livestock such as cattle or hogs but not as quickly as with sheep. The reason lies in the fact that sheep have a much stronger flocking instinct. Once the sheep see dogs they flock together into a compact group that is then swiftly moved along.
Technical research trials have shown and experienced shepherds will concur that it takes four or more sheep to make a flock. Three sheep in a field with no other sheep in view can not see an identifiable group to go join. They tend to race about in panic not knowing where to go. If only two sheep are in a field, each can obviously see only one other sheep, and thus neither one sees a group to join. One sheep in a large field cannot be driven. One cow can be driven. One hog can be driven. One sheep all alone will simply not move in any orderly fashion.
From a shepherd's management standpoint a sheep that gets separated from the flock presents a serious problem. Many times my dogs and I have gathered a flock of 200 to 300 sheep from a field in approximately 5 to 10 minutes, followed by a period of 30 to 45 minutes that the dogs and I spent getting one more sheep. In more recent years I seldom take the time to get the one that failed to flock. I leave them in the field. Let me explain why I leave them in the field. Why should I take 45 minutes with one sheep doing the same job that took five minutes with 300 sheep (one second per sheep)? Forty-five minutes per sheep versus one second per sheep is a vast difference.
This past week was particularly busy as I worked with 400 sheep that were in four different groups. These were moved to and from pasture fields two separate times to perform certain tasks in the working chute. That's 16 trips. (eight trips to the corral and eight trips back to the pastures). Now if my work was delayed for 45 minutes each of the 16 trips because of the failure of one sheep each time to follow the flock that would have been 12 extra hours of work. Can you imagine a pastor who takes three deacons (I usually use three sheep dogs) each time there is a church service and travels to someone's home, knocks of the door and helps that person get to church simply because they failed to do what the rest of the flock did?
There are two reasons that I have identified among my sheep as to why they deliberately chose to stray from the flock. One is greed. Some sheep are more eager to chow down on the grass that to be concerned about joining the rest of the flock. A second reason is that some sheep just seem to have a strong will to be independent. At times while in the confines of a small field or corral there are individual sheep that bolt or break away from the flock. The interesting part is how they do this repeatedly in an almost defiant manner. In a large open pasture some seem to just wander aimlessly away from the flock for no obvious reason. Sheep that don't flock are ones who have deliberately gone astray. For purposes of explanation here I classify lost sheep as those who are separated from the flock but for reasons other than greed or a will for independence.
What's wrong with the sheep that chooses to go its own way? In some cases death is the end result. I'm reminded of the story told by my friend Joe Harper of Mouth of Seneca, WV who had a ewe that chose not to follow the flock as he was gathering them. He made the decision, as I likely would have, that she would need to be left and gathered later somehow. Here's what happened. Her lamb followed her, thus another was led astray. When he returned some time later he found the carcasses that indicted a bear had devoured them both. On two separate occasions this year I had dogs attack my sheep that had strayed from the flock. Predators can pick off a stray sheep much easier. As their shepherd I can't do much to protect them if they are not with the group of several hundred that is easy to find particularly in mountain and hill country that is thickly covered with trees and brush.
In other cases the sheep may just miss out on the care to be given by the shepherd. It may be the "green pasture," still water," restored soul," safety from the "shadow of death" (Joe's sheep missed this one), a "table" of grain, or perhaps an "anointing" with trichlorform, fenbendazaole or some other present day treatment analogous to the oil as referred to in the Twenty-third Psalm.
God's word says in Isaiah 53:6, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way..." That includes the two of us, you and me. I am sure that pastors can relate to sheep that don't flock within their congregation but my heart at this writing is burdened with the flock of sheep that I shall call Christians in America. Jeremiah 50:6-7 states it this way, "My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam on the mountains. They wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place. Whoever found them devoured them; their enemies said, We are not guilty, for they sinned against the Lord, their true pasture, the Lord, the hope of their fathers'".
During the course of my lifetime I have seen greed and a will for independence cause people to roam the mountains. The "me generation" of false shepherds has substituted for the word "sin" numerous other socially accepted terms such as consenting adults, alternative lifestyles, situation morality, pro-choice, values clarification, adult entertainment, and misappropriation of funds. We have forgotten our resting place because a declining percentage of people claim that Jesus is Lord of their life. Jesus is seldom mentioned in the work place; His name can't be used in our schools (so they say) because many believe it to be unlawful; it seems as though the only way Jesus is mentioned on the nightly news or written into movie and television scrips is in a blasphemous manner.
Attitudes, philosophies, and laws have devalued the family as an important institution. Alcohol and drug use has devoured the physical bodies of hundreds of thousands. We know it's harmful effects but greed keeps it available. Wonder what alcohol and drugs do to people's spiritual well-being. I could go on but that's not necessary. America was built upon Christian principles. The hope of America's fathers seemed to have been well established. Have we forgotten that the Lord is our true pasture and in the process become sheep that don't flock....have most Americans left the true pasture?