Kelli Carruth Miller
After ten years’ experience teaching students of all ages in private, Christian schools in Louisiana, Alabama and Texas, I began learning about sheep when I started our hobby farm with my husband and 3 children in Louisiana in 2008. My hunger to understand all the “sheep verses” in scripture began while I was in college at Samford University, in Birmingham, AL in the mid 1980’s. I loved those verses, especially in John 10, but it really seemed there was something Jesus implied in those verses readily understood by His agrarian-familiar audience, that was lost on me in my modern, suburban world. I noticed sheep are a recurring Biblical theme, seeming to show up grazing on the pages of my Bible on throughout scripture. As an English major sensitive to literary devices, I was hungry to understand the significance and nuances of the sheep and shepherd motif. I never planned to be a shepherd. I mean, who does that??!? I did not even know shepherding and learning to shepherd was a choice one could make within the possibilities of modern life.
Then the internet was born, and John and I had the opportunity to move back home to Louisiana in 2007. Inspired by the Roloff’s farming enterprise I saw on the TV show Little People, Big World, I spent a lot of time visiting with Mr. Google and learned about Gulf Coast Native sheep, endangered heritage breeds, and hobby farming. I wondered if it would be possible to learn about spinning wheels, and how they made wool into yarn, too? When John and I bought 11 acres in Zachary, Louisiana, complete with pasture and a big, roomy barn, I realized I had my opportunity, my dream could be real!
In 2008, few months after moving our family to our new hobby farm, God provided a handful of free, Gulf Coast Native sheep! They were my breed of choice, since they are genetically adapted to survive in the harsh environment of the deep South, where other, finer wool breeds are not. So Mercy, Grace and Joy were my starter flock. I joined the Gulf Coast Breeders Association and met other shepherds of Gulf Coast Native sheep online and in person. I bred my sheep and grew my flock. I met other shepherds I was blessed to be able to learn from, and learn with, as we all helped and supported one another. I sold lambs as breeding stock and helped several others start their own flock in several places in Louisiana, and Oklahoma.
I taught myself to shear sheep, and within just a few years, my daughter and I were traveling around Louisiana to shear small flocks for others. I loved doing this, as it brought me more opportunities to see a variety of others’ flocks and breeds of sheep and wool I could not have otherwise.
I even met a lovely group of handspinners who taught me to spin on my own spinning wheel! Learning about the fiber and how to process it, taught me more about the sheep, and why it is important to care for them in a certain way.
In addition to processing my own wool from raw fleece to finished yarn, I learned to send large batches of the wool I sheared to the Shepherd’s Mill in Kansas to be processed into yarn I have sold under my “Wool of Louisiana” label.
Through such enterprises, the sheep earned themselves enough money to pay for their own winter hay every year. One year they bought me a brand new spinning wheel, too, since my fist one was second hand and falling apart from so much use. Another year the sheep bought a shearing stand, and a new set of electric shears.
For five years I connected with the Louisiana Renaissance Festival and demonstrated sheep and spinning wool into a finished product, such as a blanket, hat or mittens with other fiber friends. This wonderful experience gave me exposure to the public, and all their questions about sheep and shepherds, and more experience with other spinners and fiber artists.
Sometimes my children and I would be asked to bring sheep to share at a local school, or a church for vacation Bible School or Christmas program. We brought sheep to the Renaissance Festival. I loved having the chance to connect people with “real” sheep. They would always ask, “Is that a real sheep??”
I learned about sheep herding through several friends, but especially my friend Kay, with who I got to demonstrate sheep herding several times at the Rural Life Museum, and the Louisiana Renaissance Festival, with her Boarder Collie, Joey, and my sheep.
John and I were very blessed to meet and make friends with Tim and Linda at our church in Denham Springs. Tim is the pastor, and Linda the artist who worked with me on Green Grass, Still Waters and handpainted the illustrations. Working with Linda brought creating a children’s book from a vague idea into living reality. I am so thankful for her collaboration and friendship!
In May, 2016 I was the guest speaker for the Mother/Daughter luncheon at Grace Community Bible Church where I spoke on “Hearing the Shepherd’s Heart”.
Through my shepherding, spinning, shearing, demonstrating, selling, and collaborating experiences with others throughout those years in Louisiana, I gained a clearer idea of Jesus, as my Shepherd, really is, and what it means to follow Him, as a sheep follows a shepherd. It is not at all the “blind following, like a sheep” you may think! It is a far more complex, beautiful metaphor than that. (see “What is a ‘Sheep-Like’ Faith?”)
Our time in Louisiana has ended since moving to Wyoming with the flock in late 2016. A new chapter is beginning as I meet other spinners and shepherds here and work to develop our new 12 acres into decent grazing land. There is so much to learn about shepherding in this different climate! Learning about sheep and all things sheep related, is my passion. Nothing soothes my soul like listening to the gentle sounds of sheep grazing. Throughout it all I have prayed for the Lord to teach me about Him, and for Him to use me to teach others. I look to do that proactively now, through continuing to write and collaborate with Linda to create new projects to teach what I have learned about sheep and shepherds and why they are such an essential metaphor for understanding our relationship to God. It is a hurting world out there, in dire need of the Good Shepherd.