Monday, January 9, 2017

The oldest profession?

Rancher Glenn Elzinga says herding might be the oldest profession. I wonder if he also knows shepherds have a long record of improving human culture. Shepherds brought civilization to people in the 4,000 year-old Epic of Gilgamesh. A couple thousand years later, shepherds starred in many Greek myths. One story traced the roots of cowboy poetry to the shepherd Daphnis, who composed the first pastoral poem on the island of Sicily.

Today, the profession doesn’t maintain the workforce it did in ancient times and it provides fewer cultural innovations, but shepherd still watch flocks of sheep in the western U.S. Herders live 24/7 with bands of a thousand animals. With the help of herding dogs, the shepherd guides the flock to browse a variety of plants and avoid poisonous fare. The animals are watched at all times and can be kept away from areas protected for other uses. The herder sleeps nearby to help the guard dogs protect the sheep from predators and theft.

For years, I wondered why herding sheep made so much sense, but herding cattle was, well, unheard of. I wondered until I heard Glenn Elzinga’s keynote address at the 2015 Idaho Sustainable Ag Conference. He's developing a "new" approach to ranching: he's herding his cattle.

After lunch, I lurked with intent and buttonholed Glenn as we walked back to the afternoon session. I followed up with an email. Later, I asked if I could write about him. He and his wife Caryl agreed. My story on Alderspring Grassfed (and herded) Beef was in the Fall 2016 issue of Edible Idaho.