By Courtney Townsend
This past March I set out to County Down, Northern Ireland to embark on my first WWOOFing experience. The choice to volunteer with the program stems back to the beginning of the pandemic when I became thoroughly engrossed in a BBC television program, “This Farming Life.” I’ve always liked sheep. But watching this show not only drove home my love for sheep but also sparked my interest in agriculture, specifically, regenerative and sustainable agriculture.
Since that spark, I have thrown myself into different organizations that prioritize sustainable agriculture, joined the local food co-op and even helped rebrand a non-profit focused on consumer education. However, in the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to gain experience on a sheep farm and more during lambing season. I currently volunteer with a fiber flock close to my home, but I was dying to be immersed in the daily life of raising sheep.
I tried a few unsuccessful routes when trying to find a place to volunteer. It wasn’t until my friend, a very experienced WWOOFer, told me to explore hosts with the program. And I am incredibly glad I did. I started looking for hosts who precisely needed help during lambing season and found Paddy and Louise’s profile in the UK and realized I had found the perfect opportunity should they accept my request. I had previously spent a year in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It’s a country I love and then having a chance to work on a farm there, what more could I ask for?
And truth be told, I got a lot more than I asked for. Showing up jet lagged on their farm, I was greeted immediately with excitement, and I knew this was going to be a good week. In addition, there was another volunteer, Ling, who was so kind and showed me the ropes as well. A few days later, we were joined by Avery, another fellow American for five days.
We worked together to help Paddy and Louise get the barn ready for lambs all while caring for the ewes and rams. I learned what to look for to see if a sheep was ready to give birth, and the needs ewes and lambs have right after birth, and I got good at opening and closing all the gates. I loved going into the barn to be greeted by tiny bleats from all the lambs that had been born.
Paddy and Louise were patient and kind with me and answered any questions I had. I loved working alongside Ling and Avery and we each got turns bottle-feeding the lambs, making the rounds in the fields on the quad bike, and mucking out stalls. I got to see first-hand what it takes to be a sheep farmer and have an even deeper appreciation for the work farmers do.
While we weren’t out in the fields with the sheep, Paddy and Louise took the three of us into Newcastle, a nearby town, and introduced us to their friends and favorite local pubs and coffee shops. The sense of community and feeling like a member of their family was incredible. After the past few years of feeling isolated because of the pandemic, it brought a sense of peace to join strangers in their lives and come out on the other side as friends.
There is something to be said about being immediately accepted and welcomed by strangers that is incredibly humbling. And that they trust you enough to care for their animals and work alongside them in their livelihood. It was great to commune with people and gain different perspectives on sheep farming, agriculture, and life all around.
Thank you so much Courtney for sharing your WWOOFing journey with us and for all of the fantastic photos too.
Courtney also runs a photography business on the side named CAT Prints Photography because her initials spell cat. She mostly focuses on portrait photography, however, she also loves photographing animals such as sheep and documenting her travels around the world.