The first lighting sheep shepherd of the MBA program has graduated. “A modern sheep shepherd can not be shy. On a cycle path just outside the village of De Horst in Gelderland, a group of cyclists will stop. They put a bidon on their mouths. A scooter bike is enclosed, enclosed by a flock of 250 sheep. The driver looks desperately at Merijn Bakker (32), the sheep shepherd in service. “What should I do now?” She asks. “I can not drive them over?” Bakker pushes the sheep to the side.
Bakker’s sheep shovel grazes the berm of the cycle path and the adjacent old track. “They eat oaks, blackberries and nettles, but mostly grass. This prevents them from getting over the cycle path, “says Bakker, who works for a forestry farm.
Bakker is one of the first sheep shepherds in the Netherlands with a shepherd’s diploma. Last summer, the first fourteen sheep shepherds graduated, including Bakker. In 2015, a two-year part-time program began with Helicon Velp.
There is a shortage of sheep shepherds, says training coordinator Geert Willink – every year there should be ten to fifteen. “The occupational group is aging and shepherds sometimes flow to other jobs in greenery and nature management.” There are now about 150 professional shepherds.
In addition, the sheep shepherd’s profession has changed and that requires other skills, says Willink. “A herd is no longer just for the production of meat and wool. Municipalities, water boards and organizations such as Nature Monuments increasingly introduce sheep to natural greenery. ”
Take heath That is cultural landscape, typically Dutch, explains Bakker. “Sheep eat the grasses that hide the heath. But if heath is not buried, it disappears. That’s exactly what has happened since the 80’s. Only four percent of the original fields left. That is why there are more herds on the hill. ”
New is the demand for grazing in an urban environment, says Bakker. He stands with herds on heathlands as well as in roads, shores and parks of the municipality of Berg and Dal.
It’s better for nature to graze sheep instead of cutting away everything, Willink explains. “For example, sheep move seeds and insects that carry them in their fur. In addition, sheep leave the special plant species at rest, and there are animals coming back like birds, butterflies and insects. Grazing with sheep increases biodiversity. “Why is that important again? For a varied ecosystem and a colorful landscape, Willink says.
Baker, brown beard, sporty backpack, uses a dog to send his sheep. A border collie called Messel. When she hears “look back” she drives a leftover sheep to drive it to the group. Otherwise, they run hyperactively around the sheep so that they do not run into the nearby cornfields or cross the gate at the German border. Even though the neighbors do not have much to do. There is no tramp on the track. “Burned,” says Bakker. “It looks like nights, but it’s worse for the environment.”
What do the colored markings mean on the backs of the sheep? “The blue sheep are the rams,” explains Bakker patiently. “The yellow sheep are two weeks earlier than the green covered.”
Time to check if the sheep does something, there is not. He has to push them aside for the stuck bikers and scooters who regularly compliment the flock and dog: “Beautiful face!”. “You are so awake, you doll.”
Only racetrackers want to shoot from their shovel, says Bakker. He remembers a man who cried out on a herd on a herd of flock: “I am busy with a time trial!”The stereotype image of the old introverted man with beard that is difficult to speak, is no longer correct
The modern sheep shepherd should not be shy, says Willink. “The stereotype image of the old introverted man with beard that is difficult to speak, is no longer correct. Municipalities also introduce sheepskin herds for the fun of naturerecreations. That’s why you have to be able to tell about your work. “Bakker’s herd even has a Facebook page that keeps him informed of the location of the sheep:” The herd is currently grazing the pit. ”
It took a while before Bakker understood what his calling was. For the past ten years he was a dumpman, a moving man, a barman, a caterer and a factory worker. After studying the HAVO, he refused. “I’m too recalcitrant. Sitting behind a desk is nothing for me. ”
Five years ago he left his beard, as though he knew he would be sheep shepherd. But the quarter did not happen until he heard about the sheep shepherd training in Velp in 2015, where he was allowed to run a lot of internships. “I have something with sheep, amiable animals, and I would love to work outside. I was looking for freedom. ”
About 70 people reported themselves for the first year, says Willink. “Men and women: young people from the VMBO and also managers and accountants. From love for sheep and nature or looking for life outside of a stressful job at the office. There were many romantics who thought, “Nice, I’m going to get up with a bunch of sheep, sitting under a birch tree.” After the compulsory maturity days, the group became smaller, he said. “Sheep hats is a way of life. You are always responsible for the herd and you are paid little. It’s hard work. On stables you have to hoard with hay bales and shave the sheep. And you’ll go outside all day, even with bad weather. ”
Bakker’s working day is just over when the dents at the left hips of the sheep have disappeared. The pennies under the “hunger groves” are then filled, and so the sheep can walk back to the nightbox; nets under power. Baker walks out of his herd over a big road which leads to the village by chance. Behind the sheep is a procession of cars. Bakker does not feel the least leaning. “The road is for everyone. Also of sheep. “