Bethanee Jensen owns and operates Shepherd’s Fold, a sheep farm near Belgrave, Ont. Faith Today writer Amy Gabriel asked her how her work gives her perspective on Psalm 23.
FT: When did you start working with sheep, and what makes you love them?
BJ: I’ve wanted to farm as long as I could remember. I started with 19 ewes and a ram in 1994 and built my flock up to two hundred ewes. Later I ended up selling my flock, then I missed them so much I’m now raising feeder lambs.
Sheep are really nice animals to work with, very social. I raised a bottle-fed orphan lamb when I was a kid, and that was part of the reason why I always liked sheep. It used to follow me around. When I got off the school bus it would be waiting at the road for me.
Sheep can be stubborn. A lot of that is failure to communicate what you want them to do in a way that they will understand. You can never chase a sheep; they won’t go where you want them to go. You have to lead them. Usually a bucket of grain will get them to follow you wherever you want!
FT: How has caring for sheep affected the way you see God as “the good shepherd?”
BJ: When you’re birthing, those little lambs are so dependant and vulnerable. That’s the time especially that I think about the Good Shepherd.
FT: “I shall not want” – What kind of needs do sheep have?
BJ: Their basic needs are food and water, protection, sometimes assistance with birthing and parasites. When we talk about money being the root of all evil, quite often humans are obsessed with getting ahead financially and being popular. Sheep don’t have that. Their needs are very basic. It says in the Bible that if you have “food and raiment,” be content, and I think that’s something we could learn from sheep.
FT: “He restores my soul [life]” – Why would a sheep need its soul restored?
BJ: I think this refers to what they call casting in sheep. When a highly pregnant sheep lays down, if she stretches out and the lamb gets on the wrong side of her belly, she becomes cast. She can’t roll back over the lump of the lamb to stand on her feet. The sheep would die if the shepherd didn’t come roll her over. If we fall into temptation, it’s hard to get back without calling on the Lord for help. I refer back to the time when I got away from the Lord, and to me that was like being cast. I had to call on the Lord to help me get my life back together again.
FT: “He leads me in paths of righteousness” – What does leading a sheep look like?
BJ: Sheep have to learn to walk through the gate to get to new pasture. Every few days we give the sheep fresh pasture (rotational grazing). That reduces the parasites as well. We can’t stay stagnant or we will stagnate. We always have to be moving forward.
FT: “…in the presence of my enemies” – What kind of enemies do sheep face and what is involved in guarding them?
BJ: Our biggest threat in Canada would be probably coyotes, and we use a gun and fencing. We have guard animals like dogs, llamas or donkeys. Llamas can spit, bite and kick. A dog will fight, but usually just dogs’ presence will ward off a coyote. Like the presence of the Lord wards off the enemy.
FT: “You anoint my head with oil” – Why would a shepherd anoint a sheep’s head?
BJ: Flies will lay their eggs around the sheep’s nose, and the larva causes problems. We tend to needle our animals now to ward off parasites, but there are also formulas made with olive oil that keep the flies away, and that was the practice back then.
FT: How does shepherding connect with your faith?
BJ: I can see a lot of parallels as I’m working with the sheep. Sometimes you have a sheep that, no matter what you do, is going to get through a fence. It’s kind of like humans in that we’re so often tempted and everything looks greener on the other side of the fence, whether it is or not. The Lord has to chastise us sometimes to keep us where we should be going. Sheep don’t like to be by themselves. And we humans don’t want to stand out from the crowd or stand up for our beliefs if we’re going to be shot down. Sheep will only lie down if their needs are met. That is like the Lord supplying all our needs, and then we can lie down and rest in the assurance that He’s looking after us.
There’s a bond between sheep and shepherd. When I first got sheep, I had names for them all. When I had to butcher one or one died, I was devastated, so I learned not to get so close to them. But the Lord still gets close to us, and He hates to lose us. And when we die, we go to heaven to be with Him.
My brother-in-law is a pastor, and he learned one of his biggest insights from my sheep. One lamb got out and try as he might, he couldn’t get that lamb in. So he had to let a few sheep out, and then the lamb came in with the other sheep. That’s a parallel to us in the church. We can’t just expect others to come in by themselves. We have to go out and get them and come in with them.
Amy Gabriel is a freelance writer in Ontario The Biblical Mind, Providence, Wycliffe College's Insight magazine and The Canadian Jewish News. Amy Gabriel also provided a short profile of Bethanee Jensen which Faith Today published in our May/Jun 2023issue.