In the early morning, before the sun has stretched out her arms to let any light into the day, when there’s still frost hanging in the air and you can see your breath when you walk outside, the sheep are waiting. They don’t always start their chorus of “FEED ME!” until the lights are flipped on, but they know what time it is. Their ruminant stomachs keep time better than Timex. They aren’t particular about who’s on the other end of the grain bucket, as long as there’s a grain bucket coming. They’ll cheer you on in a manner worthy of a packed stadium, and go to work on the corn as soon as it slides onto the bunk.

They stand against the bunk, jockeying for position, some of them moving around (because the corn is always better if someone else is eating it) and all of them enjoying it. This time of year, they’re eating for at least two, and often three or four. The lambs are due starting in January, and most of the ewes are starting to look quite pregnant. They aren’t miserable yet, just pregnant.

Even though the barn is open, it’s warm in by the feed bunk. The ewes are shoulder-to-shoulder, and once the corn is mostly gone, the hay gets piled in, smelling sweet and dusty. You can taste the memory of summer in the air, and the black noses dig through and find the leafy parts first, taking as much as they can in one bite.

Do we eat with such gusto everyday? Do we savor our bologna sandwiches at lunch for their reminder of childhood? Do we see the joy in our drink the way the ewes suck up the fresh water?

The hour that we sacrifice when it’s our turn to do chores is a reminder of all that we take for granted in our lives. The work we do in the barn is a physical outlet for the pent-up energy our lives demand us to forget. The sheep are the metaphor He used, and in tending them – in being the shepherd – we can’t help but think of the Gospel examples, and how much we have in common with the flock.