Daphne Hogeweg (40) is a shepherd. ‘People think that animals are stupid, but if you really pay attention to them, and look more closely, you see that they are often more intelligent than people.’
Text: Sara Plat; Photograph: Jeroen van Kooten; Source: Broerstraat 5
‘As a child, I was crazy about animals. There are lots of stories in our family about how no-one knew where I was, and they would find me doing something like helping slugs to cross the road. I grew up in Amsterdam, and was sometimes overstimulated. Contact with animals helped me to calm down.’ Daphne Hogeweg studied social history at the UG. After her Bachelor’s degree, she went on to do a Master’s in Photographic Studies at Leiden, where she was trained to work in a science museum. ‘But I had my doubts. I wanted to work with animals, but not in a profession in which animals are harmed. And so I became a shepherd. You don’t exploit the sheep, they just spend the whole day eating, which they would do anyway’
Hogeweg now has 450 sheep, divided over two herds: one in the Waterleidingduinen in Noord-Holland and one on Texel, where she lives together with her partner Jesse, ‘a load of dogs, three horses, two rabbits, three goats and, part of the time, three children.’ Hogeweg and her sheep are hired by land owners, such as nature organizations, government agencies and private individuals, who are happy to make use of the sheep: ‘If you mow the grass, you always mow the insects, nests and amphibians too. But a sheep eats around them and even acts as a taxi for seeds and insects, which is better for the biodiversity. They are no more than fancy mowers, really.’
Hogeweg thinks that you can learn a lot from animals. ‘If you place yourself in the mind of an animal, you see a lot of communication happening. A sheep seems to have fewer facial expressions than carnivores because their eyes are at the sides of their head, but if you look closely, you see that they are very observant and clever. They help each other, they mourn together, but they also see right through me: if I get lost and seem uncertain, they’re gone.’
Hogeweg also works together with a coach to give courses to managers, who spend a day working with the herd. ‘It is often very confronting for the course participants. Sheep do not come with you just because you are the director – they can’t read the name tag. I once saw the herd fall in love with the secretary, they trusted her immediately and just followed her through the dunes.’
Hogeweg is happy with her career switch. ‘Especially on beautiful summer evenings, when it is just starting to get dark, everyone else has left and all of a sudden, the swifts start to skim over the herd to catch insects. Sometimes, you can hear a nightingale sing, or see a group of deer run past. And it is absolutely perfect when it has just rained. The sheep love the taste of freshly watered grass. Sheep also love giant hogweed, which grows well in the summer. In just a few minutes, they can clear a whole area of it. The sound that it makes – a hard crunch – is really satisfying. The days are long as a shepherd, because I only get to rest when it is dark, but when I see all those sheep eating with a kind of grin on their faces, those really are wonderful moments.’
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