The Rule of Benedict stipulates that monks of the order live simply, supporting themselves by utilizing whatever resources God has provided in the area where they live.

As many Cherokee County residents can attest, God has definitely blessed us with a lot of rocks. Riding around the Clear Creek Monastery’s land with Brother Joseph in his four-wheel-drive Toyota flatbed pick-up truck, a person really starts to notice just how many rocks there are out there.

But growing between those rocks are quite a few oak trees, which the monks convert into firewood and custom-made furniture with their sawmill and woodworking shop.

Those oak trees also produce a lot of acorns. Cattle don’t care much for acorns, but sheep love them.

“You could run four cows in here,” said Brother Joseph as he pulled up to a line of feed troughs in one of the less precipitous areas of the monastery’s ranch. “But these sheep – you can run the equivalent of 100 head of cattle.”

As a meat, lamb is much more valuable than beef, and the wool-less “hair sheep” the monks raise have a particularly mild taste.

“It’s doesn’t taste like mutton at all,” said Brother Joseph. “It’s more like veal.”

Brother Joseph said the monk are working to make their sheep operation a study in efficiency. The sheepdogs have their own feeder that the sheep can’t get into, so they don’t have to be fed every day.

The fencing was designed by Darryl Bailey at Sugar Tree Nursery, and costs $747 per mile, or 20 percent of the cost of barbed wire. The pen where the sheep are weighed, vaccinated, and loaded is designed to be operated by just one monk. And the hair sheep themselves simplify things as well, since they usually only “lamb” (give birth) in the spring, when they can care for their lambs without much assistance from the monks.

“The idea is to be super-low-maintenance,” said Brother Joseph. “So one guy can take care of 700 sheep.” (With the help of a few well-trained dogs, of course.)

The monks, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture and Research Branch, recently sponsored a hair sheep field day at the monastery, in hopes of inspiring other area ranchers to try their hand at raising hair sheep.

Brother Joseph said one of the experts at the field day proclaimed the monks’ hair sheep some of the healthiest he’d ever seen.

(Of course, as Brother Joseph pointed out, it was a record year for acorn production, so the sheep had an ample supply of food.)

Demand for the meat is pretty high. Just Monday evening, the monks were contacted by a Texas man offering to buy all of the frozen lamb they have on hand.



Check it out

The lamb raised at Clear Creek Monastery is locally available at Blessed Harvest Organic Food in Tahlequah, and through the Oklahoma Food Cooperative (www.oklahomafood.coop.)

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