Swiss sheep aren't known for their wool. But they still play a vital role in the Alpine ecosystem: that of agile and incredibly efficient lawnmowers.
Which is exactly why Claire Jeannerat and her husband Damien began farming in 2014. From their farm in Crans Montana, they raise rare and indigenous breeds of sheep and goats that are highly adapted to the Alpine environment. On any given day, the animals can be found nibbling everywhere from grassy pastures and the occasional neighbor's garden to the steepest of Alpine slopes—all of which Claire shares with the world through her much-loved Instagram account, The Swiss Shepherdess.
Claire and her husband are among the last farmers in Switzerland to continue the ancient tradition of transhumance, which involves moving the flocks by foot over multiple days and long distances to and from their summer pastures high in the Alps. Wool Channel founder Clara Parkes catches up with Claire just a few days before she and Damien embark for the season.
They talk about what led Claire to leave a successful career in hospitality and hotel management to become a full-time first-generation farmer. And Claire shares some secret tips from the new project she's begun with her twin sister Kate. Called "How Being More Goat Can Support Your Resilience and Wellbeing," the 60-minute interactive webinar combines Kate's professional training as a resilience expert with the invaluable life lessons Claire has learned from her animals—in particular, the goats. Details and tickets for the July 27, 2021 session here.
Voices in Wool is made possible by members of The Wool Channel. To find out more, and to learn how you, too, can join the flock, go to thewoolchannel.com/membership.
Clara (host) (00:01):
Why would someone quit a corporate life and move to the country to become a first-generation farmer? What is life like on the other side? And what can we learn from the animals? I'm Clara Parkes, and I'm joined by one of my very favorite people on Instagram, Claire Jeannerat, known and beloved by many as The Swiss Shepherdess. From her farm based in Crans Montana, she and her husband Damien raise over 400 sheep and 120 goats, with a focus on traditional and rare indigenous breeds. And in just a few days, they'll begin their annual migration on foot high into the Alps to their mountain pastures for the summer. It's an experience you don't want to miss. So if you don't already follow her at The Swiss Shepherdess now is a good time to start. Claire welcome. And first of all, I want to thank you so so much for taking time out of a very busy day in preparation for a very busy period of time to talk to me, and to talk to the wool lovers of the internet. So thank you.
Claire J (01:03):
It's a great pleasure to be here. I'm honored and, um , it's wonderful to be able to share what we're doing. So I'm truly excited about it. Thank you for the invitation.
Clara (host) (01:12):
So I have been wanting to ask you, I'm fascinated how somebody with a background in hospitality, management, and administration, and a spouse who is a fully qualified landscape gardener. Now that makes a little bit more sense, but how they would flip into having a significant ... what do we have here, over 400 sheep, 120 goats, several cows and horses. That's a huge leap. Could you walk us through how that worked and how... What people thought when you told them you were going to do this?
Claire J (01:47):
Well, I am from a hospitality background in my own education, but my dad was a farmer, but he was a farmer in the UK. And, uh, life is very different here in Switzerland and how we farm is very different. So I still consider myself a first-generation farmer. And my husband is yes, obviously, a landscape gardener, but he grew up with a certain amount of animals on what used to be an old farmhouse and always had a passion for animals. And when we moved to the village that we lived in, as a landscape gardener, he was asked to look after a lot of the land around the village. To kind of cut the grass in the season, because we have a great fire risk up here because it's very dry. And he always thought it was such a shame because this grass could have been used for animals rather than just being cut and left like that.
Claire J (02:33):
And so bit by bit, you know, the idea started as a little spark and then it kind of started rolling, you know, and then it becomes a big snowball. And eventually he came back with three goats and three sheep. And I told him off because he was only supposed to come back with three sheep. And I said, what are you doing? What are you doing? And then 10 years later here we are with, uh, 400 sheep. And as you said, you know, 120 goats, you know the figures well. But, um, I didn't initially follow him into that lifestyle because I was working in hospitality still. And then I lost my stepfather about six years ago, who was a really, you know, a big figure in my life. And it really made me take a step back and think about what I was doing with my life, what I wanted to do with my life and where I was putting my energy. And I quit my job. And I joined my husband and I've never looked back. So I went from office to outside in a click of a finger. And honestly it was the best decision I made.
Clara (host) (03:25):
It's interesting, because I think some of your viewers might think that you live in a cabin up in the mountains, off the grid, homeschooling your children, you know, yodeling in the morning and having, you know, fresh... But you actually live in a town, right?
Claire J (03:42):
We live in a village. I mean, there's about, I think between 650 to 800 people who live in the village that we live in. And what you've got to understand is that mountain farming goes very much by the seasons and it's a very traditional affair. So, you know, we have our farm and that's where we're based in the winter. But, um, once spring comes, we're basically nomads in many ways because we're having to, you know... Mountain grazing is not a big thing. You don't have big plots of land like you would have in the US or in the UK, or even even much flatter countries. We are having to really kind of look for plots, right left and center, moving our animals to those plots throughout a considerable number of months of the year. So in spring and in the end of October to the beginning of winter, and then the next part is actually moving up to the high Alpage grazing, which you do throughout the summer.
Claire J (04:34):
So in the summer, if you like, traditionally we follow what shepherds have always done, which is moving up to the Alpage and living in the mountain huts. So there we are off the grid, the kids aren't in school because they've got the school holidays, you know, and that's where we're really kind of living what the traditional life was. But meanwhile, we're kind of trying to find, let's say a happy medium between modern and traditional, you know, and trying to make it work with having traditional ethics and traditional values, but in a modern world.
Clara (host) (05:04):
And now your husband, he has managed to find a cell phone that works?
Claire J (05:08):
For the first year he never had one that worked when he was up there. And I can tell you, that's quite hairy scary because you know, you're living with mother nature and the elements. Um, and there are, you know, we don't have all our animals up where he stays. So there are considerable. I have all the goats on the other side. So whenever there was a disaster or any emergency, he, he just wasn't available. Which was wonderful for him! That's everybody's dream, isn't it? But not so wonderful for me. No. So made sure we found the right phone provider for that one.
Clara (host) (05:37):
And by then you had small children, right?
Claire J (05:40):
I mean, you know, we started this venture about 10 years ago and our son is nine and a half. So I mean, it all started our life completely changed about 10 years ago, really in many ways.
Clara (host) (05:50):
It's beautiful to imagine that this is the only world your kids know. Like for you, it was a big flip. For them, this is their world.
Claire J (05:59):
100% natural. I mean, if I explained some of the stories to you and it's, again, that's old and new worlds coming together... You know, my kids grow up listening to, in my tummy, listening to the bells of the animals on the Alpage. You know, we were living in a caravan at that point in the summer, quite often, going up and staying with the animals like that, you know. And nine months pregnant, I was living like that. And my youngest son, when he was born, he was at home. I was at home with him and our chalet and Damien was up in the alpage. He heard the bells ringing and he turned his head to listen to really listen to the bells because obviously there was a recognition and that, you know, those moments are just so strong to live. You can see that your children are literally immersed from birth in what you're doing. It's incredible.
Clara (host) (06:46):
Can you explain, because not a lot of people outside of Switzerland understand how the alpages work in terms of like... On your Instagram stories, you'll point and say our alpage begins there. So is it, is it allotted to you? Do you apply for it? How does that work?
Claire J (07:01):
Uh, it's it depends. I mean, there's, I think there's a number of different ways that it works. There's some private ones, so who own private by private people. And then you have what we have as communes and communes, like a village or a... It's not yet a county, but it's like a district, and they can own plots of land as well. So you can have a contract with them and you upkeep the land for them. Or it can be an association, like a wildlife association who own an alpage as well. And then we have one, we have two alpages, one is owned by a consortium, a local consortium of villages. And then the other one is owned privately by, um, the wildlife association of Switzerland. And we rent it from them. So it really works different ways, you know? And when we have really close to home one, we have, um, 70 kilometers away from our house as well.
Claire J (07:51):
The reason we have that one is because it's just so wild and so lost that, you know, there's a great appeal to that as well. The way it works is really finding the place for you. And that's it really. Where I, where I work with the goats up in Crans Montana, there's actually three different other alpages in the area cause it's a big mountain. Whereas where Dameon is based in the summer. Um, the alpage that's further away, 70 kilometers away. We are the only one on that mountain. We're the only people. And it's just so remote that you can be up there for four days and not see another living person apart from, you know, the family. So it's quite incredible.
Clara (host) (08:27):
Would you say Switzerland is friendly to agriculture?
Claire J (08:32):
Very. I think we are... Without, because obviously you'd have to fact check this, but I'm pretty sure I'm right. I think we are one of the most financially supported sectors for agriculture in the world. And there are really, really strict rules around that. You have to follow a course, Damien do a bridging course of two years from landscape qualifications to be recognized as a farmer, you get financial support for grazing land for having certain types of animals for helping biodiversity. You know, there's a number of ways where you can actually get paid from the government. What the government do is all land owners who have, be it building land or agricultural land, have to pay tax on that land to have it kept in a decent state. And part of that tax is then actually given to farmers to maintain the land. So it's a very clear way of working and it means that farmers can really flourish in a way where we wouldn't be able to do in other countries. We get much more support.
Clara (host) (09:39):
That's what I was curious about. So it is actually possible for you to have a family running a farm. I mean, I know you work extremely hard, but it's possible?
Claire J (09:50):
Yes, it is. It is possible. I mean, I think like any, in any business, you have to remember to a certain point that it is a business and you have costs that you have to consider. And, you know, our overheads are very large and farming, but we are now actually surviving or farming and farming alone for our family. So it is possible. And that feels amazing to be able to do that. And I wish that that was the case for everybody, because I think it allows us to be able to farm with incredibly high standards, you know, in terms of animal welfare. Even in terms of emotional standards of, you know... We don't have to decide on the fate of an animal because they aren't the biggest producer of babies or anything like that, you know, like be it a lamb or be it a kid.
Claire J (10:40):
We have the luxury of being able to choose, you know, if we have affinities or if we see the use in an animal, like I was talking about the fact that we're nomads before we have certain animals that we actually only just use because they're leaders and they lead the flock or the herd for us, and they have that closeness with us. And they provide nothing else for us but a leader who we know is always going to be there. If we call them up, they're going to bring the flock or they're going to bring the herd and, you know, that's, that's the value that they bring. But to be able to see it on that level in comparison to your basic farming is, is pretty incredible. I think.
Clara (host) (11:13):
Definitely. So you breed traditional and rare indigenous breeds of sheep and goats. Is that for the breeding market? Do you also sell for meat?
Claire J (11:23):
Well, the, the, the main, uh, for us, the main reason that we have the breeds apart from the fact that, um, it's amazing to be able to keep these breeds going, you know, um, is that, and there's also financial support to keep these breeds going because they're known to be breeds that obviously are one of them is nearly extinct in the 1980s, the red of valet sheep was virtually extinct. So I mean, um, there is a certain amount of pride for us to do that. But we don't have the same market as they do in the UK with like the Herdwicks and things like that, it doesn't work like that. Um, really for us, the benefit of having these breeds and we have tried other breeds is that they fit so well into the mountain life and what we need to be able to do with them, that we wouldn't really consider any other breed because it just doesn't make sense.
Claire J (12:12):
So for example, the Valais blacknose sheep and the Red of Valais, they are perfectly adapted to the conditions of the mountain. They follow us very easily, you know, once you've got that trust and that relationship, that rapport going, when we need to move them by foot, they graze in a group. You can leave them in a place in the mountain. And if you come back normally the next day, and this is what farmers and shepherds have done in the past is they leave them for weeks on end on their own. You will find them again. You know, they're not going to just wander off to another canton or even another country across the mountains. They're going to be in the same place. And so these are characteristics that are so important to us, that it makes sense for our way of farming to keep these, these indigenous breeds.
Clara (host) (12:57):
And then are you, you're still building the flock or do you sell animals?
Claire J (13:01):
We, I think we've got to, because we've been going for 10 years and obviously we've just finished our own farm. We've now gently, slowly, but surely reached our capacity, I think in terms of animals. And, um, what we will do now is we, I think for, for example, next year, normally, but plans always change. We won't be lambing next year because we've reached full capacity and we're just going to take a year breather from now on. Cause we had a bumper crop. We've never had so many and so many twins popping out right. Left and center. So I think now we're going to take a break. We're going to go with it the way it is. And we'll probably restock. Um, because we would've been in the farm for a full year at that point, and we can see better how we can use the space.
Clara (host) (13:51):
That's right, now, it was December that you moved into the new barn, right?
Claire J (13:58):
Mm-hmm, mm-hmmm. Momentous moment for us. Momentous after five years.
Clara (host) (13:59):
It's a beautiful, beautiful...a wonder, really.
Claire J (14:00):
Well, you know, some people that were actually working on the building of it and they didn't know what it was, they were, they thought it was a hotel. Is this a hotel? No, this is a farm. I mean, great standards. But interestingly, very basic in terms of technology, because Damien, the shepherd is what I always call him, he wants to have that contact with the animals. He doesn't want to lose that contact. He wants to be able to go and feed them and check on them to have that closeness, to see kind of how they are. Health-wise how they are. Happiness is really important to him. So he wasn't really, when we were building it, the idea was never to have, you know, the latest technology to make the job easier. It was to have a great space for the animals, but to keep traditions going.
Clara (host) (14:50):
Now, I know that you've said that there's no real market for their wool...
Claire J (14:54):
We did steer the sheep actually in February. Um, all of them, it's not easy in the Swiss market wool. And I don't think it's easy anywhere, but particularly here because we virtually have no mills left. And the price, if I, you know, I'm not sure of the exact figures, but I believe in 2007, the price of wool was something like 12 between 12, 15 Francs a kilo, which represents about, let's say $10 a kilo. And we're now not. I mean, we're now for certain, for black wool, it's at 30 cents. So, you know, I mean, it's just gone downhill. And before, the wool industry in Switzerland was actually very much supported by the Swiss military. So the army. Because Swiss wool is not known for its quality in terms of knitting. It's not like Merino wool or anything like that it's a much more coarse wool and they will, you know, often use for felting.
Claire J (15:47):
And so they were using it for rugs and they were using it for slippers and they were using it for kind of tough clothes. And once that closed down, there was no market left and everything really shut down and we're starting to have initiatives to try and create an interest around Swiss wool and revalorize... that's the French word. I never know the English word for that, but to kind of, let's say relaunch Swiss wool on the market and its value. So it's re-seen for having certain value, but they remain really small endeavors, um, very much county and you know, not big things. And, um, you will have to see how that goes, but the interest is actually there and there is a passion behind it. And I do hope that in the next 10 years, when we talk again, I can say big things have happened. Personally. I'm actually involved in a project right now trying to develop a regional project for wool and the transformation of wool, but it's very much in the early stages at the moment. I know. Um, and we'll see, so calling all investors, artisans, anybody who's interested, do contact me because we really want to get that going. And we hope to get some government support with that as well.
Clara (host) (17:02):
Amazing and it's ironic, well, and, Switzerland is one of the greatest producers of textile equipment. So that's doubly ironic that all the mills have left, but yet you have the expertise to build very cutting-edge equipment, but still...
Claire J (17:18):
I know. They're just... Because... It all disappeared like that. I don't think, you know, nobody's had the need to kind of really search any further to do anything about it. And I think, you know, I love cause I'm English. Obviously I love going back to England and seeing how forward thinking they are and how entrepreneurial they have to be in many ways as farmers just to survive. Um, so I'm always trying to bring things back a bit from there to kind of re revamp the way we think here, because you know, it's great to have government support, but sometimes having government support so much means that you don't have to look beyond the end of your nose, so to speak.
Clara (host) (17:55):
It's true. And I know in the U S when the government support, the subsidies for wool, ended, it was a horrible period of time, but it was also moving people away from just producing, whatever, because the price was guaranteed, back into... This has to be something of value.
Claire J (18:14):
It is, it is. And there's no easy solution to it. It's a long-term project. That's for sure.
Clara (host) (18:19):
Are you seeing as that, that crazy Brit who lives down the street, who's bringing out these ideas to us. Are they open to what you're saying?
Claire J (18:26):
Um, you know, I think people are starting to listen more. There has been a definite effect because where we live for the moment agritourism isn't a really big thing, which is a shame because we live in a very touristic area and agritourism is becoming a really big thing. So it's just something that hasn't yet been developed in our area. And obviously we are first-generation farmers. So we're really motivated. I'm not saying that anybody else isn't, but we're really passionate, really motivated, you know, a young family. So in many ways we tick quite a lot of the boxes of being people who can help because we are the consumer as well as the producer in many ways? So, you know, I really want to get involved, uh, schools involved in, wool, you know, education around wool workshops on what we can do with wool and that type of thing, because, you know, I live in a small village, but even in the village that I live in, you would be so surprised how little contact the average kid has with animals and nature.
Claire J (19:27):
And not nature, but more animals. So they don't know the difference between a goat or sheep. You know, they're scared of dogs. And I find that such a shame. And I think that that's something that, you know, from school, we need to start re-educating children about because it it's our, it's our heritage. It is taking things back to basics and, you know, it's what life should really be all about. And we have that advantage of living in a place where we can do it. So it's really important. And it's great because the school my children go to, I can see there are changes. Nature... School in nature, and taking them to the farmers and understanding what the farmers do, but it's recent changes. And, you know, I just felt like we really lost contact with what it should be all about, and what the basics are and taking life back to its simplicity.
Clara (host) (20:12):
Which dovetails very beautifully into a new endeavor that you and your twin sister Kate have been working on. And that is a 60 minute interactive webinar. Now, I'm very curious about this, even just based on the title alone, it's, uh, how being more goat can improve your resilience and wellbeing. Could you tell us more about this?
Claire J (20:36):
So I can. This all came about from discussions that Kate and I were having, obviously I think more, you know, what we've recently lived in terms of COVID has taken it, made everybody take a step and think a bit more about the way they're living, what they're doing with their lives and everything like that. And actually my twin sister is a coach and a resilience expert, and has been practicing in this field for 10 years and has treated or worked with over a thousand different people in resilience. And I never really thought that we would kind of dovetail as you say any way around that, but I have an Instagram account. And on my Instagram account, I share quite often what I find beautiful, what brings me peace and what brings me joy in my daily life, on the farm, in nature with the animals, with the kids.
Claire J (21:20):
And, uh, you know, I didn't really expect anything from it, but just the joy of being able to put it out there, because it's amazing to be able to share what makes you feel good. And it had a pretty incredible effect on other people, particularly during these difficult times and more and more, I was getting messages from people saying, thank you so much for sharing what you see. It's, it's my escapism in the day, I've had a hip operation. I can't leave my bed. So I traveled with you or, you know. Even my dad found out about my account, and he's 86, from his neighbor. Because he said, I'm bored. I don't know what to do. I'm just, you know, I'm beside myself. I can't have any social contact. I can't do anything. What do you do, David? In these times? He said, well, my wife and I, we are on Instagram and we follow this wonderful lady called The Swiss Shepherdess.
Claire J (22:10):
She sits down and she watches it. And it's like her piece of the day. And she comes out of it as another person. And my dad said, that's my daughter. It's just incredible from sharing the experiences like this. What I didn't realize it was, what it was doing for me was it was helping my resilience. So, you know, helping my resilience and actually through doing it for myself and sharing it, it was helping other people's resilience in many ways. And so my sister said, but this is what I do. This is me. This is what I live for. And really what you do. You don't realize it, but you're doing the same thing just in a different way or the other side of it as well is we were talking about how, you know, and recently it's been really the case with the spring that we've had and everything, but to be a farmer, you have to be incredibly resilient because you're dealing with situations so much uncertainty that, uh, you know, if you don't find a way of taking a step back of deconnecting, of recharging yourself, well, you're, you're, you're not going to survive because it's tough.
Claire J (23:12):
It's really tough. And, um, the third and final thing that really pushed us onto it was well as humans, we make life incredibly complicated for ourselves. We really do. You know, and sometimes we can learn a lot from animals because they have a simplified life and they live it in a simple way. And it's all about meeting their wants and their needs. And maybe we need to take a step back and just look at what they do, because they're very happy in their lives and say, well, okay, so maybe we need to be more like that. So that's how that came about. That's how "being more goat" came about. Because, little background, goats are actually the most farmed animal in the world. And you wouldn't think it, you would think it would be sheep or... But it's actually goats because they adapt, survive and thrive in the most difficult conditions. So you will find a goat and every country in the most difficult areas of the country and they are doing their thing and they're doing their thing and they're happy. And so this is why they're the most farmed animals. So goats are my heroes and I will be reincarnated as a goat.
Clara (host) (24:12):
Definitely. I would want to be reincarnated as one of your goats. I love how they all just wander over and flop on you. And I it's, I know I can feel my heart rate slow and then staring out... I know a friend of mine had to move away from the ocean. And she said watching your videos spanning this beautiful valley, it got her through missing the ocean, like that has become her ocean.
Claire J (24:39):
This is one of the things that my sister actually says, which is really interesting is that part of, I mean, resilience, we are actually as humans, incredibly resilient animals, much more than we give ourselves credit for. And resilience really means our ability to adapt and cope with difficulty. But what we forget about quite often in our human mindset and the modern world is actually that we need to recover from that stress and anxiety. And we've been not very good at doing that. So we're very good at surviving, but we're not very good at recovering. So topping ourselves back up. And that's where we get to that situation of feeling like we're going to burn out that we just can't cope anymore. And that it's all too much. And that's what you're never going to get an animal actually doing. And she was saying to me that one of the most important things is for a lot of people is nature connections.
Claire J (25:29):
It's been proven time and time again, that nature is good for your mental health. Okay. So we know that, but not everybody has access to nature. Like maybe I would, or you do. So what do you do at that point? Well, you don't have to be in nature. It can be like your friend watching your videos. So watching the ocean through you, you know, just having that video and remembering the things that you felt good about when you were in front of the ocean, the smell, the sounds, the sights, you know, you're evoking memories that are, have a good feeling about them. And that's what we call actually a recovery moment. And those are some of the little things that you do in a day that actually build you back up and that kind of bust that stress or that anxiety. And I think the most important thing about it is actually awareness of what those little moments can do for us and that we're living them as well.
Claire J (26:20):
So in any day, you know, like your friend is just recognizing, that moment makes me feel good. I'm going to remember it, I'm holding onto it. And I'm going forward. You know, looking at the goats, calming and looking at the view and you can feel you're, you're letting go letting go of your breath, the relaxing of the shoulders. It's the first thing that you feel relaxing of kind of getting rid of that stress or letting that go or that anxiety go and lifting yourself up again. You know, it's, it's the key sign of this is a different feeling. I'm letting myself feel better.
Clara (host) (26:52):
And so you would say that is a small thing that you can do every day to try to rebuild your resilience?
Claire J (26:57):
A hundred percent. I think we, in the webinar, what we always start off by saying is this. And it has to be really simple stuff. Because I know that yoga is really great and there's incredible value in yoga. There's incredible value in meditation, but for myself with my life, I just don't have the time to fit that in, to learn it, to fit it in. You know, I'm constantly running around with kids. If it's not kids, it's with animals, if it's not with animals, it's the next thing. There's always something going on. So I need easy, quick fixes that are still going to help me. So what we are really talking about is those quick fixes. So how we start off a webinar is by saying, so what's one thing that you found Clara, what's the one thing you found really hard over the last couple of months, weeks or days?
Clara (host) (27:40):
Not being able to travel anywhere.
Claire J (27:43):
Okay. So when you've been feeling like that and finding that difficult, what's one thing that's helped you.
Clara (host) (27:51):
This is going to sound very meta, but watching your videos, watching videos of elsewhere and connecting with that place.
Claire J (27:58):
Okay. But so you you're recognizing a problem or how you feel and you're being aware of that. So you're not pushing it aside. You're giving it the space it needs, but you're also at the same time recognizing something that makes you feel good. That's your little tool. That's just a simple little tool. And you know, that works for you. So when you're not feeling, okay, make sure you take the time to do that. That's also really simple stuff like practicing self care. And I, I, for one have been quite bad about that during parts of, of the lockdown and the whole COVID saga, because one of the first things that we let go when we're not feeling okay, is self care. Eating too much chocolate or this or that. And we can have times where that does make us feel good. And I don't think we can be really difficult or hard on ourselves about difficult times, but it's actually just taking the time to stop and think, right?
Claire J (28:47):
Where am I at in my thoughts right now, where is my body at? Ooh, I need to drink something basic need, okay. So let me drink. I'm hungry or I'm tired, but taking this time to actually stop and listen to our bodies, which we're really bad at doing, having that glass of water, giving yourself a rest, having something to eat because when we don't do those things, actually it's been proved that we're really hard on ourselves. Mentally, even more like that little voice that we hear in our brain. That mean voice that saying, you're not good at this. You're not good at that. You're, you're not good at anything, it's multiplied when we're not practicing the basic needs. So to make sure that you're actually doing that, you've got to stop and listen. And that's why I bring it back to goats as well is because a goat, if it needs to drink, it's going to drink.
Claire J (29:33):
If it needs to eat, it's going to eat. If it needs to sleep, it's going to sleep. Ultimately, it's going to notice, what do I notice around me and what do I need? And it will react to that. And that's why they're so good at surviving and thriving. We in modern times now, modern life, we have this mentality that we have to go, go, go, go, go, go, go the whole time. We don't even give ourselves a time to think, stop and notice how we're feeling or to even notice what we need because we're too busy trying to achieve all the time. It's as simple as that.
Clara (host) (30:04):
Don't have a critic. Well, maybe they do. We don't know, but I don't think they have a critical voice in their heads saying you shouldn't be eating so much grass. Your, your waist is getting very large. Like they don't...
Claire J (30:13):
No, they don't. They have lots of self compassion and self love for themselves. They believe in themselves This is why I can talk about goats forever. And there's so many things that they do, right. That we can copy. And they have also incredible emotional intelligence. They have incredible sense of community having their network saying when we need help, all of these things that they do that we need to do as well. And we need to not be scared. That's a really important thing for your resilience is knowing when you've got a problem to go and talk to somebody about it. But even if it's just a friend and you don't need advice, but just to actually voice it, that age-old saying is a problem shared is a problem halved. And also, you know, if you do need help to reach out and not be scared to do it because we have this image that asking for help is a bad thing, that we will be judged for it that, um, you know, people don't want to help us that we're, we're being annoying or we're asking people for too much. But if you actually think about when somebody asked you for help, how did it make you feel?
Clara (host) (31:10):
Claire J (31:12):
Exactly. This is it. We need to stop being so scared to do these things.
Clara (host) (31:17):
It's true, I've never seen an animal afraid to ask for help. If more, it's just been trying to figure out how to communicate its need, but not out of fear.
Claire J (31:25):
One of the kind of big characters that I have on my Instagram or on the farm is Mary. Mary was a goat that came to us because she got rejected by her mom last Easter. So 2020, we were in the middle of lockdown and we, um, my husband brought her back and we really thought she was a goner, you know? And it was, it was a bit depressing really because you thought, oh, well, I'm looking after this little thing and she's not going to survive. And it was pretty incredible because we really threw all of our love and attention into her because we had the time to do it. You know, we didn't have the time to go out and see friends or anything, and really hoped that she was going to survive. And then just one day she turned a corner and there she was, Mary, full of life on the way up rather than on the way down.
Claire J (32:09):
And it was really incredible because she was living with us. So she was living with my kids, my husband and I, the dogs and the cats, and really, really quickly, incredibly quickly, she started identifying different people in the family for different things. So the kids were for play. The dog was for a snuggle buddy. My husband and I were for safety and food. And the cat was danger. Danger. Don't go near him. And it was incredible. She was the one, I think that started my journey on how we could be more goat because she to that situation and she didn't just adapt. She thrives and she made it really clear to each one of us, what she needed from us and when she needed it. And she's now one years old, the most beautiful goats you could possibly imagine sassy character and loved by all. And she was the one that turned that around, you know? And that's when I think like, wow, the goat was basically pretty much, 90, I would say 80% on the way out, probably gonna die. If you turn it around and wrapped us all around her finger like that, and just have the best life that ever was that was made by her because she identified each person for her needs and her wants, well, we've got it all wrong. We need to be more goat.
Clara (host) (33:21):
I think right now this is so crucial. That part of this sort of collective on edge that I'm sensing is nobody's allowing themselves the time or space - and sometimes we don't have, we're being expected to go right back to how things were a year and a half ago - that there's no time to process what we've just been through. And so I think what you're doing with this webinar in terms of giving us tools to not even self-soothe, but self-heal, it's extraordinarily vital.
Claire J (33:52):
I totally agree. We're just not good at it at all. Because to come back to one of the things I've found from doing these webinars is that everybody's working from home. So initially what I was saying to people was we'll take that time that you would have been traveling from work to home and or home to work and work to home, to do something for you. And what I found actually 90% of the time was that people were actually working harder at home because they feel that they had more to prove. So they were working through even their traveling times and above and beyond. So they've never been in a closer state of actually burning out because of work than they are from working at home. And now we're facing another crisis from people being alone and having to get back into the social environment of being back in work and all the expectations that has as well. So we're kind of going from difficult situation where we've pushed ourselves to the very limit to readapting and to another really difficult situation without any downtime or giving ourselves the time to recover. So it's tough for a lot of people, I think.
Clara (host) (34:52):
Yeah, and you're not allowed to acknowledge it. Because we're still alive and we should be very, very grateful. And we are, but at the same time, this was a profoundly difficult period of time to move through. And, and again, I think that's why people like you have been such a source of respite for a lot of us just you've given us those moments to pause through your animals, through your view, to reconnect with things that do ground.
Claire J (35:19):
It's kind of like a win-win for me as well. You guys are giving back to me, so it's not just what I'm doing, but it's thank you to you all as well. Because you guys give me so much support and to have that feedback also does me so much good as well. And to have the interactions and the conversations that I have for me what's been tough ,to answer the question I asked you, is being away from family for the last two years now. And I think if I hadn't had those interactions with people that I've had through sharing what I see, I wouldn't be doing as well as I'm doing now, that's for sure
Clara (host) (35:52):
Your next webinar, I see it's going to be July 27th. I will post a link so that people can find more information about how to partake and get a nice cookie of healing to take with them out into the world.
Claire J (36:07):
Hopefully, hopefully easy solutions for people we want to help people, to kind of really make it easy to integrate into their lives. I think that's the most important thing for kind of little small steps like that, that build up to kind of really helping.
Clara (host) (36:20):
And then speaking of fun or challenging as the case may be, you have a very big Trek coming up, your transhumance. So for those who don't know about that yet, what is the transhumance? What does that mean for you? And what kind of challenge does this pose for you?
Claire J (36:35):
Well, firstly, I have to really congratulate you on your accent because it was very French. Very clever of you because it's not easy, but transhumance is a type of pastoralism where you are moving the animals through the seasons from one grazing ground to another. And it has to be a longer journey. So it's not going to be just be through a day or anything like that. It's a decent amount of miles or kilometers and a decent amount of days. And ours is actually, it's getting longer and longer because we're doing it in smaller stages. So it's not as much pressure for the animals, but we're starting it next Saturday. And what we will do is go from our village down into the valley. And then my husband will be living with the flock and sleeping with them for two weeks and moving them bit by bit.
Claire J (37:22):
And we will be with him, but I will be going backwards and forwards. Cause obviously we still have animals, the goats, we haven't been able to put up at the alpage here. And then we have the big push after two weeks where we're going to be doing 50 kilometers in three or four days up to the alpage. And it's all by foot. That's the main thing, it's by foot. So it's actually, UNESCO's now recognized it as a heritage. It's disappearing as a practice. Um, it's more done in Italy still and a bit in France as well. And I believe we're one of the only ones still doing in Switzerland. So we're taking them from the lower pastures, if you like is what we call to the higher pastures. And then we will do it once again, but the other way round and probably quicker in October to, um, home. Or around home.
Clara (host) (38:06):
So this is when you are driving large flocks of animals, not only along rivers and through peaceful places, but through towns. How did people respond to that? Do you ever to animals ever just run off?
Claire J (38:21):
Um, it tends to be not in the towns that they run off, to be honest because it's not their environment and there's no grass. Uh, they tend to follow the leader there. It's normally in people's gardens, oops! What's your name? Bo peep! Bye! We'll get you some lamb! But, um, it tends to be in a town. The thing that's difficult in the towns is traffic. So you have to make sure that you're doing it the right time. So for example, on Sunday, we'll be leaving at five o'clock in the morning to make sure that we're missing everybody. And um, and then we do try and avoid towns, honestly, as much as possible. Cause it can be quite stressful obviously with cars and stuff, but cars do tend to just stop and 90% of the time they're stopping to film anyway. So I do think that they won't be too bothered because they're kind of, you know, they're going, "Ooooohhhhh!" Things that they've never seen before and all of a sudden you see your face all over social media going, oh, you'll never guess what I saw. And it's quite impressive because the sheep have bells [begin the sound of sheep, bells, and people's voices calling them on] so the sound of the hooves and the road and the baahing, and us shouting, "allez!" You know, the famous "allez!" That you know, so well.
Clara (host) (39:33):
You have people helping you so that you can have somebody up front to kind of like, "coming thorugh!" And then someone in back...
Claire J (39:41):
Yeah, on the whole, we do. Although it depends on the places. Sometimes, you know, you've just gotta be all hands on deck and they see you coming in that's it.
Clara (host) (39:49):
The tunnels. Can you tell us about the tunnels?
Claire J (39:53):
That is the thing. Well, where we go up to the, um, for the alpage further away, 70 kilometers away, the Swiss being very Swiss actually just blew holes in the mountain to make a road as you do. They won't take no for an answer, as in "I'll find a solution to make it work." And I, I very much admire that. So yes, they've blown holes into the mountain and it's made this tiny little path. Which is... You can't get more death defying if you tried. I believe I saw a path, a road somewhere in, like, Bolivia or something, that was worse. But this one's pretty special. And you've just got to hope you don't come across any cars there because crossing two cars is really difficult. And they have this whole load of tunnels that I've actually filmed three at once. And I think even by car takes over five minutes to go through the tunnels. It's a decent amount of time. So we go through those tunnels with 400 sheep [sounds of sheep and bells] and the bells echoing and everything like that, you know, it's really... I think all of us come out of there whooping from joy and crying from the experience. Because it's like nothing else you can possibly do. But it's, it's that moment when you arrive, you know, you're nearly there.
Clara (host) (41:03):
Your tail starts to wag. So how can we support you during your transhumence? Do you like being cheered on?
Claire J (41:12):
I love being cheered on! There's nothing I love more than "go go go!" Actually, it's incredible. The response we get to the transhumence. It seems to touch so many hearts and souls. So my account tends to blow up on Instagram during the transhumance. And I just, I kind of film as much as I can because I really want to share it, but I don't, I'm sorry to everybody or anybody who writes, I don't get back to replying for quite a while, because it's such an intense time. But yes, cheerleading all the way we love it.
Clara (host) (41:40):
Okay, so everybody, you have your marching instructions: cheer and don't expect any reply because she's very busy. She's moving animals and going through tunnels!
Claire J (41:48):
Yeah. So don't be offended if you don't get a reply straight away. That's all.
Clara (host) (41:52):
My second question is kind of a bigger picture question. It's how can we support you in what you're doing in the bigger picture?
Claire J (42:00):
Wow, amazing. Such a big question. You know, I think all of the recognition that we get is amazing and I really am appreciative of that and the support. And I truly believe that whatever I do in future projects, I feel like I will be truly supported by the community that I've set up with the people who follow me and who communicate with me on Instagram. And I know that... Now, I love taking photographs. In the future, I might want to sell some photographs. Or with the webinars that I'm doing or whatever, I always get so much support that I feel like I'm really blessed. And one of these days I'm going to really start launching all the stuff.
Clara (host) (42:37):
Claire J (42:38):
No, and it's really kind, and I'm really appreciative of that. And I mean, every time... I've already sent, actually, fleeces to Alaska, um, the UK, France as well. Because, um, last time we did the shearing, I said, you know, a number of people had asked me, oh, if you want a fleece, and it's just incredible. People are so happy to be able to buy wool from us because they know it's from our sheep. So they know the story. And that's just incredible for me. I find that really amazing. I couldn't ask for more.
Clara (host) (43:06):
Thank you. I know I speak on behalf of a lot of people hen I say that what you're doing makes such a difference on so many different levels. It makes a difference environmentally. It makes a difference in terms of breed preservation. And it makes a difference in terms of helping people stay grounded and in touch with parts of themselves that they're often completely disconnected from. So on behalf of all three of those things and all the friends who I know who were too shy to email you themselves, I just want to say thank you.
Claire J (43:33):
Oh, and thank you to you all. Because you guys always ground me are always is to listen. Always people to say, you've got it, you can do it. We've all got our own journeys, and we all live difficult moments. And, you know, to put it out there and say, I'm not okay, or it's hard. And just the love that I get back is just overwhelming. I'm just, I feel really lucky. So thank you.
New Speaker (43:56):
Clara (host) (43:59):
You have been listening to a conversation with Claire Jeannerat, also known as The Swiss Shepherdess on Instagram. This recording is made possible by members of The Wool Channel, a platform, publication, and community dedicated to giving wool a voice in the world. For more information, and to find out how you too can join the flock, go to thewoolchannel.com. I'm Clara Parkes. And until next time, bye-bye.