The I-80 freeway doesn’t necessarily offer the most interesting views to commuters.
That could be why the sheep are such a welcome sight.
“Sometimes with the traffic, I see a lot of heads turning,” Jeremy Shepherd said.
Shepherd – yes, that’s his real last name – tends to the flock of 35 sheep grazing in Ruhstaller Brewing’s 7-acre hop farm. Ruhstaller owner J.E. Paino said the sheep fill roles on the farm that would otherwise be difficult to hire for, given labor shortages.
“When Donald Trump was elected, he effectively closed the border with Mexico, causing a huge labor problem for us,” Paino said.
When hands were hard to find, hooves became the fix. Paino called the sheep his "secret weapon."
“It’s a win-win for all of us,” Paino said. “They like being out here. They do a lot of things we would have to do by hand or by tractor.”
Shepherd said his flock of sheep eats weeds, fertilizes soil, and even improves the taste of the beer hops. When the hops are growing upward, winding around ropes strung 16 feet high, Shepherd says the sheep will pluck the lower hops.
“That can infuse the higher hops with more flavor,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd, who has been tending to sheep, pigs, and chickens for nine years, says he hopes more farmers will turn to livestock to help with agricultural production.
“It’s more about getting back to where we respect animals,” Shepherd said.