MEEKER I In biblical terms, sheep, the Scriptures say, know their shepherd’s voice.
For Ethel Owens, that is a metaphorical relationship she understands on both a practical and spiritual level.
As a sheep rancher, Owens sees every day how her animals respond to her voice. They know her. They trust her. They follow her.
“It’s just like in the Bible … they know the shepherd’s voice. And they truly do,” Owens said.
As a Christian, the analogy between a shepherd and God is how Owens views the world around her.
“This is nothing but the Lord guiding me,” said Owens, who has about 300 head of ewes northwest of Meeker.
Owens, 70, has been busy with lambing season, which typically starts around the first of May and lasts through the whole month.
Asked how she does it by herself, Owens said, “No. 1, I pray a lot. And you need a good dog.”
One of her sons, Loren, who lives in Meeker and is a truck driver, helps her with the big jobs, like putting up hay, and shearing, docking and shipping sheep. A second son, Vince, lives in Battlement Mesa.
Owens has been widowed since her husband Paul died in 1980. Together, they had a cattle ranch about eight miles south of town on Highway 13, and then they started a small sheep operation.
When her husband died, Owens took on a debt of nearly $90,000. Less than a year later, she had paid off the indebtedness.
“Nine months and two days after my husband died, I paid the bank off,” Owens said. “There’s no way I could sit down with a pencil and paper and show you how I did this, not with 40 head of a sheep. But I still believe in miracles.
“I had covenanted with the Lord, saying if you’ll help me make it, I will always give the praise and glory to you,” Owens said.
She has held up her end of the deal.
“The glory is the Lord’s,” she said. “It is nothing I have done. I have just tried to be a faithful servant.”
As an expression of her thankfulness, Owens likes to write poetry.
“Every once in awhile, God gives me a poem,” she said. “One day I was out heading up the mountain on horseback (at the property south of town) and a poem started forming.”
With that introduction, Owens recited the poem from memory …
“As I ride this mountain, Lord, and I survey the land
I behold the beauty you’ve created by your hand.
The wildlife and the flock you gave are surely meant to be
A praise that’s for the Master’s touch, how great your majesty.
The joy and peace you give me here, man cannot understand
But what can harm, I’m your child. You lead me by the hand.
In this life there is a place for your child to be
So take me, Lord, and use me, please, and I’ll your servant be.
There’s another mountain, Lord, that I long to see
As I ride the home range in the land Eternity.
There will be no more trouble there. Your peace will fill the land
You will shepherd us, your flock. All glory to the Lamb.”
Despite the long work days, the predators and the severity of the winters, Owens can’t imagine doing anything else besides being a rancher.
“I love to do it,” she said. “I see it as a calling of the Lord. I firmly believe that this is my calling. I hope I’m doing this until I’m six feet under. Everyone needs a reason to get up in the morning.”