In a low, clear voice, Arthur Case asks his dog, Kate, to “come bye.” The 6-year-old Border collie bears down and edges her way toward a flock of sheep that waits at the fence line. Case lifts the temporary barrier, and Kate drives the sheep past their owner and along the Missouri River bottom levee where they were grazing.
“She’s the one I have to rely on,” Case says as Kate leads the ewes to a driveway that winds up to his rural Hartsburg home. “She saves me a half-mile walk every day,” he continues, gesturing toward the muted copper hillside that surrounds his property in the distance.
The 58-year-old looks as though he was carved out of his landscape. The tone of his brown button-up shirt and work pants is broken only by a white dog whistle and a coaster-sized silver belt buckle. Case’s graying hair pokes from under a dark green beret, his hand firmly grasps a weathered wooden cane.
“It’s an extension of my arm,” he says of the old cane. Case uses it for everything from directing his flock to closing gates. But years as a stockman have damaged his feet and prompted a more practical use for his cane. “I guess it’s a balance thing, too,” he says.
Case works smoothly after the flock is cleared off the levee. Under an overcast sky, he pulls up the fence posts and collects the wiring that penned his sheep. As quickly as the barrier is disassembled, he resets the fencing over a fresh patch of Tall Fescue, red clover and alfalfa for the next day’s grazing.
It’s a process Case has been conducting for years. He and his 55-year-old wife, Nancy, have raised Katahdin sheep in southern Boone County for 13 years, and before that, they bred cattle. “We switched to sheep because you can run a higher number of animals on the same amount of acreage,” Arthur Case says. “And they require less physical effort.”
The couple has 32 ewes for breeding and another 15 or so lambs that will end up at market. Case says that’s fewer than they’ve had in quite a while, but it’s by choice. “We are scaling back a little,” he says. “Neither of us are getting any younger.”
He still does a young man’s work, however.
After setting the fencing, Case heads up to the farm where he and Kate the collie work to load a ram into a trailer. Case walks swiftly, cane in hand, with Kate mirroring his actions. The pair pushes the flock into a six-by-six pen where Case is able to select out the ram, which was being taken to the Boone County Fairgrounds for a possible sale.
“I get considerable enjoyment out of raising the sheep and trying to improve the breed,” Case says.