If you think of the nursery rhyme "Little Bo Peep" when you hear the word shepherdess, think again. The very real, modern embodiment of the occupation is a striking blond former model, mother of five, and self-described “badass” named Natalie Redding. The woman behind the high-end wool business Namaste Farms in Temecula, Calif., she tends to flocks of sheep, angora goats and chickens. She’s the subject of the new series, “Shear Madness,” which premieres on Nat Geo Wild on March 1.
“I’ve had a deep love of animals from the time I was very small,” says Redding, an inquisitive self-starter and do-it-yourselfer who decided she wanted to learn how to shear sheep and dye wool, researched it online, and ended up flying a woman in from Oregon to teach her the basics. She now keeps between 60-150 sheep, and the population grows during lambing season. She works long hours while her husband cares for their five children, ages 6-22.
“My grandmother always taught me you should never be afraid of hard work, and no matter how ugly your hands look from it — and believe you me, mine are heinous — you should look at it as a gift,” believes Redding. “If it’s something you’re passionate about, that’s a labor of love.”
Having made several YouTube videos and used social media to amass a following, she pitched the idea of series based on her business. “I knew that it would resonate with people, and be really inspirational,” she said, but she was only interested if it was completely unscripted and real. “If people hate me, I want them to hate me because of something I did, not something a producer did. If they love me I want them to love me for me.” She was relieved to learn that Nat Geo Wild wanted the same thing. “I don’t think there could have been a better fit. They allow me to be myself and do my thing.”
Reality isn’t always pretty, as the series depicts. There are threats from predators (her chickens fall prey to coyotes) and disease affecting the sheep. “One thing that you’ll see in every episode is me trying to keep my flocks alive. Death is just a reality we face on a daily basis,” says Redding, explaining why one particular illness, Ovine Progressive Pneumonia, was so devastating. “If meat-bred sheep get it, it doesn’t matter because they’re going it be eaten. Wool sheep are not, So it’s horrible because they’re sick and are bad producers. What’s worse it a very good friend of mine sold me those sheep.”
When they’re not at school, Redding’s children work on the farm alongside her; and if it were up to her, they'll continue to work on the farm when they’re older. “I want them to want it, but you can’t force your children. It’s definitely addressed in the series,” says Redding, whose husband, Sean, is the primary caregiver. They’ve raised the kids to be very self-sufficient, she adds, recalling the time when she came in to find her 4½ year-old son online, looking up how to make French toast on YouTube. “They do very well taking care of themselves.”
She thinks that “Shear Madness” will be inspirational, particularly for women, in depicting the possibilities that exist in careers considered traditionally male, even if that’s a misconception. “In wool breed farming, women predominate,” she points out, eager to show her world to the world, “I feel very proud of it,” Redding says of the series. “I feel that there’s a lot of integrity and family values that people will understand and appreciate, and I think it will resonate with them. No phony-ness, It’s all real.”
Natalie Redding with her dog. (Photo: National Geographic Channel)
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