Flockmaster Chris Farnsworth uses his flocks to herd business groups towards team unity.
When veteran shepherd Chris Farnsworth saw his livelihood wiped out by the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in England in 2001 he knew he needed a change of career if he was to stay involved with the rural lifestyle.
What he came up with kept his link with sheep, but now he rounds up businessmen in a motivational and team-building exercise that asks usually deskbound executives whether they are shepherd, sheep, or dog in the workplace.
His “Raising the Baa” program has executives paying to take courses that have them behaving like sheepdogs: Rounding up small flocks of sheep and guiding them into pens.
In the process, Farnsworth evaluates who are the adaptable natural leaders and who are the followers.
The motivational exercises are rather unconventional, but Farnsworth says they are great for lowering people’s stress levels.
He has the advantage of familiarity with both the urban and rural mindset.
Born in London, he decided to be a farmer at age eight. A motorcycle crash stalled his agricultural college education.
So he went globe-trotting.
His travels included working on an Israeli kibbutz, plowing prairies in Canada and picking cotton in Australia.
After three years he returned home and completed his studies, focusing on sheep farming.
Moving to Wiltshire (80 miles west of London) as a contract shepherd, he started a farming career that has thus far spanned 30 years.
He was in charge of about 6,500 sheep—mainly “Mules” (Swaledale crossed with Blue-Faced Leicester) and Welsh Crosses—in his own and other people’s flocks, using just two dogs.
“Then foot-and-mouth broke out in Northumberland in 2001, which quickly spread to the southwest,” he says. “I woke up one morning to find my livelihood had disappeared overnight.”
He lost 200 of his own sheep to the disease and another 600 he was contracted to tend.
Sheep are difficult for strangers to herd into pens. Groups from bankers to teen organizations learn teamwork, better communication and synchronization.
Smaller Flock, Bigger Profit
With farming—and his future—under stress, Farnsworth diverted more time to a sales and mentoring business he’d started with Forever, an aloe vera company.
More recently, Farnsworth and his business partner Caroline Palmer decided to combine their rural and urban expertise to create “Raising the Baa.”
Farnsworth runs the courses and Palmer, who previously worked with advertising agencies in London and Geneva (promoting everything from champagne to luxury cars), is marketing director and trainer.
They have three program levels called Lamb, Ewe and Ram—for various size groups—that are attracting everyone from bankers to retail executives. Prices range from $635 to $3,175 per course.
“This event helps groups of people who work together on a paid or voluntary basis to improve communication skills, increase confidence, enhance leadership qualities, be an inspiration to others, and have heaps of fun in the process,” Palmer says.
The teams are filmed as they work to round up the sheep and the video is played back to them to show the different roles of each participant.
“We try to show them what lessons can be learned in the business world from how they deal with the sheep,” Palmer says.
Farnsworth runs the courses wearing a now trademark half-shepherd, half-businessman suit.
The program has its roots about three years back when Farnsworth was talking with friend David Wreathall, co-founder of a charity called Inner Flame that works with young people, inspiring them to reach their potential.
Wreathall was looking for a team-building event, something to encourage his youngsters to work together and build their self-confidence and self-belief.
“I told him that he ought to get them out in the fresh air, running around to lose some of their energy while introducing them to what the countryside is all about,” Farnsworth says.
“I started to work on the idea of how my skills as a shepherd could be transferred to other people. I felt that everybody could learn a lot from sheep and how they behave, and how they work with the dog and the shepherd. As with any team, each member has a distinct role to play.
“I created a program in which the participants could interact with the sheep so they would naturally fall into the role that suited them. By working together they would learn how being in a team can be stronger and more effective than working on their own.”
A wide range of people have taken the courses, from bankers to teenagers.
“They’ve all loved it and have come away feeling more self-confident about what they are capable of doing,” Farnsworth says.
“They learn the importance of good communication, and gain an understanding of the essential tasks within the group at a particular time. I encourage people to recognize their individual strengths and how to work on them.”
The problem-solving aspect appeals to businesses that value the personal development of their employees.
“I’m lucky that I’ve found the perfect work/life balance,” Farnsworth says.
“Too many people hate getting up in the morning because they have jobs they don’t like or have deadlines to meet. I think you should find what makes you happy, something which makes you jump out of bed in the morning.
“I still love shepherding. You can’t have a bad day when you go out in a field and face a flock of sheep. You’re absolutely focused on what you’re doing and you forget everything else. I’d like everyone to feel like that.”
Thrifty, multiple lambs lift Caroline Palmer’s spirits and add to the challenge and fun of keeping sheep that make good profits.
Farnsworth now looks after some 200 contract sheep and 60 of his own. He breeds Mules, Hebrideans and Jacobs.
About 100 of the sheep are used in his Raising the Baa program.
“For the sheep’s welfare (and also because they can get wise to the exercise) we do change flocks for each group, especially if we are doing more than one in a day,” Farnsworth says
He says Raising the Baa is the world’s only supplier of “teambuilding-with-sheep” programs.
“My experience of working with animals is at the heart of the work I do—helping people achieve the best they can. I want people to see the value of being adaptable so they can achieve what they want out of life.”
The Lamb Course, for example, is a fun event for a few colleagues or friends.
“There’s nothing like spending time in a totally different environment to the norm, out in the fresh countryside air with a few woolly friends to give you an event to remember,” Farnsworth says.
“The emphasis of the Lamb Course is most definitely fun—but you can’t help to learn a few things about yourself and your fellow ‘shepherds’ and ‘dogs’.”
The Ewe Course is made up of morning and afternoon challenges with film-based feedback and reviewing sessions, ensuring the fun is underpinned with a range of takeaway business benefits.
Palmer says this course is perfect for a company or department of 12-15 people of the type who tend to pride themselves on being a bit different.
“They veer towards ‘eco-values’ and wouldn’t be seen dead doing a run-of-the-mill teambuilding exercise,” she confides.
The Ram Package is a tailored training program for large organizations with many departmental teams, ideal for the retail sector with high numbers of staff who deal directly with customers.
Palmer says she’s convinced this is a team-building activity where lessons are long-lasting and the effects are noticeable in the workplace in the months and years ahead.
“The Ram package is a personalized, made-to-order course, which can be facilitated by your preferred consultant or by an experienced, fully qualified executive coach/trainer associate of Raising the Baa,” she adds.
A fourth program is the “Open Ewe-niversity” courses for the self employed, possibly working from home or as part of a small business.
These are scheduled events, open to all and available to individuals grouped together just for the course. They are structured in the same way as the Ewe Course, the reviewing session being more geared towards independent workers.
The courses take place on farmland; hedged boundaries are a prerequisite for the safety of the sheep.
Unlike sheep dog trials, where elapsed time is all-important and the clock is always ticking, Farnsworth only keeps records of times if a client asks.
“A client recently brought four different groups of people on consecutive days and they wanted to run a competition; so we kept times for them,” he says.
The program was initially run on a voluntary basis with the Inner Flame charity. But in the first six months as a business, Farnsworth had hundreds of people take his courses.
In fact, Farnsworth says the programs have proven so popular that Raising the Baa is to soon begin licensing shepherds to deliver them across Great Britain and overseas.
“If you are a shepherd who desires a secondary income and is as good with people as with sheep, please contact us,” he says. Do so by visiting the company web site www.raisingthebaa.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or phone them at 011 44 01380 609363 (five hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Time Zone).