During the 40 years Halimah Rasheed has lived in West Oakland she’s seen a lot of people come and go, but about a year ago four very unique neighbors moved in next to her house in the Lower Bottoms neighborhood. Bo Derrick, Valentini, Lambo, and Meatball are “Babydoll” Southdown sheep. They currently live on the vacant lot next to Rasheed’s house and are tended to by a group of volunteer neighbors who shepherd them between vacant lots.
“I love them so much. They’re so great for safety reasons because they start talkin’ when someone’s out there and might not supposed to be,” said Rasheed. “They’re our little neighborhood watch sheep.” Rasheed believes the sheep have brought her street closer together as a community.
The neighborhood sheep project started with Tim Anderson, owner and operator of Alameda Maker Farm, a small farm located in Alameda where people share skills and work on projects involving recycled materials, gardening, and sustainability. Anderson bought the sheep off Craigslist five years ago and eventually decided he wanted to share them to encourage sustainable lawn care practices. He welded together old wheelchairs and casters to make a mobile pen to move the sheep from lot to lot.
“We just ask people to keep them for a week,” said Jamie Trahan, one of the urban shepherds. “They’re amazing community builders, and some local families come by multiple times a day to feed and pet them. They really bring people together.”
Rasheed said that the neighborhood of old Victorian homes near the BART line has changed a lot over the past 40 years. Some of the original homeowners still reside in this part of West Oakland, located near the BART station, but there are also a lot of new residents. Everyone in the area adores the sheep. In addition to building community, the sheep devour weeds and mow grass and keep underused land more fertile with their manure, which builds topsoil and prevents erosion.
There are 40 members of the Oakland Sheepers group, who take turns tending to the animals, moving them to different lots, and helping scout new yards to munch.
Anyone who owns a vacant lot or large yard around their home can schedule a sheep visit.
“It’s a win-win situation,” said Rasheed.