Many of us share sheep with one or several people--it helps defray expenses, and having a partner or two helps ease some of the anxiety that you might feel about suddenly having responsibility for a flock of animals who expect you to know how to care for them. It's wonderful if your sheep partner is also your best friend, but it's not absolutely critical: as long as you can work smoothly and professionally with your partner, the relationship can benefit both of you. The following are just some criteria that you might want to consider when thinking about embarking on a partnership. It's not an exhaustive checklist, and your mileage with any of the items may vary; what's important for you might not be important for someone else. However, it's a good idea to give the following careful consideration before you take the plunge:

How many people would you like in your partnership?

Some people have a partnership with just one other person, and others run a so-called "sheep co-op" in which four or five people share the expenses and upkeep of a flock of sheep. In general, the more people you involve, the more complicated things are likely to get--and the more potential for disagreement and hard feelings. On the other hand, a smoothly-functioning co-op might be the most inexpensive way for you to get started: it's much more palatable to split the cost of fencing a field four ways than two ways.

Do your personalities mesh?

A sheep partnership is like any other relationship: it requires mutual respect, some hard work, and a little bit of luck. To even the odds of its success, you should know your own personality tendencies before seeking a partner. Are you a controlling person who usually has an opinion about every detail? If so, you'll be happy with an easy-going partner who is more willing to roll with things. Are you someone who likes it when others take charge? If so, don't find a partner who's unwilling to take the lead. Think about how you tend to interact with others, and the sort of people that you work best with in other aspects of your life, before you approach someone about a partnership.

Is your partner flexible and willing to compromise?

But remember: no matter how easy-going you are, and how willing you are to let someone else take charge, it's almost never a good idea to get involved with a sheep partner with an absolutely rigid mindset. Compromise is inevitable in any partnership: the time will come when you'll be doing something that's not exactly what you'd have chosen to do on your own, and the time will also come when you'll expect something from your partner that he or she is reluctant to give. Don't get involved with anyone who you think would absolutely never give in when things don't go her way--there's just no future in it.

Do you have complementary skills?

It's always a nice bonus if your sheep partner can do things that you can't do yourself. Are you a bookish type who can keep careful track of vaccination schedules but can't pound a nail straight to save your life? Then find a handyman (or handywoman) partner! Having complementary skills is not as important as having complementary personalities, but it's definitely a nice feature in many a successful partnership.

How advanced are your partner's dogs? How many dogs will she or he be working?

When you get sheep of your own, you'll realize pretty quickly how important it is to treat the sheep well: if sheep are worked only by experienced dogs, the sheep will last you much longer. A partner with three experienced, well-trained dogs will be less draining for your sheep than a newbie partner with a single untrained puppy. And also keep in mind that the more your sheep are worked (even by experienced dogs), the quicker they'll become dogged and thus less useful for training and practicing.

When would your partner want to work dogs?

Ideally, it's best if you and your partner prefer to work the sheep at different times of the day. (Of course, one of the nicest things about having a sheep partner is being able to work together on occasion: it can be invaluable to get another opinion about your dog and your handling, and it's always nice to have someone hold sheep for you on an outrun!) If you're an early bird, find a sheep partner who prefers to work in the evening; if you work five days a week and plan to train a lot on weekends, find a sheep partner with a more flexible schedule.

Do you and your partner agree on the number and type of sheep you want?

If you're thinking about a flock of ten and your partner wants at least fifty, you might have a problem. Discuss in advance with your partner what each of you considers a manageable number of sheep to support and feed--and that figure may be different in the summer, while the sheep are grazing, and the winter, while you're feeding them and paying for what they eat. (Of course, in many cases the number of sheep you can comfortably support will be dictated by the size of your field.)

How will you share expenses?

In most cases, expenses will be shared equally by all partners; however, you might want to consider a deal in which one partner pays a little bit more in exchange for the other partner's taking more responsibility for the day-to-day care of the sheep. You also might find it simplest to open up a joint checking account with your sheep partner: if you use a debit card for all purchases that require a credit card, and write all checks for sheep-related products from that account, it won't be necessary to keep track of lots of little receipts--the account can just be replenished by both parties when the cupboard gets bare.

How will sheep care chores be divided?

Again, in many (but not all) cases, basic chores will be divided equally between (or among) the partners, but it's your call to make: if you have less time to spend with the sheep on a daily basis, make sure that you can make up for it in other areas of the partnership. And always remember that the more disagreeable chores (cleaning up hay remnants after the winter, for instance) should not be sloughed off on one person.