If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that every year Juniper Moon Farm gives away a flock of sheep. There are several reasons we do this but the most important one is that I want to pay forward all the kindness that was shown to me by shepherds and my readers when I started this business. It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life, and although it does put some strain on the me and my staff, it’s something I had planned to do every year that I own the farm.

Last year, there were a few hiccups after the giveaway that gave me pause and really made me think about whether or not we wanted to hold another giveaway. In the end, Caroline, Zac and I decided that, on balance, more good came from the giveaway that bad, and that we wanted to continue the tradition.

Unfortunately, this year’s giveaway has been kind of a nightmare. Between the accusations of cheating, the actual cheating and the name calling, I lost my enthusiasm for this. I’ve had to monitor the comments CONSTANTLY, never letting more than a couple waking hours go by with checking to make sure someone hasn’t posted another nasty dig at someone else.

I’ve also had to watch the votes, since so many people insisted on cheating for the candidate they were rooting for, even after I posted a note on the voting page explaining that I could SEE who was cheating and explaining that, if anything, they were hurting their candidates chances of winning. I even followed some of the votes back to various forum that had linked to the giveaway and read posts from people bragging about voting 16 or 20 times in one minute.

We also had the time-consuming task of fielding emails from people pointing out that SOMEONE MUST BE CHEATING and demanding that we DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT NOW!!!

Now, I have to say that none of this behavior came from either of of our four candidates. If I weren’t absolutely sure of that, you can rest assured that the candidate in question would have been dropped from the contest like a hot rock. Nope, it was the friends (and in one case, family) of the candidates that caused all this ugly and unnecessary drama. And can I be honest with you? I am disgusted and angry about it.

A handful of people who can’t follow the very simple rules have kind of wrecked this for us. Something that should have been fun and lovely has been tainted. Way to go, internet!

I don’t know what we will do differently next year but I know that when we next giveaway a flock of sheep, it will bear no resemblance to this fiasco. Caroline and I have talked about having the candidates raise money for the Livestock Heritage Foundation or even bringing all the finalist to the farm for a week so we could meet them and make sure they are the kind of people who we want our sheep to spend the rest of their lives with.

In case you’re wondering why we make the candidates jump through these hoops in the first place, it’s because we want them to have to work for this. We want to know that they have what it takes to take care of a flock of sheep because it’s. not. easy. I know there are a lot of sheep farms with blogs these days, and we all may make it look easy but it isn’t. It’s exhausting, filthy and occasionally heart-breaking work. It’s about always putting yourself last and the needs of the flock first. It’s about being committed to something that is never going to make you rich and never going to get easier. It’s not for everyone.

I’ll be announcing the winners sometime tomorrow and I apologize for the tantrum but I felt like I had to say something, and I didn’t want to taint the post announcing the winners with all this ugliness. They deserve better than that.

I would love to hear your suggestions for future flock giveaways.

**Update: I just wanted to say thank you for the outpouring of support y’all have left in the comments. I generally try to keep things upbeat here, because none of us needs this space to turn into an additional source of drama, which is why I felt guilty about posting something so negative. I was just fed the hell up last night.

In response to those commenting in other places that I was asking for this kind of behavior by not having tighter security for the voting, I have to say in my defense that we have never really had a problem before with asking our readers to behave like adults. Somehow this blog has always managed to avoid the nastiness and incivility that plagues the rest of the internet. Go figure.

And honestly, the cheating was really the smallest problem. It was the hurling of insults that really drove us all crazy. I don’t understand why people felt the need to be so vile, but maybe that’s just me.

Thanks for all the supportive comments and suggestions. We will certainly do the giveaway again, but in a way that recognizes the realities of the internet.