Thursday, 2 July 2009

Thank goodness that's over for another year

"I hate @*#&%$ sheep".

This was R's frequently-uttered mantra. So frequently, in fact, that it was even mentioned in one of the eulogies at his funeral!

Over the years, our tiny flock has varied in size between two and seven. Before I started keeping sheep, I fondly imagined that you put them in a field, they eat grass and that's about it, perhaps with a bit of mollycoddling at lambing time.

How wrong I was.
You have to vaccinate them against myriad noxious diseases, trim their feet regularly to prevent foot rot, apply insecticide to stop flies laying eggs on them and the maggots eating them alive, administer anti-worm and fluke medicine and shear them once a year at the very least.

My two original ewes are Hebrideans. I bought them for several reasons. They are pretty sheep and extremely hardy, having evolved to withstand the wet and wind of a Scottish island. They aren't at all fussy about what they eat and don't need the lush grass that many of the lowland breeds require. They have single lambs and give birth easily outside (I have not yet had to intervene in a lambing). And finally they are small sheep with handy horns to grab hold of, making them relatively easy for one smallish person (i.e. me) to manoeuvre.

I didn't read the small print, though. In 5 point type, right at the bottom of the contract, it reads that they can be a bit 'flighty'.

Flighty? Ha!
These are the devil's own sheep. They can run like the wind, jump the sheep hurdles I bought to keep them penned up and spook as soon as they see another person enter the field with me.

Sometimes they will meekly follow me and the bucket of feed into the corral. Other times, nothing whatsoever will induce them to go in. On those occasions, R and I had a method of rounding them up involving a length of sheep netting which we would slowly wind up, gradually driving them into the pen. Unorthodox, but it worked.

Late yesterday afternoon I had the phone call from the shearer saying that he could do my girls that evening. All I had to do was to round them up for him, and he would take it from there.

Naturally the sheep were having none of it. Despite the fact that they desperately needed shearing to give them a break from the heat, they had no intention whatsoever of going into the pen. Two hours later, I had managed to catch one. The other two were standing 20 feet away, watching me with curiosity as I sat on the ground holding the bucket of feed, bawling my eyes out and shouting at R for not being there to help.

When the shearer arrived, I still only had the one captive, so I apologised and said I would understand if it wasn't worth his while to just shear one. I was fully expecting him to go on his way, but this wonderful man said he and his daughter would help to round them up. We eventually managed it, but it still took nearly an hour - he wasn't expecting them to jump quite as much as they do. He also gave me some useful suggestions about arranging the corral to make it easier to do next year, although he did say he might bring his dog with him, just in case!

The actual shearing took all of ten minutes.
And were they grateful? Well, what do you think?


  1. they are adorable. your sheep, the animals, your talk of your home, it returns me to James Herriot's stories in "All Creatures Great and Small." i wish i could visit you. i imagine ourselves sitting outside surrounded by the beauty of your place, drinking tea, and talking about the respective loves of our lives.

    thank you for these photos. i am, myself, suffering particularly hard today. can't stop the tears. this glimpse into your home allows me to be an armchair visitor.

  2. Thank you for your lovely words. The animals help keep me grounded - there have been quite a lot of James Herriott moments recently!

    I am sorry you are suffering so badly at the moment. Those days are so dark and so difficult to get through on your own. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all get together for tea.

    I shall think of you as I have my next cup, and hope that today is a little easier for you.

  3. I bet they are relieved in this hot weather. Well done you! (erm, isn't Moose supposed to be genetically programmed to do this intuitively ;-)


  4. Boo - Moose is really good at rounding the sheep up into a bunch or stopping them going where I don't want them to go. But he is hopeless at driving them into the pen - he prefers to scare them so they scatter and he can start rounding them up again!

  5. They look like very handsome sheep. Do they have nice fleece? I was thinking that they might be like the Shetland sheep.. I was trying to recall what their fleece might be like from when I did a lot of spinning. The Shetlands had that fine fleece that could be spun and made into wedding ring shawls - you probably know about those.. a shawl so fine that it can be passed through a ring. A spinner that I know got some fleece and made one and it was quite remarkable. I used to shear the odd sheep and Angora goat when I kept a few alongside a large dairy goat herd. I can well imagine the flighty behaviour of the ewes. When they get it into their heads that they don't want to do something or go somewhere, they can be quite uncooperative!

  6. Bev - the fleece is, I think, of middling quality. Not as soft as Shetland. I love the colour; it graduates from almost gingery on the outside through to jet black close to the skin. I'm not a spinner (my failed attempts at learning to spin are legendary!), so I give the fleeces to a friend who felts and she transforms them into works of art.
    I am familiar with the wedding ring shawls - another friend knits them and they are just incredible. Way, way out of my league.