Monday, September 15, 2008

I have Sheep Lust

No, not THAT kind of sheep lust. What do you take me for?

What I have is a distinct longing for more sheep to add to my flock.

Right now I have five sheep, all Shetlands. I never in 1,000,000 years thought I would have sheep. Ever. I mean, I raised orphan lambs when we were kids (this started as a 4-H project, which I wasn't very good at... I loved raising the lambs - and I WAS good at that - but I hated the record-keeping that the 4-H-ers wanted you to do, I didn't like showing them, and I really really didn't like that my little lambs were going to slaughter in the fall, to reside in our freezer for later consumption. For one thing, I didn't like the taste of lamb, particularly, and for another... ick. That was my pet. It just seemed wrong. But I had no choice in the matter, at the time.)

As you might imagine, all of that sort of put me off of the idea of ever having sheep as an adult. But. I got Border collies. Now, I will say this is not my fault; Pepper forced me (FORCED me, I tell you) to fall in love with Border collies. It is futile to resist. It's part of her Evil Genius. So once I fell in love with Pepper - which I will remind you was not my fault - more Borders were an inevitability. And then I found myself on an Internet chat board-o-BCs. And then I got sucked into the world-o-BCs a little bit more and a little bit more... and suddenly one day I was taking my dog for training. And then - quite by accident, I assure you - I got another BC, this one bred out of a good working farm dog belonging to a friend of mine, and by [cough cough] the dog who won of the 2007 National Cattle Dog Finals (and placed in the top 10 in 2008).

Still, I thought I was safe. Ignorance is bliss, and all that. After all, I had no place to keep sheep. I have no sheds or outbuildings, and as I live on a ridge, not enough flat land for stock pens. But I did not figure on The Power of the Border Collie. I look back on it now and shake my head at my childish innocence. I'd only had my stockdog pup for a year when The Worst happened.

I got sheep.

It certainly looked like an accident. A client who had to downsize her flock offered me some registered Shetlands "for free". A neighbor who used to have sheep (but had gotten out of them for a while) had been missing having sheep on her farm and was willing to trade chores and board for lambs. Suddenly I found myself riding in a pickup truck, hauling a stock trailer into a farm yard and wondering when, exactly, I had gone completely insane.

I'm still not sure when it happened. I AM fairly certain that it was sometime before I found myself helping two other women wrestle a large and annoyed ram by his (rather impressive) horns into the stock trailer. And it was definitely before we all started tackling a series of ewes who were the approximate wildness and agility of your average mule deer (although luckily, not so tall). It was certainly before I was helping my friends unload the sheep into their new pen. But by then it was too late. Bemused, I asked my sister: "When did I become a farmer?" She said: "You've always been a farmer. You just haven't always had livestock."

So, in went my new ram with my new ewes, with the hopes of producing tasty little lambs in the spring. Because, in the many years since I reared 4-H bottle lambs, I'd made two discoveries: One, I like the way lamb tastes. A lot. Especially if it's Shetland, which really does have a distinctly different flavor from the usual market breeds. And two, I STILL don't think it's right to eat bottle babies... but I have a lot less objection to eating lambs bred for production, reared by their own mothers, and not made into pets.

So, come spring, there was lambing. Here are two of my ewes, plus one lamb (daughter of the brown ewe, Nutmeg). For the uninitiated, in Shetlands, "brown" is referred to as "moorit" (which is probably Gaelic for something much more elegant than merely "brown".) This lamb - a ewe lamb, which means one I won't eat and therefore named - was quite huge, literally twice the size and weight of the other lambs. Hence we call her Gigantor. Don't ask me why she's eating a feather. Probably she'd already disposed of the rest of the bird and is using it to pick the bird fragments out of her teeth. Just in case there should be any awkward questions later on, or maybe forensic investigation for incriminating evidence.

This is Zena with her spotted lamb. He was a little weak at the start, so we put him in a lamb sweater. Lamb sweaters are made of Army-surplus neck-gaiters with leg-holes cut in them. Wool, nnaturally. (What else? No self-respecting sheep would be caught dead in, for instance, cotton - or, God forbid, poly-pro.)

The black ram-lamb. We started him in a sweater too, but he took it off. Maybe he thinks wool is itchy.

Gratuitous picture of adorable baby goats of Wildwood Farm, which may be the only thing on earth cuter than lambs. They may also be the only thing brattier than Gigantor.

Aaaand, more of Gigantor (whose middle name should be Houdini, as she has demonstrated quite a talent for escape, mainly by squirting through the square wire. You'd think that would be over now, as she's much bigger, but she still makes escapes from time to time. I don't know how. Levitation, perhaps.) I told you. Bratty.

This is my ram, Trinity.

Now, here I must pause to say that rams in general can't be trusted and most of them are right pains in the arse (or knee, or hip, or wherever they decide to - well, ram you). Trinity, however, is the kindest, calmest, most good-hearted and gentle ram I've ever met. This is not to say I ever really turn my back on him or completely trust him. It's also not to say he's okay with you taking his ewes away (which we do in order to control when he breeds them, so that we don't have lambs too early in the chilly Alaskan spring). In fact, come late summer, when he's getting a little rammy and starting to think amorous rammy thoughts, he isn't really even okay with you taking the chickens out of his pen. (Don't ask me why the chickens like to hang out in his pen, but they do. Also do not ask me what, exactly, he thinks he might DO with the chickens, but suffice it to say that he Is Seriously Not Okay with you taking them out of his pen). However... if you, say, want to bring him food or water, he stands back politely as you enter the pen, and then follows at a respectful three-foot remove, waiting patiently for you to fill his manger and walk away before he goes into his gluttonous, I'm-being-starved-here, they-haven't-fed-me-for-a-month act. Also, once you get your hands on him (for shearing or worming, or to have his feet trimmed or his blood drawn), he's really pretty tractable - easier in temperament than any of the ewes. Even easier yet in that he comes equipped with a pair of useful handles, in the form of those nice full-curl horns. The shearer loves him; she says he's amongst the easiest sheep she's ever shorn (AND she can't say enough about how nice his wool is). Plus, he never went after me for treating Nutmeg when she had eclampsia, even though they were penned together. Still.... even Trinity isn't above trying to run down a stockdog, and I never lose track of where he is when I'm in the pen.

Now that you see how handsome he is, can you blame me for wanting more ewes for him? Besides... lamb. Yum. And wool. Nice wool. Sheep to work my dog with. And maybe some dairying... sheep cheese.... sheep-milk soap.... sheep-milk yogurt.... sheep milk in my coffee.... D'you think I can make sheep-milk ice cream? And no, I am NOT psychotic. I am blinded. By sheep lust.


MaskedMan said...

Now we just need to hook you in big-time with the fibre market, and you'll have a REAL excuse - You can say "It's for my fibre market friends - They just love the wool, and it's so much more environmentally sound, and yadda yadda..."

Sounds soooo much nicer than "I've bloody well lost me mind."

Tiffany said...

He is one handsome boy. And I'm the same way about cows. I showed a heifer in high school and we had a baby off of her. I LOVED having cows around.

Anonymous said...

quite handsome boyo, there.

moorit means 'moor-red', by the way. It's a Viking term originally (Norwegian).

It also does not have a stable color associated, linguistically - it has been used in literature to refer to solid reddish brown, and also to each of these combination colors: bluish-brown and white, reddish brown and white, or 'any solid color combined with white' (or even with light brown).

And as for your sanity: Might as well go with the gaelic, there, too: (I know this is your favorite, 'git' in English - and now we know how to spell it:)

GYTE, adj., n.1 Also gite, geyt, geit(e), †gaet. [gÉ™it] I. adj. 1. Mad, insane, demented, out of one’s senses; mad with rage, pain, fear, joy, etc.; silly, foolish. Freq. in phr. to gae (gang) gyte. Gen.Sc.
Ags. 1920 A. Gray Songs 42:
"Love will drive you gite, and send you Ower the muir amang the heather."
1725 Ramsay Gentle Shep. ii. i.:
"I’ll dance or Een! Hey! Madge, come forth: D’ye hear? The Man’s gane gyte!"

Standard phrasing:

gane gyte
fairly gyte
gyaune clean gyte

AKDD said...

Hey, *I* love the wool! I'm not sure I can be induced to share... yet. (Eventually I'll have more than my three bags full, and then I'll HAVE to sell!)

Mmm. Cows is cute too. But toooo big for my pen area. Too bad... my stockdog is from good cattle-herding stock. She'd've been peeerrrfect.

Aaand trust Hedra to come up with the moorit definition (complete with references...!) :-D Sheep color names are really confusing. You should see all the things the Icelandics are tagged with. I can't keep them strait. I tried once, but I had to give up.... I would've gyaune clean gyte! :-D :-D