Today’s weather makes it perfect for pondering.
When we made our move to the country, adding sheep to the Homestead menagerie was a no-brainer. We figured our time spent in the company of goats (how different can they be?!) gave us a good basic knowledge of their requirements of care and in return we would get both meat and fleece…and we were pretty much right; sheep don’t ask for much.
What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was how much I would like them – I mean as a species. They tend to have a bit of a bad rap, being labelled as unintelligent followers, but nothing I’ve seen in our little flock backs that up. Where goats, in our experience, tend to have one paddock matriarch who takes charge of everything and demands utter subservience of all the lesser beings, the Homestead sheep share the duties, have huge personalities, and aren’t moaners. What’s not to love?!
Currently, the Homestead flock numbers eleven; that’s one more than our predetermined optimum. Our plan going into this season was to give them all a year off lambing (we haven’t yet replaced Neville, our flock is still young enough to handle a year without the addition of young blood, we had a carefully worked out plan to keep the freezer filled, and we really wanted to get a bit more condition on our older ladies who were looking a little haggard) but unfortunately we didn’t discuss this with them. The first inkling I had that they were taking matters into their own hands was at breakfast time six weeks ago when there were four less bodies jostling for the feed bowls. A frantic scan of the paddock revealed out four oldest ladies, Eleanor, Froda, Ivy, and Orla, at the back fence, doing their best Harry Enfield/Kathy Burke impersonation with next doors very sweet, young Gotland ram. The little dude then made extra sure we understood his mindset by proceeding to vault the fence in a single bound (actually in a rather undignified and untidy, foot-tangling-in-the-top-fence-wire kind of way) and cavorting with the remainder of the flock as well. I guess I could have stopped it but no one wants to be labelled a killjoy and, long story short, we are expecting the patter of tiny Suffolk/Texel/Arapawa/Gotland lambkins in the not too distant future. In the meantime we will just have to get inventive with the freezer contents.
Even that episode illustrates the personalities among the flock. Eleanor, Froda, Ivy and Orla are now well past worrying about what others want or expect; they’ll do what they want when they want it even if it means missing breakfast. Eleanor is very much the flock mother, Froda is security, Ivy thinks with her stomach, and Orla trusts only herself. With the exception of Eleanor who drives them all mad with her coddling (you can almost hear her begging them to be careful, take their cardigan, and “have you got a clean handkerchief?”), they have 2ICs amongst the youngsters which bears no relation to whether they are indeed relations. Vera is Froda’s feisty enforcer, stomping her little foot and running, full speed, head lowered at any threat Froda points out. Her arch enemy is Colin the Labrador, loathed for his habit of sneaking into their paddock for a little sheepdog role-play. Yasmin will give way only to Ivy when it comes to grabbing a bite to eat, Ulyssa needs to ponder all options before acting, Amanda is our flock daredevil, Zia the cuddler, Kili is an utter scruffy mess, and Arwyn is fun loving or a pain in the neck, depending on whether you were the ewe woken from a sound-sleep-in-the-sun by her pouncing on your back or just someone watching her hatch the plot.
So don’t go telling me sheep are all brainless subordinates; if they were it would make the whole freezer filling thing a little easier.