We like sheep!
This simple phrase is something we get goofy about at Christmas every year, no disrespect intended. We’re thinking Handel’s Messiah. ‘We like sheep have gone astray.’ It’s a wonderful example itself of going astray, linguistically speaking.
But now it applies to a fun trip we had on Saturday to an actual working sheep farm. We do like sheep! They make wool and meat and a lot of noise when they’re being caught to be shorn.
The word shorn is not one you hear all the time, either. I had a favorite poem as a child that included ‘shorn’ and I remember asking what it meant. Here’s what I can remember.
This is the house that Jack built.
This is the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the rat that at the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the cat that killed the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the dog that worried the cat that killed the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the cow with the crumpled horn that tossed the dog that worried the cat that killed the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the maiden all forlorn who milked the cow with the crumbled horn….
This is the man all shaven and shorn who kissed the maiden all forlorn….
Possibly I have forgotten a few characters by now. I must look it up and get on Skype with my younger grandchildren and do this poem with them.
IN ANY CASE, we went to a sheep farm on Saturday with several other senior couples from our mission. We had already been, earlier in the day, to a wildlife preserve (Bruce Mountain), lunch at a lavender farm, a tiny art studio in the town of Pahiatua, and then finally the sheep farm.
We learned about two entirely different kinds of sheep dogs, one that moves small groups of sheep as in the trials we have all probably seen on TV or in the movie Babe, and the other that moves as many as 1000 sheep away from the barns and up the hills to the paddocks. We watched them in action. Both were young dogs and ended up a little confused about what was expected, but we enjoyed what they were able to comprehend from just some whistles through a green stone that the shepherd used.
This is the whistle green and smooth that called the dogs that herded the sheep that made the wool….
After the outside dog demo, we went inside to see a display of about 20 different kinds of sheep in tiny pens. Each pen had a mom of the given breed and her lamb or lambs.
They were all sheep, without a doubt, but they were clearly distinctive. The black-faced ones were all for meat. And most of the white-faced ones were for wool production, with one exception. Some were dual-purpose. Some had coarse wool for making carpets, some had very fine wool. Most were solid white but a couple were dark or varying shades of brown. The dark doesn’t dye well but today’s weavers like the natural dark colors.
We were able to watch a shearing. While the shearer did his careful work, a helper used a flat-bladed tool to separate out the stained and short pieces of wool. In the end the fleece was rolled up and made ready for washing.
The highlight of the day may have been the spinning. The woman who makes fine sweaters, hats and scarves, baby booties, and other small items had just picked out by hand the colors in a single dark fleece, then spun them separately to make yarns of subtly different colors. She used those to make a child’s sweater, a beautiful item.
I am very susceptible to textiles and this wool was no exception. Around the periphery of the spinning room were samples of each of the kinds of wool, plus a small swath knit from it. I was amazed that each swath was different in feel and size. Clearly they had been made the same way, but some wool just made a bigger, looser item than other varieties.
Now I want a sheep farm, or at least some armfuls of wool. The spinner said that while she can prepare the wool directly from the sheep by washing it carefully, then carding and combing and spinning, she prefers to work with commercially cleaned wool, which has far less lanolin in it and so feels less greasy to the touch.
I might feel the same way if my livelihood were tied up in sheep, but I’m just romantic enough to want to take the wool from sheep’s back to finished sweater - in natural colors, of course.
I heard today that there are 20 MILLION sheep in New Zealand. So we may revisit them. For now I’ll just finish with:
This is the weaver in apron blue who spun the wheel with leather shoe who twisted the plies who knit the yarn who made the sweater in the dark warm barn…..