Get to Know a Sheep
I’ve been hanging out with sheep a lot since arriving here in Maine. My sister had thirteen when we arrived; an immediate fourteenth was born, and now there are sixteen. There will be more. They are raised for both fiber and meat.*
When I first got here, they were a mass of baaing fuzzy beasts that might knock me down. One time Gloria asked me to check something about Penny. Which one is Penny? The one with the even horns and the darker nose, she said. I looked out at the ten ewes baffled. How would I know which one had even horns out of all those? She was flabbergasted that I didn’t even know that only one of the breeds had horns. (Jacobs**.)
I used to live in a townhouse, yo.
Penny is the one who just had twins. She is wary of me. I have yet to get her to accept a treat from my hand.
Beryl is the other new mom. She is also a Jacob. Her baby is Bluebell, and Bluebell is a NUT. She chases chickens and once jumped up on top of the chicken building!
Ginger is also a new mom. Her baby died right after birth. Because Bluebell was born right after that, Ginger thought Bluebell was hers. She and Beryl worked it out amicably. They both nurse Bluebell. Bluebell is going to be a fatty. Ginger thinks I’m okay. She’ll take food from my hand. Beryl thinks I’m awesome! She comes over to the fence whenever she sees me and tells me how very hungry she is and encourages me to go find something yummy.
If I go into the enclosure with a bucket, they all crowd around me and holler for grain. They each have their ways. The Cotswolds are huge and hungry and they’ll knock you down and pleasantly chew on grain while you writhe around in pain in the mud. They have no malice about it. You’re just the one with the bucket. But they are not faceless either. Juliet is the mother hen and she might knock you down, but she will worry about you. She pushes her head under your hand to be petted, like a dog might. Olga and Nadia, who look a little bit too much like the twins in Matrix 2 — crossed with a Gary Larsen cow — basically think about food all the day long, even more than the others do. If you have food, you’re cool with them. You’re a safe person if you have grain.
Molly, Junco, they are the uncategorized ones. Junco is almost ready to have a baby. She is gentle and inquisitive. Molly (also pregnant) is a brown version of the Cotswold twin menaces, but maybe more stolid. Zither is a teeny Jacob. She is not as feisty as the other Jacobs. Life is very serious for Zither, but she doesn’t have an attitude about it. She is just quiet and solemn. Hopscotch has six horns and looks like she is wearing a tiara. She and Zither usually eat last. They are smaller than the rest and get crowded out of the initial stampede to breakfast or dinner.
Okay, so that’s the group of ewes. Let’s separate out some of them, Gloria said, so the new babies can stay warm at night without being trampled. She sent me away from the building with a bucket of grain. Sheep scattered and hollered. They wanted to go in the building. They wanted grain. They wanted to run and shout. What no one wanted to do was go where the shepherd told them to go. They didn’t clump up in a frightened herd. They each had their own stubborn — and stupid — ideas about what should happen to maximize their chances of getting fed that delicious grain. Penny couldn’t come near me, because I’m scary, and Beryl was extra eager to be near me because I had a bucket. Cotswolds bellowed and stepped on my feet, especially loud Olga. Hopscotch watched it all, frozen and maybe fascinated.
They might be in a group, a herd, but they are not clones, mindlessly following this or that sheep. They have their own ideas. It is fascinating to me. I like them. I like figuring them out, a lot, and it’s not that I’m figuring out how to deal with them as a group; it’s that I’m learning who each one is.
(I dunno where the term sheeple really came from, but it doesn’t match my experience of sheep at all, unless it is a fundamental need to be kept safe and fed. Both political parties call the other party followers “sheeple”, and they mean stupid followers. But that’s not what I think they are. Sheeple are people who think they need to be safe and fed, and they have their own vision for how best that should be achieved. I’m a sheeple, by this definition, and so is everyone.)
*I am learning how the fiber stuff works, but am barely a beginner.
**Those who are reading my Mackinaw project might enjoy this little coincidence. I didn’t know about Jacob sheep when I started it. Maybe I’ll switch something little about the science in the Mackinaw world and make it relevant.
***What does this have to do with writing? Everything.
Edit to add: Somehow I dropped Josie out of the piece! Josie is Juliet’s daughter. She is very like Juliet, to me, and like her mother will come up for petting. She is friskier, though, and is very often the Cotswold that you can see from the window; she stands up on two legs at the feeder. When we had Penny and the baby twins in their building, Josie was the one who insisted on standing ON the hay bales to eat them. I’m pretty sure this was so that she could keep an eye on those babies. She is not at all sure that she likes babies.