Tuesday, March 14th, 2006
So here we are again. The dreaded sheep shearing season is upon us. Farmers are in a tizzy, sheep are starting to pant with the advent of an early spring, woolen mills are gearing up to get slammed with the deliveries of thousands of pounds of raw, stinky fleece, sheep shearers are trying to change their phone numbers, and anti-wool activists are accusing everyone of something. Who would have thought that sheep – gentle, peaceful, do-no-harm sheep – could arouse such passions. My sheep have told me on a fairly regular basis that they are fed up to HERE with the balderdash (their words), so upon their request, I’m gonna bust up some myths.
Myth #1: “Sheep are dumb; they can’t think for themselves.” In one of his plays Ionesco refers to the idiotic people who act like sheep and simply follow one another around, apparently with no brains attached to their bodies. My sheep want to know why anyone would listen to someone who can only speak in a French accent, and exactly what evidence can be brought forth to prove their low IQs? These are hardy, cheerful beings, with an amazing knack for self preservation, despite their completely lacking an upper set of teeth. We could learn much from sheep. They know what to eat and what to avoid – better than humans, I’d say (as I remember a particularly unfortunate meal at a Mexican restaurant), what animals to socialize with (ditto the Mexican restaurant, add unfortunate Mexican boyfriend to the mix) and what horned beasts to run away from (can anyone think of a three lettered-government agency?). They have regular professional and recreational conventions, take afternoon naps, and most of them are terrific dancers. Their social structure is complex and their interactions well organized. Surely this is why I keep finding them inside my house.
Myth #2: “Sheep are innocent and incapable of protecting themselves.” I’ll grant that they are vulnerable little buggers. That part is true. You can’t just leave a sheep out in the field and say ‘have a nice life, Bucko’.
Protectors such as donkeys, dogs, or llamas are essential, so go read up on predators and get yerself a guardian. But innocent? Hah. They’ve got you wrapped right around their little hooves on that one. They’re sly, plotting creatures who know how to take advantage of any and every two-legged mammal and their cooperative spirit mimics a really tight football team. For examples on their concerted efforts, reference the above-mentioned multiple home invasions.
Myth #3: “Shearing sheep is cruel.” Dude. Anyone who spouts this balderdash (my words) has not seen what can happen to a sheep who’s gone more than 12 months without a shave: the knots that can get so tight the sheep loses range of motion; the burrs can catch 8 inches deep right near the skin (worse than too-tight underwear); the dingleberries (nice way of saying their poop has stuck to their bottom and accumulated on the hind end’s wool to the point of looking like a brown expressionist painting of Niagra Falls); the weight. Wool weighs quite a lot. An average year’s growth can be anywhere from 4 to 20 pounds. Unless you’re a hair sheep, you don’t shed. Your wool just keeps on growing. And growing. And growing. Do you mean to tell me that you’d just let a sheep go forever with no haircut, until he looks like Bob Marley’s dreadlocks times 100, until the weight of the fleece is so great he can no longer stand up, until the heat of multiple seasons’ growth causes a stroke? Well, do you? Let’s bring this to your level, you pretentious sheep-ignorant biped: being shorn takes less time and has none of the pain of your basic half-leg wax.
Myth #4: “Sheep shearers are evil.” No. Sheep shearers lost their minds somewhere along the line and forgot what a bad job it is. Sheep shearing is, simply put, brutally hard work in terrible conditions for almost no pay.
It requires expensive equipment that is hard to maintain, extreme precision of hand movement, a thorough knowledge of ovine anatomy, and hard muscles in places you never dreamed you even had on your person, and for which no gym has ever developed a cute machine. So there aren’t many shearers around. I like it; I get to go out and meet lots of sheep. Some of them kick me in the chest and others try to break my kneecaps, but most of them are receptive to the funny stories I tell them, and coo at the compliments I whisper in their ear as I’m shaving down their wool, and goodness knows, at my age I’ll take any audience I can get.
You know, amongst all the writers great and small who have had some comment to make about sheep, I really have to say that the Far Side’s Gary Larson is the only one who has really gotten it right. He knows very well that sheep routinely collude with the cows, plot revolutions against the farmers, occasionally need psychotherapy, and like eating out. That, my friends, is the real truth about sheep. It’s true that generally they tend to halitosis, but they are all individuals, and most have most have a pretty decent sense of humor, but not all — and folks, you do not want to mess with a sheep who has no sense of humor. Sheep also have the human race beat hands down because they really seem to mostly all get along.
Therefore, based on all the heretofore explained and well-laid out evidence which has been put forth, I suggest that, from now on when someone says they feel “sheepish”, you congratulate them.
Till next time,
Star Gazing Farm