Bell-shaped Curves

May. 18 2016
From the Farm


While you are looking at the scene depicted in the accompanying clips, I am looking at the bespeckled sheet of paper that records the birth facts of the lambs you see and, as usual, I am reflecting on the Bell-shaped Curve.

The sheet is not pristine because it has absorbed information on several occasions besides the actual birth date, the gender of the lamb, and the identification of the mother: the lamb’s eartag went on later—left for rams, right for ewes—but before that the dates for anti-tetanus and anti-clostridia shots, and then again twenty days or so after. The persons recording the information likely did not have clean hands.

Of course, the mothers had no idea they were creating a curve. The first to deliver—black twin ram lambs, now the burliest of the bunch—were conceived when the ram jumped the fence two weeks early, and she dropped them in the middle of March on a frosty night. She had not been chosen for motherhood by her owners. And then in the first ten days of April here came nine live lambs from six ewes, eight black, one white. No surprises there because the sire—the fence jumper—is black, but one of the mothers was entirely unexpected. How had he gotten to her? And she had been fed for wool production, not lamb production, and yet the lamb was as healthy as the others. And at the end of the procession, on April 23rd, another unexpected ewe produced two very small black ram lambs, who are thriving. How had he gotten to her?


And then there’s the sheet that records the results of the genetic testing done to establish resistance and immunity to Scrapie, a neurological phenomenon which is currently being discouraged in many places around the world for good reason. Our vet draws bloods from the ewe lambs and the bloods are sent to a lab in Colorado to look at codon 141. All are good, at least QR, and some are RR, the best. But the best looking lambs are not reliably the RRs.

In short, the Bell-shaped Curve is something in the mind of the shepherd, just as its predecessor, a triangle, was in Pascal’s mind some six hundred years ago. We know, as shepherds, that we have to pay particular attention at the beginning and then at the end, but curves? Look at the paths inscribed by the lambs as they rush down the hill and as they run for their moms. Inscribed? Not at all. We’re seeing joy, not numbers.


Copyright Jerry Wigglesworth, May, 2016