September Morning

Sep. 10 2015
From the Farm

The measurements underlying sheep matters in the Flint Hills are these:


• The gestation period is 143 days.
• April 1st seems a better target date for birthing lambs than March 31st.
• Counting back from April 1st, 2016, you get to November 9th.
• November 10th, the birthday of the Marine Corps, is easy to remember.

The question, of course, is when we turn the bucks in. Not that we do it that broadly, because we will have picked out which ewes we want to pair up with which rams. And not that the number “143” is absolutely reliable. And please note that the four measurements above go from Biological Experience to artificial contrivance.

But in the meantime, what you see is a recent morning in September. In the distance, in the shade, are six potent rams grazing away. They are fully separated from the ewes and have been for several weeks. In the left foreground are last April’s lambs working away on some oats in their creep. In the shade of the mulberry tree is the main flock, ruminating away and not yet moved to go out to grass. Their admirers will notice Flora and Tibbie, both up and looking around right in the middle of their flock.

Of course we humans know a great deal about measurements. In our kitchens we have clocks and timers, and we also have toothpicks and broomstraws so that we can insert them in our cakes to see if they’re done. We sometimes have walls to throw our cooking pasta against:
will it stick?

Sheep use the sun, or more precisely use light, in conducting their affairs. If the sun is just so far above the horizon, it’s time to go in. And if our flock mates, the ones that bark, have gone in, maybe we should drift over too. This is useful to a shepherd because no bell need be rung, no announcement made. More than that, ewes will not begin to ovulate until after the summer solstice when light has started to decline; but ewes from breeds in the southern part of any geographical area can ovulate before the solstice, all of which seems Darwinian: if you’re born in the early winter, mother ewe may not be able to nourish you. If you’re born in April, your chance of survival is much greater. A lamb born in December in Calabria or Devon will have a better chance than one born in the Alps or Cumbria.


And here, a few moments later, the geese are out and Fife, the youngest dog, still growing, is eating breakfast while his aunts are resting in the shade. A few of the younger sheep are up, too: maybe it’s time for the rest of us to get up, stretch out, and go see what we can find. The sun, you might say, is over the yardarm . . . Don’t bother us with numbers.


Copyright Jerry Wigglesworth, 2015