My Dad followed the Giants when they played at the Polo Grounds and he liked to tell the story of the batter who had the third strike called while his bat was on his shoulder. He spoke to the umpire, who spoke to him, and then when he replied the umpire threw him out of the game.
What was that about? asked his manager. Well, said the fellow, I urged him to read the prophet Ezekiel. He asked what Ezekiel had to say, and I said Thou hast eyes but seeth not. So he threw me out.
You will recall that Mrs. Coopworth, a full-blooded Coopworth, looks somewhat different from our Border Leicesters, blockier, perhaps more regal: her ears are horizontally set, and she has wool on her face and on the top of her head. Here she is recently, having a good scratch on a tree. Five years ago she had twin daughters, sired by a Border Leicester of course, but as you can see, each has her mother’s topknot, so in a herd of a hundred Border Leicesters—bald, taller, more angular—the three are instantly identifiable.
Our newly fenced pasture—pond, tree line, thirty acres of unbroken native grass—would be as useful for cows as it is for sheep, with one glaring difference: the gate the sheep enter and leave through is halfway down a fence line. With cows, as far as I can tell, gates work best in corners. Then a cowherd can drive them into a ninety degree angle with the gate at the far end. We move our sheep out to pasture every morning and in every evening so they learn fairly quickly where the gate is. They straggle in, two or three at a time, topping a slight rise, looking for a last blade of grass, pretty full after ten hours of grazing, and ambling towards the gate.
What I saw one evening six weeks ago, was Mrs. Coopworth and one of her daughters, side by side, bumping each other, running down the hill for the gate. A dead heat. Think, if you will, of early adolescents bumping each other as they run down a flight of stairs for recess. Good humored. Pals. Lambs play but these two are seven and five years old. In short, there was nothing random about it.
Thirty years ago, when we weaned lambs, it was a two wire proposition. We would put the ewes an entire field away from their offspring, leaving the lambs on familiar ground. These days we have the ewes on one side of a fence and the lambs on the other, so they can support one another emotionally. After five or six days, the ewe has stopped lactating so the lambs can be reunited, and the flock becomes whole again. Six weeks after birth, the quantity and quality of milk has begun to decline, so if we wait for ten weeks, say, the lambs have learned to nourish themselves on pasture, like the ewes, possibly with extra feed available only to them.
We’re all mammals here, of course. If you’re reading this, you’ve been weaned and maybe you’ve weaned, either as the lactator or as someone in support. We take it for granted that our human post-weaning relationships will flourish, as indeed they do, pretty much. But in sheep world? Do sheep really recognize and acknowledge that relationship? Mrs. C is noteworthy, but not unique, so if she can . . . and her daughter can . . .
Copyright Jerry Wigglesworth, November 2017