Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Should you be so inclined.

(another guest post by Harry Haddock. I am assuming James still wants these?)

Ok, so you've fallen in love with Hugh Farnley-Fartypants, and wish to retreat to a rural idyll to raise your own vegetables, rear your own organic, free range meat and grow dope in your greenhouse hope for a better environment for your kids. Jolly good. However, may this country boy, who grew up on a small farm, offer a word of advice?

That word is sheep, and the advice is don't.

I'm sure you are all familiar with the concept of the food chain. You know, stuff at the bottom gets eaten, and we sit at the top getting tubby. However, you are probably unaware that there is also natures intellectual ladder as well. Yes, you've guessed it. At the bottom are single cell organisms who don't even have the capacity to react to their surroundings, and at the top is me, handing out superb advice such as this. As you are all discerning readers, you are probably just a couple of rungs down, gazing up admiringly (which is why I could never wear a Beckham style skirt. I'm far too bashful). Somewhere in the middle are the contestants who make fools of themselves on Big Brother (a new series of which, I understand, is starting soon, consigning me to my study to mumble about how I should be world dictator). Just below them are the people who watch the show and vote. So, you get the general picture.

What you need to understand is that all farm animals fit somewhere on this ladder. At the top, undoubtedly, would be pigs. They are a marvel; more intelligent than most cats and dogs. Well, stupid ones, anyway. Goats are fairly amusing; cows are very dim, I'm afraid. And don't get me started on ducks and geese. Chickens are saved from condemnation by their generally amusing nature and ability to be excellent mothers to un-hatched eggs, which is lucky for the ducks, who have all the maternal instincts of some of todays sink estate mothers. All in all, if you get the balance right, you should all be able to rub along together quite nicely, and your freezer will be the culinary treasure trove it should be.

But please, think thee not of sheep.

You see sheep are the earth's most stupid creatures. Some breeds are worse than others, but they are all a fairly intellectually challenged bunch. I had the pleasure of growing up with a pedigree flock of Lincoln Longwool sheep, who are the worlds most stupid sheep, and would like to take this opportunity to clear your mind of any Ovis aries husbandry with a few examples.

Let us begin with moving sheep. When a field of grass has been munched by our woollen friends, they will let you know it is time to be moved to pastures fresh. They will achieve this by all standing at the gate (usually the wrong gate) and bleating constantly. Passing townies spending a day in the countryside will be so alarmed by this pathetic, ear splitting din that they will assume you are guilty of animal cruelty, and will report you to the RSPCA. You will then enter the field, and drive them up to the correct gate, that you will start to open. This will alarm the sheep, and just enough of them to be annoying will break from the flock and run around the field making an even more pathetic sounding din, at which point a second car load of townies (this time militant vegans) will pass by, and upon hearing the racket, will assume you are slaughtering them all with meat cleavers. They won't report you to the RSPCA, but will return later to firebomb your farmhouse instead.

Eventually, you will herd all but one of the sheep into the adjacent field, with its promise of acres of lush, fresh grass. Except the 'lead sheep' will stop, as soon as his tippy tappy feet touch the new grass, to have a bit of a munch, thus holding up the whole shooting match. A bit of shoving from behind will eventually cause the sheep to spill into the new field, but too slowly for the one remaining sheep, who will panic upon seeing his mates at the other side of the fence. Instead of following them through the gate, this sheep will emit a third, panicked bleat, while he follows the flock down the wrong side of the fence until fear really sets in. Despite the calm reassurance of yourself and your helpers, this sheep will throw itself at the fence, in an agonising attempt to do that which it has never achieved before; too pass through solid objects. At this point, you will catch the sheep (putting your back out), and gently guide it to the gate, and its colleagues. It will run away indignantly, as if you were the idiot.

Thinking you ordeal is over, you will return for some well deserved tea. After putting the remaining animals to bed, a process that will involve no repeat of the afternoons fuss, because all of your other animals aren't as stupid as sheep. Did I mention that sheep were stupid? You see, you have a kind of unspoken deal with the other animals ~ 'I'm going to feed you now', 'Oh, good, we'll turn in for the night then', 'Sweet'.

Arising in the morning, you will look at the field where the sheep should be. Except, only about half of them will still be there. The other half, having spent their whole night looking enviously at the field they have just been moved from, will have escaped. Except the lambs will have escaped via a different route to their mothers. The whole farm will now echo to more wailing and bleating. You will repeat yesterdays farce to get them all back together.

You then realise that you have to go into town for something. The sheep will pick up on your general sense of apprehension at this news. They will stand and watch your land rover disappear from the end of the drive. About six of them will drop dead at this point, for no good reason ~ usually because the wind has changed direction,or something. About another six will introduce you to an essential design flaw in many breeds of sheep ~ if they roll onto their backs, with their legs in the air, they can't get back up, and also die unless rescued. This doesn't stop them doing it, again, and again, and again, and always when you have just left for they day. Often, they will wait until they have an audience, usually a third car load of townies, who will report you to DEFRA, or Bill Oddie, or someone.

The remainder of your sheep will then get foot rot. Instantly. Without warning. They will hobble around like they have been forced to play football with Nobby Styles, until you return and have to deal with it by cutting out the infected part of the foot, applying disinfectant spray (which, in your old age, will turn out to be harmless for sheep, but will give you some horrid medical condition or other). All that is before you have to dag them (don't ask), dip them (ditto) and shear them (thank god for unemployed Aussies).

Seriously folks. Rural idyll if you must. Sheep ~ no.


  1. Watched a programme about a Welsh sheep farmer a couple of years ago. He said every sheep woke up every morning thinking, "How can I die today?"

  2. You must have different types of farm animals over there; after working on a ranch and around different types of livestock, I would much rather be around sheep than cattle. A cow is the only animal I know that will stand in the middle of a stream, facing downstream, peeing and drinking at the same time.

  3. That really made me smile :-) They just love to stand in the middle of the road and stop the traffic too ;-) And lets not mention when you sit down in the Welsh hills and get a picnic out!!!

  4. Most certainly inclined, Harry and don't think of stopping. We were just saying this evening that we were enjoying these guest posts.

  5. Welshcakes just threw a bottle of Cointreau at the screen, Sackers.

    Bob, do we need to get this personal?

    Welshcakes says, 'Let's not mention when you sit down in the Welsh hills and get anything out!!!'

  6. Excuse me!!! I am not that sort of girl and I know Welshcakes didn't say that ;-)

  7. I think Bob's comment is funny but its also a true fact about cows. At the end of the day, I still like sheep and cows and not just their flesh.

  8. Well certainly no longer inclined after reading this although laughing out loud. I always thought chickens were the stupidest things in the barnyard, but I may have to rethink this.
    Are you sure you are not exaggerating a tad HH?

  9. Hmm. For years I agreed with you, having sheep myself. But then I learned that sheep have a range of behaviours and it's important to understand them. They are not stupid, just sheep. I was stupid not to know I had to understand them.

  10. I second Welshcakes' bit about sitting down etc - our scones and crisps went in no time (the crisps made it cough, though). Aggressive begging.

  11. You may prefer Lola the Lamb as opposed to the real thing! Before this looks like some awful sort of spam, I am Welshcakes' friend! Therefore, by default, James' too, I should think! These people whose names end in s do make life complicated even for people who score well on grammar tests! Apostrophes rule.

  12. 'Just below them are the people who watch the show and vote.'

    That would be me, then. :-)

    Even Thomas Firbank, author of "I bought a Mountain" (an all time favourite book of mine) does not have such a jaundiced view of the suicidal woollen ones.

    When we lived in the Welsh valleys we used to have sheep in our garden, due to our accidentally having got some travellers to tarmac over the cattle grid on the church drive for a fiver - the kids loved them.


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