Lots, actually, when it comes to livestock. Anecdotally, cows with names give more and better milk, and in my experience, named sheep generally grow more and better wool than the flock average. But of course, there's even more, when social structure comes into play. I'm finally back from my self-imposed "summer" break, which has extended well into northern hemisphere summer. It turned out to be an even better idea than I thought, giving me much-needed time to reflect on the business and my life in general. Time away from writing affirmed my love of the work I do.
Back in my university student days, I took up photography with all the enthusiasm you would expect. I even learned how to develop and print my own photos. In my zeal, I took my trusty SLR camera with me everywhere, on every adventure. After a couple of years, though, I realised my world had shrunk to what I could see through the lens: I was framing my experiences by what would fit in the limited rectangle of the viewfinder. So I quit taking photographs, relying on the emulsion sheet of memory to record my adventures, hoping to regain a wide-angle experience. I regret not having a photographic record of those years, but I'm sure I was more present in each moment as a result.
I’ve borrowed the banner line from the Washington Post. I’m sure they won’t mind. I love it for its sense of drama, for the alliteration, and for the elegant simplicity of the message. It's a bit like a three-word haiku. Although I consider my flock to be an example par excellence of democracy in action, this Yarn is not about my sheep. It’s more by way of explanation for being mostly AWOL on social media and the farm journals for the last couple of months.
This is how conspiracy theories get started—in the vacuum of verifiable causes. I know this because recently I created my own conspiracy. Three weeks ago, three perfectly healthy ewes simply laid down and died within a few hours of each other. The circumstances were similar and puzzling: sudden death with no sign of stuggle or evidence of disease or pregnancy. Only two sheep have died here in the past 12 months, making this a clear case of something—but what?
Nature is certainly a game-changer. While we struggle to adapt to one set of conditions, she simply crooks her little finger and, wham! a whole new scenario is in place. At this point last year, I had just sold half of my flock because there simply wasn’t enough feed to carry them through winter without significant rainfall before the end of the growing season. I experienced the first major grassfire on the property since I bought it in 2000, and even with the reduction in flock size, was not entirely sure the property would carry them through.
Those of you who know me personally and through reading the Yarns will have a pretty good idea of the horrified fascination with which I watched the US election campaign—a bit like watching a forest fire raging out of control—and the dismay I felt at the result. Until yesterday, I hadn’t found the words I wanted to write, but after watching changes in flock behaviour after I re-united the “mothers-to-be” with the main flock, I was inspired to share the following perspective with you.
In the past, October has been lambing month on my farm. Logically, it makes perfect sense: mid-spring (April equivalent for you in the northern hemisphere) with plenty of new growth for the mamas to make milk. However, year after year, September has seen reasonably settled weather and October has been truly awful.
For those of you who don't speak British Commonwealth idiomatic English, a crocodile can also mean a line of school children. The relevance of this term to the real topic of this Yarn will become clear later. (If you are one of those who read the last chapter first, skip to the video at the very end of the Yarn.) The real topic of this yarn is "Do sheep work?" More specifically, do my sheep consciously choose to cooperate in the work of the farm?
Although I’ve lived in Australia for 20 years, I will never have an Australian accent. This is not so much because it’s hard to put on an Australian accent, as because it is difficult to get away with it. Australians have an uncanny ear for accents, and can distinguish a faux Aussie from about a kilometre away.
We've had 3 ½ inches of rain in May (hooray!) and the property is looking better than it has in months. Admittedly, it looks better from a distance than at worm's-eye level, where there is too much bare ground showing. However, the lovely spring green look is most welcome, along with the beginnings of run-off.
Come Shepherding is a new initiative I’ve started, designed to give readers a more personal experience of shepherding, White Gum Wool style. Each time I do a shepherding circuit, I first post the map and plan for the day on the Come Shepherding blog, then provide a few photos via Instagram as I’m shepherding. At the end of the day, I write up my notes and add them and the photos to the Come Shepherding post for the day.
As often happens to me, I mis-remembered this quotation. I thought it was about doing six impossible things before breakfast, thereby revealing my lamentable tendency to jump into things with all four feet without due consideration of the consequences. Believing six impossible things is a lot harder, I think.
Devoted Tolkien fans will recognise “Flies and Spiders” as the title of the chapter of The Hobbit wherein Bilbo and the dwarfs enter the dismal forest Mirkwood on their way to reclaim their hoard of gold from the dragon Smaug. In Mirkwood, the flies are a nuisance, but the spiders are a fatal menace. This season in Tasmania, the roles are reversed.
This is a mini-skein of a Yarn, one I wrote alongside “Epiphany”. Although I wanted to include it somehow, it would have made Epiphany much too long. So you’re getting it as a bonus track. I didn’t take any photos of this episode—I was too busy trying to manage it. Instead I’m giving you photos of wildflowers blooming on the property at the moment, in defiance of extremely dry conditions.