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.
Not the religious sort, more the “uh, duh” sort. Wikipedia describes this kind of epiphany as “an enlightening realisation that allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective”. Sounds better than “uh, duh”, huh? It started a few months ago, though I didn’t recognise it for the turning point it has turned out to be.
Life on the farm was pretty intense all winter, and particularly so after my trip in July. As I finally sit down to write this, shearing has come and gone and four tiny cygnets are swimming with their parents on a much-depleted Swan Lake. I’ll give you the shearing and end-of-winter shepherding report in the next Yarn, hopefully fairly soon. Meanwhile, here is the belated trip report.
The working dogs are so much a part of my everyday life on the farm that I’ve neglected to give them their own Yarn. A friend recently asked me how the dogs were coping with the abrupt onset of winter (two big snowstorms in the last 2 weeks), and particularly whether the dogs were allowed in the house. They aren’t. But their kennels have floor heating, so I don’t feel guilty. Plus, Oscar and Skye, the house cats, would have plenty to say, none of it politically correct.
Continuing my jazz and shepherding analogy (new subscribers click here for the previous Yarn), there’s a wonderfully apt line from “Birth of the Blues” (1941), set at the turn of the century. A ridiculously young Mary Martin is quizzing Rochester about how to sing the new jazz and blues. Rochester says, “Well, it’s like this. You listen for a note, and when you find it…you don’t play it. Instead, you listen some more, until you find another note…but you don’t play that note, either. Eventually, you find the right note to fit into the music.”
As I continue my apprenticeship in shepherding, the subtleties of flock social dynamics are becoming more and more apparent. I’m on the cusp of shifting from the usual approach of “driving” the flock, with the dogs and me at the back, to “leading” the flock, with me at the front and the dogs where they need to be to hold or steer, but not pushing. Don’t get too excited about this cusp—I fully expect to teeter on the point of it for months, as the relationship of trust between me and the flock develops in fits and starts.
If over the last few months I’ve given you the impression that growing White Gum wool is all sweetness and light, November was certainly a counterpoint. It was a tough month, and December followed suit. The refrain has been “desperately dry”—we have had only 60% of our annual average rainfall, and our official 12-month rainfall deficit is sitting in the “severe” category.