In the continuing extra dry conditions for Tasmania, shepherding has once again become a priority. We’ve had less than half of our annual average rainfall over the last 12 months, and with the Indian Ocean Dipole at a record high, it doesn’t seem likely we’ll see much precipitation before early 2020 when the sea surface temperature pattern is expected to return to a more neutral configuration. (See my other farm journal, Yarns from the Farm, for a discussion of the IOD.) Knowing what’s causing the dry, and even when it’s likely to finally let up, is useful but doesn’t get us very far in terms of how to manage this gracefully. Shepherding will help.
As the sheep and I get better at foraging for diversity, fences often create problems. While gates are open between adjacent paddocks in a grazing area, and the sheep certainly know to use them, fences impede the natural grazing pattern.
“We are tree-herds, we old Ents. Few enough of us are left now. Sheep get like shepherd, and shepherds like sheep, it is said; but slowly, and neither have long in the world. It is quicker and closer with trees and Ents, and they walk down the ages together.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
When I first started farming I planted trees for my own sake, for the aesthetic of copses to break up the grassland expanses, and for the pleasure of hearing wind in the boughs. Then, as I learned more about how ecosystems work, and the pivotal role of diversity in creating resilience, I planted trees for the sake of the land.
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.
As often happens to me, I mis-remembered this quote. It's not from the original Wilde play "The Importance of Being Earnest", but rather is a song entitled "A Handbag is not a Proper Mother" from the musical Ernest in Love, based on Wilde's play. Nevertheless, I'm sticking with my version, as I frequently feel like more like a suitcase than a handbag in the context of raising bottle lambs!