Some months ago, I noticed that a cheeky wombat had taken up residence under my woolshed—specifically, under the holding shed where sheep are kept dry overnight before shearing. It’s a most desirable residence, indeed a veritable wombat mansion, with hundreds of square feet of pre-made burrow runways, filled with lovely, soft, easily shifted sheep poo. I’m quite sure he bragged about his fancy domicile to his wombat lady friends and crowed over his less fortunate wombat buddies.
I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land in this part of lutruwita (Tasmania): the tyerrernotepanner (pronounced “cheranotipana") marwemairer, peenrymairmener and rolemairre language groups. These clans were nomadic through the central plateau and the east coast of lutruwita. Although my initial research has not revealed much more than this basic information about the clans, I’ve come across some modern history of Aboriginal communities in Tasmania, described in what are called Healthy Country Plans, as I discuss below. I’ll keep digging on the early history, recognising the limitations of the internet for serious scholarship.
All is well, all is well.
Angels and men rejoice
For tonight darkness fell into the dawn of love’s light.
I’ve never felt particularly religious, but then I’ve never felt particularly political, either, until the last couple of years. However, I’ve always loved classical music inspired by faith, particularly the beautiful choral works for Christmas. This year the leader of our small choir (retired professional pianist Roslyn) taught us a carol I’d not heard before, and its reassuring message found a home in my heart, helping to me to stand fast against the feelings of anxiety and helplessness that seem to pervade the daily news.
Fred Provenza’s much-anticipated new book, Nourishment: What Animals Can Teach Us About Rediscovering Our Nutritional Wisdom will be launched next week. Long-time readers of Yarns from the Farm will recognise Fred’s name as the mentor who, along with Alice the sheep, taught me all I know about the interactions between plant and animal grazing behaviours.
“In this magnificent book…Provenza weaves together philosophy, nutritional science, memoir, and his humble appreciation for the natural world into an inspiring meditation on our moment on Earth.”
—Courtney White, author of Grass, Soil, Hope
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.