I first encountered the word “bonza” in Nevil Shute’s wonderful story “A Town Like Alice”. (And no, Alice the sheep is NOT named after the town of Alice, but after Arlo Guthrie’s song “Alice’s Restaurant”—the line about “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant—excepting Alice…”).
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?
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.
t is undoubtedly too early for me to write this Yarn. In fact, I’m not supposed to be writing at all today, on two counts: first, it’s meant to be a shepherding day, and secondly it’s a weekend and I’m supposed to turn my computer off for the weekend, to help break the "dumb gas thrall" syndrome. I’m not shepherding because it’s snowing and blowing a gale (this on the southern hemisphere equivalent of the first of May) and I just plain wimped out.
Last Sunday, the 9th of February, we had the worst fire weather day we’ve had so far this year—38o C (100o F), gusting 60 kph (40 mph), zip in the way of humidity. Thankfully, there were no serious fires in the state, but with a fire danger rating of severe to extreme, it was a fairly nerve-wracking day. It was worse in Victoria.
When I first began farming, after I realised that it was not going to be as easy as it looked from the highway, I would ask “Why?” about any number of mysteries having to do with raising sheep. Almost invariably, the answer would come back in some variation of: “It’s the season.” Why is the spear grass so bad this year? It’s the wet spring. Why are the grubs so bad this year? It’s the dry winter. Why are we having so much trouble with intestinal worms? It’s the wet summer.