Sunday, 26 September 2010

A birthday surprise

"Are you cold? You're rumped up like an old starling." This is another of Mike's animal metaphors, but one I hadn't heard before. It's cold this morning, this coldest September morning on record says the BBC news (it must be a slow news day if that's noteworthy.). I've got two layers on, including a turtleneck and I'm still tucking my head into my shoulders to conserve heat. Any self-respecting starling will be doing the same.

"C'mon, we're going to pick up your birthday present."

Well, I don't know what that could be. Mike had already got me these -

Dinner, not pets

And taken me to Exmoor to walk the moors with a few dogs -

Did I say dogs? I meant swamp beasts.

And to look at the wild Exmoor ponies -

The dogs know when to keep their distance

What more could I need?

When we turned into Mr Baker's yard I knew what it was.

Another sheep. A ewe lamb. Mr. Baker sent his young sheep dog into an orchard with an 'away' command and a few minutes later, a flock of Dorset lambs appeared. "There's two nice ewes I've marked with a blue spot. Pick which one you like." The dog held the flock there, like a saleslady waiting patiently for a dithering customer to make a choice. I picked the fattest, wooliest lamb. I'll probably regret this come shearing time.

The dog continued to keep the sheep together while Mr. Baker crooked the hind leg of my newest ewe -

 Mike and Mr Baker collected her up, and lifted her into the back of the truck -

Mike had done an exchange: a good price for the lamb if he would stay and look over Mr Baker's pheasant shoot. So we passed a pleasant hour looking at pens, drives, and poults, all of which Mike deemed in excellent condition. There was more talk about the price of wheat, and partridge season before I was handed my DEFRA paperwork and we all shook hands on the deal.

I drove home slowly with my lone ewe trying to keep her balance on the slippery load liner. I negotiated windey country lanes as carefully as I could for her benefit. "I wonder if sheep get car sick, like puppies do?" I said to Mike. "Can sheep throw up? Mike, I don't even know if sheep can throw up!?" All of a sudden, all the things I didn't know about sheep seemed to hit me and I started to worry about the impending births, and how ignorant I was, and about all the things that could go wrong.

Mike said "How many people know if a sheep can throw up or not?" Then we started going over all the animals we could think of and dividing them into "throws up" or "doesn't throw up". Horses - no. Cats - yes. Dogs - certainly. And birds - of course. Birds and dogs warranted their own special throwing up category: regurgitates food for young. Sheep chew their cud, but we decided that wasn't quite the same, though we both agreed it was kind of gross anyway. It made me laugh enough to stop panicking.

We added the new ewe lamb to the existing flock of five, who seemed happy enough to make room for one more. We had to lift the sheep out of the truck, though she seemed keen on making a break for it and taking her chances with the gap between the tailgate and the ground.

I had to read her ear tag to fill out the paperwork, but before I could mention to Mike to hold onto her, he'd let go. I managed to hang on, but only by rolling over on my back, sheep on top with her legs in the air. Mike said "I suppose if you're going to spoon with a sheep, at least you're the big spoon." I got the number, but lost what was left of my dignity in the process.

New sheep in front, getting a thorough checking out from the others

We made some of the birthday lobster for lunch. It felt decadant to be eating Lobster Newburg and drinking the champagne that Lord and Lady gave me on a Sunday afternoon. We managed to lower the tone by eating it sat on the couch, still in our wellies and smelling of sheep, with a cocker spaniel between us waiting for a chance to lick the plate.

I turned 41 yesterday. By my 43rd birthday I hope that my flock is big enough to warrant one of these -

A nice working collie. It will be a challenge to train a herding dog instead of a retriever but I relish the chance. Until then, there's work that needs doing with the pheasants, driving them back home from their hiding places and I already have just the dog for that -

Ever wondered what you would get if you crossed a cocker spaniel with a troll doll?

Podge, the little chocolate pocket rocket.

I didn't know a lot about spaniels and retrievers before I met Mike, and now working them contributes to a significant portion of my income. Maybe the sheep won't be so difficult after all.


Poppy Cottage said...

Stiff talking to coming up here......

One, you know far more about sheep then I EVER did or EVER will. I reared, lambed, trimmed, took to slaughter, sold and ate (I can't remember the last time I ate lamb, Oh the joys of being poor!) I managed, mostly without ANY help. Now if I can do it you most certainly can. Like the advise given to any new Mum, be it four legged or two. Don't read too much, go with your gut, before you panic, just wait, take a minute to access the situation, look with you eyes not your head. Ask for help, but don't panic. They'll lamb fine the minute you turn your back after hours of watching them. They are sheep, the only kick they get out of life is watching their human work themselves up into a frenzy. You are an amazing talented caperable (?)woman. Relax and enjoy!!

P.S. I have to say you have the ideal man there, all I got for my birthday was flowers with no roots, just goes to show even my friends don't know the first thing about me!! My aim is by my 41st, to own my own little bit of England again.

See, we can all dream xx

Kate said...

Happy birthday! You got some nice gifts!

Paula said...

I think that it's way cool that you need two different kinds of dog for the work they can do. What a great excuse for more of them!

Congratulations on your new ewe. Read everything you can, talk to as many sheep experts as you can- eventually you'll be more comfortable with what you're doing. You once didn't know anything about pheasants and chickens, remember?

You'll be fine.

Fiona said...

Happy Birthday! It's my birthday today too ... just turned 43.

I have the collie dog (and she knows exactly what to do with sheep despite no training) but no sheep. She's nearly 12 now (still going strong and very demanding); we rescued her 11 years ago - she must have had sheep somewhere in her past and she hasn't forgotten. She also herds small children very effectively!! Let's just say that collies are a breed apart - so smart and keen to learn. You'll love it when you get one. I think you need more sheep - soon!

Dog Hair in my Coffee said...

Oh my goodness, what a post. So many things to say. First of all, Happy Happy Birthday. I hope it's been a wonderful day. It appears that it has been. Eating lobster (and crab???), walking with the dogs, and then getting a SHEEP for your present? Wow. I truly would have thought I'd died and awoken in heaven. I got a chicken coop for Mother's Day last year - I guess that's the closest I'm gonna come! WAY too cool. I have the perfect Border Collie for you. I'll ship her to you now. I love her TO DEATH but omg, she NEEDS sheep or something. I obviously picked the ONE puppy from the litter who has ALL the 24/7 herding, playing, activity genes, and I can't keep up with her. I feel so bad for her, that I can't keep her as entertained as she needs!!! BC's are such awesome dogs. Which leads me to my LAST comment: THe Dogs of WIndcutter Down is a really good book, as is the other one by David Kennard, A Shepherd's Watch. Love them both. Let me know how you like them when you're done.
Again, all the best wishes for your 41st year!
(OH, and I LOVE your conversation on which animals throw up and which don't. That's awesome!) :)

Maria said...

Happy birthday! It sounds like you had a great day - I'm happy for you :o)

Kerry said...

Man, you're gonna be pretty disappointed with the gift I got you -- it's not edible or breedable. Though you can neglect it for days and nothing will happen and that is my favorite type of gift. Just after edible.
Hey-- did you know that springer spaniels and cocker spaniels came from the same litters? They were separated out and bred for size not too long ago. And they can both get "rage syndrome" like psychopaths or 2-year-olds.
Congrats on your new fuzzy friend. If I come visit will you let me dye a couple of them in an argyle pattern? I think it would look nice.

Terry Scoville said...

Jen, what a wonderful full Birthday day you have had. Oh and here in Oregon we celebrate the entire week of your birthday. What great gifts and how wonderful to have gifts that will give and teach in one. Cheers!

Harvest Kitchen Sisters said...

Happy Birthday!

As usual, a comically good read! Maybe I need sheep now too? It would add to my heritage turkey, chicken and pig enterprise!!?

Jan said...

Happy Birthday, and thanks for a great blog! Oh, and - rats can't throw up.....

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

A birthday sheep! How good is that?

I've been informed, by reliable sources, that the minumum number of sheep required to have a sheepdog is five. The birthday sheep puts you over the top. Get the dog.

And, for the record, when you finally make your appearance on Cape Cod, we will re-create your birthday dinner by catching our own lobsters and crabs. For the champagne, we'll have to rely on the French.

Happy 41. May it be a good year.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Change that 'five' to 'six.' I counted wrong.

Jennifer Montero said...

Thanks to everyone for all the kind birthday wishes.

Colette - The stiff talking was just the slap I needed. No more panicking ;-)

Paula - I think it's a case of the more you learn, the less you know. And livestock always throw you a curve ball!

Fiona - Happy Birthday back, and lucky you to have a sheepdog already. You can use them to herd ducks too, if you don't want to stretch to a flock of sheep.

DHimC - Thanks for the other David Kennard title, I will put it on my list to read. He writes honestly about his dogs' faults too, and that's reassuring to know even a champion isn't in complete control of his working animals.

Kerry - We don't get the rage syndrome in our working spaniels so much. Different-shaped head, more room for brains. Cavvies still do though. And yes you can dye my sheep if you wish, as long as you don't try to sell them to the Tate Modern as an installation afterwards.

HKS - I can highly recommend sheep, and hey what's one more flock to feed?!? Good lawn mowers, especially if you have an orchard.

Jan - I didn't know that about rats. I'm adding it to the list.

Tamar - Good to know that six is the official number(like I need encouragment!) And I will be sure and bring the champagne when we visit.