Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dumb animals

Group pen

Sheep have a reputation as dumb animals – not in our house, of course, but in the eyes of cattle ranchers and other folks who don’t deal with sheep. I think the reputation is due in part to their inability to speak English, but also to their almost single minded devotion to food.

Well, food and water.

Their single minded devotion to food and water and salt.

Well, actually, to food and water and salt and their baby lambs.

Their almost single minded devotion to food, water, salt and baby lambs is in reality, not dumbness at all, but a great survival technique. If a sheep doesn’t get enough food, water, or salt, it doesn’t survive. And if its lambs don’t get enough food water and salt, the species doesn’t survive. And just think what a loss it would be if there were no baby lambs in the world.

Last night, I’m afraid, I wasn’t so sure. about sheep intelligence. It was 34˚ and raining. All the sheep were snuggled into the fresh straw covering the barn floor, except for three of the moms we’d let out of the group pen just twelve hours previously. These moms had babies who were less than a week old, babies who just five days ago had still been luxuriating under heat lamps to help them survive the shock of being forced out of a 104˚ uterus into a 32˚ barn.

Weren’t they smart enough to come in out of the rain?

I thought about forcing them into the barn and then closing the big doors so they’d have to stay in, but fortunately my brain was not completely in sleep mode, even at 11:30 p.m.
These ewes had been on restricted food for the last week. Dave and I try to feed them enough hay to keep them happy and well fed while they’re in jugs and in the group pen, but we only fed them every three to four hours. Maybe they did need to catch up on eating. Nursing a baby or two takes a lot of calories.

And the barn was crowded. There was a slight, but real chance that a baby could be trampled in the general melee when Dave goes out to check for new babies at three a.m.

But outside! It’s cold and rainy, and the babies have such short fleeces.

And then I remembered. One of the reasons that wool is such an incredible fiber for clothing is that it keeps you warm in spite of being wet. That’s why fishermen wear wool sweaters to sea, while old farmers wear wool long underwear all winter long, and why I never wear acrylic mittens or gloves.

Not only does wool keep you warm when it’s wet, but wool gives off heat when it’s wet! Indeed, a miracle fiber. And those baby lambs are completely covered in a coat of tightly curled wool. Maybe not so dumb after all.


  1. It seems the ewes make a decision, is it safer for the lamb in the rain or with the crowd.

  2. our chief weapon is fear!
    fear, and surprise.
    our chief weapons are....
    did dad write the beginning of this one?

  3. I noticed and appreciated that subtle homage...