Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The rugby scrum

"What the hell are they doing!" I thought to myself as I looked at the sheep. All in a huddle they were. Which was most unusual. 

I   had been strimming the grass to the gate area of the Side Field,  meanwhile the sheep had been having time out from eating and had parked themselves the other side of the gate. Now I thought that they would run away from the noise of the strimmer, but they didn't. But when I had filled their water container by aiming a bucket of water over the fence into the container, (a good aim and without any splash), they raced off in one unit as if I was the most dangerous of all things to them.  But the noise of the strimmer didn't seem to worry them at all.

As I lunged this way and that way with the strimmer, frequently having to yank hard to stop it from becoming entangled in the tallest and most elegant of grasses which was inclined not to want to be cut, preferring to become cosily wrapped around the head of the strimmer instead, I kept an eye on the flock to make sure that I wasn't disturbing their siesta. All was well. Most were lying down, some obviously sound asleep. 

Then the elegant grass did a really cosy wrap, stopping the strimmer dead. And dead it stayed, despite my best efforts to get it started again. So I gave up. Hubs was cutting the Back Field with the lawnmower, him not having a tractor to cut it with nor even a sit-upon lawnmower but a trusty old friend of a lawnmower which is petrol driven, chucks up a stink as it goes along, but nevertheless somehow manages to cut the field. Because that is what it is: a field. With ruts, and tall grasses (the 'elegant grass' as well), loads of dock weeds, thistles and anything else which can take root. It takes him three days to mow that field. Frequently he daydreams about a tractor. But for the moment, it is the hand pushed petrol lawnmower that has to do the job. 

The ancient lawnmower

The Back Field. If you enlarge the photo, on the left is where Max lives, and behind that is the Veg Plot. Behind the tall oak is the Front Field. To the left of the main house is the Half Barn, and to the right of the house is the Middle Barn, untouched and unroofed, and behind that is the Tall Barn which is being roofed. 

Anyway, Hubs was busy upping and downing the field, so I didn't want to disturb him, so I parked the strimmer up, and got the hand shears. Over the to the gate I went, positive that this would not cause any disturbance to the flock. Clip. Clip. Clip. It was hot. I clipped on. 

So then I glanced at the sheep. Two were still asleep, but the others were standing up and huddled together in a similar way to rugby players in a scrum. Their shoulders were hunched over, their heads tucked right down in between each others back legs. OK, so not quite like a rugby scrum, but then I have never been in such a situation so wouldn't know exactly how close one gets to one's fellow players' posteriors, although I am sure that one does not put one's head in between the back legs of the player infront. Or maybe one does. Excuse me a moment while I remove that image from my head. 

Now where was I....ah yes, the rugby scrumming sheep. I stood for ages trying to suss out what exactly they were supposed to be doing. It being a hot day one would have thought that the last thing they would have done was pack themselves so tightly into each other, and they surely could not be in a fright because there was nothing to threaten them. Only me the other side of the gate clipping with my hand shears. 

Anyway, time for lunch, grass clipping project held over to another time. But my mind kept on thinking about what the sheep had been doing. Possibly by putting their faces down beneath the buttocks of the sheep in front this would protect them from flies. And that became my solution. 

However, an Internet search said that they were afraid. That they can do two things when having a startlement: gallop off en masse, as in a shoal of fish, or go into a rugby type huddle. That is all they can do to prevent attack because they lack the defences other animals have. For instance, that they can't bite because they don't have the teeth to take a chunk out you, and they don't have claws to scratch you and can only stamp their foot which, since they are cute and fluffy creatures, is not likely to intimidate even an ant. So all they have is numbers. So they can run en masse, turning this way and that as one unit, like a shoal of fish, which enables them to hopefully out manoevre any would be assailant, or they can stand still and go into a huddle, which makes them look overall like a large white blob, therefore bigger than their individual selves. Clever heh? Who said sheep were daft? Certainly not us!

And so why, therefore, did they do a rugby huddle when they were waiting for the gate to the Paddock to be opened this morning. I think this time it was to ward off the flies. I think our flock is developing a team spirit, and I think this is being inspired in them by the routine of the day. Instead of spending all the time eating grass in a field, they wake up, keep an eye on what we are doing and nudging us along if we are late in letting them across into the Side Field, then they do whatever they do out in the field (still too many tall dock weeds in it so they sort of vanish as if into a jungle), then if it rains they head back to the gate and holler to be let back into the Paddock and the safety of their Arbre (Sheep House), or if they are in the Paddock they holler to be let over into the Side Field, and then in the evening they come into the Paddock, charging to the food trough in which will be some grain, then doing community activities until bedtime. Always they sleep in the Arbre or against its external walls. Last night they were all tucked up down one end instead of being spread out because a fox spent much of the night kicking up a racket. 
Possibly this would have been another rugby scrum time. Bless.

And an unfortunate accident:

And this, my friend, must be the most used implement in Hub's 'toolbox', and that is his flyswat. But an over zealous swipe at a seriously fast flying fly, in which his aim was not up to standard and the fly was missed but the wall was not, has now killed the flyswat. The fly lived on. But not for long. A quick hunt in the kitchen for a replacement to the flyswat led to the demise of the fly. The replacement? My teatowel. 

Things I have learnt: that if given an interesting life, then sheep actually do have characters. They are  not stupid or daft. Just themselves. The same as we are ourselves, but different.
That one must remember to wash flyswat teatowels before they are used for drying up the dishes.  


Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

Lovely post. We have sheep all around us but not ours, so I don't have the problem. I can just watch them peacefully :)

That fancy grass that wraps around the strimmer is a real pain. Thankfully I have got past that stage and now the grass is short it stays that way!!!!! Last year we even bought a sit on mower after struggling for 5 years with the old petrol one. Gosh am I spoilt or what. Diane

Roz said...

Thanks Vera. That made me laugh. Haven't been doing much of that lately xx

Vera said...

Diane:) A sit on mower! Wow! Perhaps in five years time we might have graduated to one of those, or preferably, a tractor. And I love the look of that long grass - it is such a graceful plant and I have left some of it alone in the flower beds so that it arches over the flowers. But definitely not strimmable!

Roz:) I am so pleased I made you laugh, and it made the two hours it took to write the blog, all worth while. x

Land of shimp said...

I don't know if you're familiar with the children's movie Chicken Run (it was, I swear, a computer animated version of The Great Escape, only with chickens) and in it the farmer character proclaims that there is mischief afoot by saying, "Them Chickens is organized!"

Insert Sheep for Chickens please. I've been giggling like a fiend over here. Perhaps they call plays to each other in Sheepinese.

Don't leave the car keys where they can find them, Vera.

This was such a fun post, thank you for the early morning giggles!

Vera said...

LofS:) Will most definitely be careful of those keys! And I am so glad I started your day off with a smile.

Tommo said...

Excellent read. The sheep sound a fascinating bunch. Just had a good old strim myself. About an hour's worth. Am now sweating buckets into an orange juice and all over the laptop. Dunno about you but I get the sneezes and hay fevery nose dribbles when strimming and have to wipe me snotty snout on whichever teeshirt sleeve is drier (too much info, I know) which frequently causes the screaming strimmer to stand vertically, and often results in a scary tangle with an overhanging bush or tree and loud rush of colourful expletives deleted. Needless to say, the neighbours keep well clear when I'm strimming.

DUTA said...

When we take the time to look at the animals surrounding us,we come to realize what you've just realized about your sheep - that they're not dumb.

Your sheep are becoming, from post to post, an interesting topic like the two dogs Bools and Guse. I look forward to read about them.

Ken Devine said...

Really enjoyable post. I wish I could will a sit-on to appear ready for you to use. They make such a difference. We have all three...old sit-on, old push-along and a new strimmer. They ALL get used regularly and we haven't half as much to cut as you have.

Very interesting about the sheep. Know what you mean about the teatowels and know what you mean about the strimmer head getting tangled with grass...it's so annoying.

Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Hello Vera,
I am starting to like your sheep, they sound like a gang of cool dudes. I know why they are frightened; they have seen you reading the recipes for Navarin of Lamb and Moroccan Lamb Tagine!!
Kind thoughts, Ondine

PS I'll try to follow that 10 minutes a day tip Vera.

Vera said...

Tommo:) You paint a hilarious picture of your strimming activities when mopping your sweaty brow. I tend to bend over and lift the front of my t-shirt or shirt which is not very lady-like and very awkward because of the need not to show any cleavage! And I too can get tangled up with things I shouldn't get tangled up with when doing such a task!

Duta:) I am glad you enjoy reading about my life here. I often find your blogs interesting, although in a different way, because generally they exercise my mind and make me think.

Ken:) Ah so you also flip the flies with the tea towel do you? But the good news is that Lester has a new flyswat so my teatowels will be spared. And one day, we, too, might have multiple gardening implements!

Ondine:) MMmmm, think you might be right - we were discussing the other night how the deed is to be done to convert them into food. Perhaps they indeed heard.
I tell you what: if you promise to practis your musical instrument for ten minutes per day, then I promise to put my head in my French books for ten minutes as well. Little steps make giant strides!