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The Old Sheeps' Farm

A Random Snippet of Childhood

By TheSpinstressPublished 27 days ago 3 min read
The Old Sheeps' Farm
Photo by Duncan McNab on Unsplash

My earliest memories are always filled with sheep. My father had sheep, and so did a lot of the neighbours. They had been crucial to the island economy for generations, providing both meat and the wool for our traditional fabric, Harris Tweed, which was spun at home by women and sold to bolster families' income.

By my generation, sheep were a tradition, not a necessity; people were keeping them from nostalgia's sake, but every so often you would hear that so-and-so had sold his sheep or was going to sell them or was talking gloomily about maybe selling them because he couldn't quite do it. My father, being a great believer in any old thing as long as we can call it Tradition, would never have dreamed of selling his sheep, even though he was absent six months of the year and my mother was the one left to do most of the work with them. Women doing most of the croft work while men were away was Tradition, too.

My grandmother used to encourage toddler me to name the sheep, a very bad idea for a burgeoning vegetarian. I had no particular naming skills; I once bamboozled her by christening the lamb nearest the window 'Fish'. I have no idea why; perhaps I was subconsciously relating our two island constants, or perhaps I thought it was funny.

I was about as good at herding the sheep as I was at naming them, but the whole family was always called upon to 'help' whenever something had to be done with them, so weekend and holiday afternoons were often spent failing to intimidate them correctly into corners. People who tell you dogs can sense fear have not met sheep. People who tell you sheep are stupid have also not met sheep. Every herd of sheep has a Ringleader, who is in charge of outsmarting the humans. She has a slightly evil glint in her eye and is clearly enjoying herself as she selects the smallest or least confident herder to storm and get past, all the others thundering in her wake, more experienced sheep-catchers sighing elaborately, tutting and making it clear that it is Your Fault.

I had a favourite sheep, as all sentimental children do. She was old, and if I am honest, she was my favourite mainly because she was easily recognisable; most of the others looked basically the same to me, but she had a distinctive face. She never played Ringleader, and she was calm and compliant.

When I didn't see her one day, I asked my father where she was. Well, he informed me, she had had to go to the Old Sheeps' Farm. He pointed out of our kitchen window, in the direction of this sanctuary for elderly ovines. As sheep age, their teeth wear down, he explained morosely, looking genuinely sad at the fact; they cannot eat by themselves, so they are sent to the Old Sheeps' Farm, where they are hand-fed by kind and dedicated people.

Reader, I swallowed this nonsense wholesale. I believe I asked my father questions about the Old Sheeps' Farm, not only that day but in the months afterwards, and I fully accepted the existence of a retirement farm.

It was not until I was well into my teens, maybe 15 or 16, that the conversation popped back into my head at random. Of course there was no such thing as an Old Sheeps' Farm. I confronted my evil father with his big fat lie. He didn't remember the event, but thought it was hilarious. I must admit to finding a smidgeon of humour in it now myself, but only because I am certain we did not eat my favourite sheep, who was positively ancient by then.

By Duncan McNab on Unsplash

If you liked this countryside tale, you might like my poem about growing up in that place, Island, or to find out more about our traditional fabric, Harris Tweed.

Teenage yearsEmbarrassmentChildhood

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Comments (4)

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  • Ainy Abraham26 days ago

    You named your sheep, Fish. I think you must be inspired by the Fish so you named it Fish. Once I had a dog as it was German shepherd and I wanted it to be tough so I named it Shark.

  • Oh wow, a ringleader hahahahahahahha. Never knew that sheep are so smart! Lol, Fish! I too would have named them like that. So sorry about the Old Sheep Farm nonsense. For what it's worth, I too would have believed it 😅😅 Also, did your favourite sheep have a name?

  • Farhat Naseem27 days ago

    Childhood was amazing

  • Rachel Deeming27 days ago

    Great reminiscence. I grew up on a farm and have a tale to tell about my mother feeding me chicken drumsticks that still had little black feathers on them, and had once belonged to some chickens we had reared from fluffy chicks. I'd pleaded with her not to give them to me but she tried it anyway. I couldn't eat them.

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