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The Coolest Little Sheep in the World

by Tom Brad 7 months ago in adoption

Sometimes You Just Have to Rescue the Whole Gang.

Some new additions to this years gang.

I absolutely love March and April.

It is two months of cold and rain and sometimes snow.

The ground is muddy, too muddy.

The nights start out too long but they do rapidly start to shorten.

I am haunted by the longest checklist of jobs, taunting me everywhere I go. Nudging and reminding me of everything I have not done yet.

I have to start this period by manically repairing fences.

I need to know the weather for the next five days and plan around it.

I create and maintain a temporary little house for surprise midnight visitors.

I am non-stop heckled and cajoled by the most demanding bunch of women.

I rarely rest. My night time routine is three hours sleep and then a walk onto my back field. Another three hours sleep and then a walk out again. I give up sleeping in the bed for four weeks. I make a camp on the sofa and set an alarm on an old vintage bell clock. I place it in the kitchen so I cannot hit snooze. This means I have to physically get up to silence it. Then I drink a pint of tap water to wake my body up and stop me falling back to sleep. After the first ten days the body is conditioned and I can stop drinking the water which is a mercy on the bladder.

After a month of this the fatigue is crushing. The brain almost slides into a surreal awareness of the world. This year, events happened faster than expected. That meant it all had to be done earlier in worse weather and harsher conditions.

Despite all of this I would not change a thing or miss it for anything. It is the most joyous four/five weeks of the year. It is my Christmastime. It is wonderful. It is when all the babies arrive and this year we have had twelve.

Meet 'Smokey' and 'The Bandit' rare polar twin girls.

So how did a British expat city boy like me, end up traipsing around fields in Normandy in the dead of night raising sheep? Well I rescued them.

How I ended up in Normandy can be read in The Short Lived Adventures of Scallydog’s Emporium.

This story is about how I accidentally discovered my inner shepherd. It all happened five years ago. I had been converting a derelict watermill; adding toilets, electricity, new windows and doors, mains sewage, pretty hard when you basically live on an island.

My French Project

A friend of mine came to see me. He asked if I wanted some sheep. I laughed I had no idea what to do with sheep. He said he had a problem and thought I might be the solution and asked me to come with him. Now I live at the bottom of a valley. It is the best place to locate a watermill. We drove up to the top. One of the only English speakers in the area lived here. I am not going to name names as I feel a need to protect the guilty. The lady that lived here I had encountered a couple of times. The truth is I did not like her. Until today I could not put my finger on it. I have worked and been around a lot of people in my life and believe I have good intuition. It does not matter what language you speak there are plenty of tells and give aways in how you carry yourself. The nicest thing I can say about this lady is she was consumed with self-interest. My friend did a lot of work for her and I think she took advantage and exploited him.

This was the tail end of winter and the property was not that large. I could not see any sheep. He pulled out a bucket and put in some feed granules placing them inside and shook the bucket. Coming tearing out the woods of a neighbouring property came fifteen black sheep. They had ripped through the fencing and escaped.

“Why are they over there?” I asked

“They are starving.”

A Shetland pony came over to greet the sheep and inspect the bucket.

“Why are they starving?”

“No one looks after them.”

At this point my mind was racing. The lady who owned them came over and immediately started discussing money and how much I had to pay her for her animals. Then I knew she had no soul. I made my excuses and broke away with my friend.

“What do I know about sheep?”

“More than her, I know you Tom, you will look after them.”

“Where will I put them?”

“On your back field.”

“It is surrounded on three sides by river, can they jump?”

“You will work it out.”

“I will need some time.”

“She wants them gone by Saturday”

“Tell the old witch I will take them, and I am taking the pony too.”

“The money?”

“Thirty pieces of silver, you mean.”

“Yes.”

“She can have it.”

In my opinion these animals were suffering abuse. I was living in a strange country with no real grasp of the system or language. Some solutions to problems are ugly but they solve the problem. The flock had six rams. I said I would only take one ram. She would have to deal with the other five. She said she knew a man who would butcher them for ten euros a head. This rang alarm bells. It seemed an awfully cheap solution for a difficult job.

My backfield, The Promised Land!

The idea of owning a flock of black sheep was not lost on me. As the black sheep of my family I found it amusing.

They were Ouessant sheep. The Ouessant sheep is a breed of domestic sheep from France. Developed from the island of Ouessant, off the coast of Brittany. This is an Atlantic island which makes these extremely small sheep, tough. They are not fans of shelter and will only use it in the most extreme weather. I call them my little Vikings.

They were kept on the island until the mid 1900’s. It is one of the smallest breeds of domestic sheep in the world. Today the breed is being raised in a number of European countries including France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

According to the Ouessant Sheep Society of Great Britain, “The exceptionally small size of the Ouessant is attributed to the poor grazing on the island, which led to the selection of small sheep for breeding.”

The breed almost disappeared and was saved from extinction by a group of Aristocrats, who allowed the sheep to graze on the land surrounding their chateaux.

Although not endangered they are an encouraged breed. A breed that people want in more places. Now they are wanted in my place. But first I had to find a way to get them to the promised land. I had to build them a bridge and I had to do it in five days. I found a farmer with some railway sleepers arranged delivery and got to work.

God I wish I still looked this... Damn you French patisserie

Saturday came and we went back up the hill to fetch them. The lady was no use. She wanted her money and then disappeared back inside. They are fast like dogs and hard to catch it took two days to collect them up and also to bring their friend, Lollipop the pony. He would end up loving getting drunk in the orchard on the apples. A kindred spirit as I enjoyed a tipple in there as well.

My boy Lollipop...

All the sheep, bar one, were pregnant, I had to get my thinking cap on and learn fast.

Two Facebook groups taught me everything and I had to read endless sheep 101 guides. I now bring two or three horses to live with them as guardians throughout the summer. I have had to learn everything about lambing but as a small breed they tend to have a single lamb. Twins are rare. It is important to be at hand but as a rustic breed it is well advised to do very little to interfere and just let them get on with it. Weather is the hardest element to conquer and night time births. They are surprisingly intelligent. If I wear a new pair of shoes and go out to see them. They come over to inspect my new footwear. We have lost a couple through dog attacks and a couple through a wild boar attack. One drowned in the river. Two in childbirth, one from a stroke and another from a broken heart when the baby did not survive. I have become a fair to middling sheep vet and spend some time each summer with a couple of patients to treat, normally for fly strike (Google it). That makes it sound like I do not have any sheep left. The truth is after five years I have set up three other colonies in other places in Normandy. I have supervised over 40 births. I have swapped out stock to protect the bloodline. Twenty per cent of baby sheep worldwide do not survive lambing. That’s one in five. We beat them odds. I surprised a lot of the locals by raising them like dogs. It means I have a couple of shepherd tricks that entertain the villagers when they look in from the bridge. My favourite one is in the video. Not bad for a city boy.

For Goodness Sake Tom. Pull your trousers up.

They are an incredible animal. They have an amazing social structure. They are rough and tough when you bring in new stock. Everyone fights to get their position on the ladder. I caught two of the baby lambs, girls, head butting each other for position yesterday, barely a month old. I can name everyone of them and currently with the twelve new babies have thirty in the field. A local farmer told me if you want to know about animals, just watch them. Through doing this I have found my own ways to do things. I am regularly told what I am doing wrong. I am regularly told what I should be doing. Normally by people with experience of a different breed or they have just read a book and are now a self-appointed expert. No one ever asks if they are happy. The people who see them and hang out with them can see the joy they have and the joy they give me. They offer no advice because they can see none is needed. They will tell you everything they want and what you need to understand. They were the best company during the first COVID lockdown and even stared in their own movie. Hanging out with these dudes really saved my sanity at times. Twilight now with the babies playing is one of the greatest experiences to be a part of.

So what of the five rams I left behind. That bothered me. It was the right decision a flock with too many rams will create too many problems and livestock needs to be balanced. Well five weeks after bringing them down to the mill I had a surprise one morning. Five rams were on one side of the river. The whole flock were on the other. Apparently sheep can recognise the calling of their family over quite a distance. The rams escaped to find them. I contacted the lady and she came down to see the problem. She was slightly miffed that her old sheep did not recognise her or have any interest in her presence. She offered the rams to me as a gift. What a kind gesture. She was only refusing to deal with her own problem. I took ownership of the rams. It needed a better person to put it right. It turns out some people are not supposed to own animals.

There is an honesty in raising them and I believe it brings the best out in me. For that I will always be grateful.

My shepherding adventures continue.

Until next time, Au Revoir.

This is just a brief introduction. I have some more shepherding adventures to share with you later in the month.

Thank you for reading my story.

I really like to write short fiction. I find telling true stories like this one hard. I have some more stories to share here of both varieties.

If you want to share my story please feel free and have a great day.

adoption

Tom Brad

Raised in the UK by an Irish mother and Scouse father.

Now confined in France raising sheep.

Those who tell the stories rule society.

If a story I write makes you smile, laugh or cry I would be honoured if you shared it and passed it on..

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Tom Brad
Read next: My Dog Wears a Muzzle for His Own Protection... Not Yours

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