Thursday 29 September 2011

Barnyard Pageantry

My in-laws, the Rottens, have a small sheep farm out in dairy country and are active in the local chapter of the 4-H Club.  How awesome is that?  When I was a kid, I would have loved to have regular access to a farm.  Every spring there are opportunities for bottle feeding newborns and watching them play with each other in the fields.  Sooo delicious cute!  When my mother in-law called and told me the boys could participate in the Sheep Show in this year's fall fair I thought it was a great idea.

Now, I'm not so sure.

(Oh Dear God, let this be a good idea.)

It is only my complete faith in my in-laws' animal husbandry skills and their extreme caution when the safety of their grandchildren is concerned that is giving me the fortitude to allow this to go on because, holy shit! this totally looks like a very bad idea.  The idea, basically, is this:  to get each of my children, and their lambs, to parade around for a few minutes in front of some judges wearing matching costumes.  Should be a breeze, right?

Day One:  Wet. Lather. Rinse. And hell yeah, repeat that shit.

We thought it might be fun to put the boys into the lamb pen and let them pick which lamb they wanted.  The object of the game was to try and choose a female.  I believe the reasoning behind this apparent sexism is that Grandpa was much more likely to keep a female rather than the male and they maybe didn't want the kids developing an emotional attachment to a future meal.  Grim realities aside, I'm sure the picture you have in your head is one of my sweet boys wading in amongst a crowd of fuzzy little creatures that look something like this:
But by the time the fall fair comes around these cute little babies have gained about 100+ pounds, and have been rolling around in sheep shit for about 6 months.  So what you end up with is something that more closely resembles this:
Man, that is one Rasta looking sheep.
They are big, filthy, smelly animals that have a thick oil to their coat (lanolin, I presume) that only makes all the dirt and shit stick to them like glue.  There are golf-ball sized clinkers hanging around their rears and they are just...well...I will again refer you to the picture above.  Really, it is amazing to me that anyone ever conceived of making clothes and blankets out of this stuff.

Also, they are not very used to people.  As soon as Grandpa and my kids were in the pen they nearly trampled each other in their efforts to get away.  After several failed attempts at trying to get one specific lamb I'm pretty sure Grandpa just settled for whatever female he could catch and pretended like it was the very one the boys had chosen.  They didn't seem to notice.

Once the lambs were caught, Grandpa slipped a home-made halter over their muzzles in order to guide them where we wanted them to go.  The lamb that was chosen for Frack, who I named "Bucky", went all kinds of rodeo trying to get that thing off of her.  I have no idea how they expected this beast to agree to wearing a costume.  I have no idea how they expected my three year old to stand next to this beast, help from Grandpa or no.

How was this going to end in anything other than disaster?  Because my in-laws know what they're doing, right?  Because they've been doing this kind of stuff for a long time, right?

We forced the very uncooperative lambs over to the old picnic table and tied them to it.  Our contestants were quite clearly in need a bath if they were going to be Sheep Show ready.  We thought it might be fun if the boys would help out with the washing so that the lambs could get accustomed to their presence and hopefully calm the fuck down.  Predictably enough, this "bonding experience" between my boys and their lambs ended up with us three adults scrubbing sheep while the kids played nearby.

By the end of the job we were fairly wet (my in-laws more than myself, I admit) and the lambs had gone from the dingy greyish-brown to more of a yellowish-brown-off-white.  It was getting dark and the lambs had been traumatized enough, so we called it a day.  We would finish the job tomorrow.

Day Two:  The Shearing of the Lambs

One of the tricks of Barnyard Pageantry is, when you can't get your lambs to look completely clean (and believe me you can't) you just shear off the yucky stuff.  That same lanolin that got all the shit and dirt stuck to them also protected the wool closest to their skin, leaving it soft and white.  We thought it would be good if the boys helped out with the shearing as another attempt at "bonding".  Grandpa said that ideally they would have been playing with these lambs all summer to tame them, but we didn't know about this category in the Sheep Show until a few days ago.  This was not very reassuring.

I had never really seen a sheep get sheared in person before.  I had seen some of those record-speed shearers on the Discovery channel I think, but that is nothing like the real thing. The initial part of the shearing, Grandpa did alone because it involved wrestling the lamb into a sitting position and shearing the underside.  Like so:

The buzz of the clippers and our efforts to stay still and quiet were rather hypnotizing.  Watching the gradual progress of the clippers as they methodically sheared away dirty wool leaving behind clean, white wool, going lower and lower to the belly and oh gosh, I hope he doesn't cut her nipples!  And then you realize suddenly that you have been silently staring at the nether regions of a lamb as she sits there helplessly, getting the barnyard equivalent of a Brazilian....there just isn't a word to describe that moment. (Dear Germany, Please invent a clever word to accurately describe that moment.)

I have the maturity of a 12-year old.  I couldn't stop thinking about the ridiculous look on the lamb's face which seemed to be begging for her dignity back, or the realization that my father in-law had probably sheared the lady gardens of hundred of ewes before this, or knowing that he could probably relate with a lot of women about the difficulties of hedge-trimming etc.  I started to smirk and snicker and look the other way in an effort to hide my amusement but it was too late.  Frick noticed and asked loudly what was so funny?  Mother Rotten gave me a look that I am pretty sure meant she knew exactly what I was laughing about and I hope to God the reason she knew this was because she was thinking it, too.  Because now she knows I have a very childish and very dirty mind.  Sheep-dirty, in fact.

Don't look at me!
When Grandpa was finished, the lamb was tied to this special table which is meant to restrain the lamb while she gets sheared.  Bucky wasn't having it.  Once we got her in place she freaked right out, broke the table to splinters and ran off.  Once she got in with the rest of the adult herd they were reluctant to let her go and surrounded her.  I thought for sure she would run into the barnyard to roll in some sheep shit just to be spiteful but, after a bit of a chase, Grandpa managed to catch her before she got the chance.  When they were finished the shearing all they needed to become the iconic pastoral image of fluffy white sheep was a perfunctory mani-pedi (i.e. Grandpa scraped the shit our from their hoofs and then trimmed the ends) and voila!  Straight from the pages of Mother-freaking-Goose.

Now that's more like it. (Not actual lamb)
Now all I had to do was close my eyes and pray that my kids had the same number of teeth they started with.  What the hell is wrong with me?  Am I crazy for allowing this?  If anyone other than my in-laws were proposing this insanity there would be no way.  (Deep breath) I'm sure everything will be just fine.


Everything was just fine.  Apparently the lambs became all kinds of gentle overnight.  They willingly wore their costumes.  No one got kicked in the face and the boys got trophies and money.  I think if the judges had seen what I had seen they would have demanded that the lambs take a drug test.

1 comment:

  1. Yay for trophies and weirdly behaved (drugged?) sheep! I did 4H in high school and one year a friend and I decided to raise and show two hogs together. They were beautiful and I named them Penelope and Clementine. They were kept together in a pin on my friend's property (her family had the pin, my family bought the piglets) and we visited them and cared for them everyday. It was awesome, and come show time I got some ribbons and my pig sold for a lot of money! A few months after I ran into the farmer who had bought my hog at auction and inquired after her, thinking she would be pregnant and soon providing him with lots of baby pigs. She had been slaughtered. Oh the lesson we unknowingly teach our children.