Sunday, 7 September 2008

spring has sprung

spring has sprung and brought with it various firmly grounding farming duties, such as the crutching of sheep and the marking of lambs.

crutching is pretty much like being given a Brazilian but is achieved with clippers rather than wax. it's necessary before the ewes lamb, ensuring a cleaner arrival for the lamb as well as more aromatic access to the milk bar. and before any PETA members leap in with howls of outrage, no, the process is not painful (merely a trifle undignified). if sheep kept their posteriors pristine it wouldn't be necessary. as it is, humans have been intervening in sheep breeding for over 4000 years in order to coax them to grow soft fluffy wool rather than hard hairy stuff.

this makes it tricky to keep the rear end clean and so regular trimming is necessary. uncrutched sheep are far more likely to become flyblown in warmer weather. and don't confuse the process with mulesing. this is trimming of fluff, mulesing involves removal of skin. erk.

crutching is also required before shearing as is saves having to pick the stained wool out of the fleece. that same stained wool was used in the manufacture of the naturally dyed "berber" carpets so popular in the 70s. those lovely brown flecks in your otherwise oatmeal coloured floor covering were dyed on the sheep with poo, using urine as a co-mordant. enjoy.

marking of lambs means the docking of tails and in the case of ram lambs, also the removal of their gentlemens vegetables. the tail removal, though admittedly not an attractive thought does help prevent flystrike in later life (see crutching, above). a slow death on the paddock while being eaten alive by maggots is not pleasant.

and why are ram lambs neutered? simple. if the sheep are being kept for wool, then that grown on wethers tends to be more even in style and quality. ewes wool can exhibit the stresses of pregnancy and nursing; rams wool tends to be much stronger and comes with a unique perfume, reminiscent of the billy-goat leather handbag i once innocently purchased at a market in Spain. nasty, especially on warm days. (note to self, never purchase bag without doing sniff test.)

this perfume can also be tasted in the meat in the event the sheep is destined for the table and while some cultures and religions specify the consumption of entires it's not a flavour i would actively pursue in my cooking. mind you, having assisted at sheep births over the years i won't eat the stuff anyway, roasting lamb smells too much like freshly born lamblet and i'm no baby eater.

selling the lambs to someone else at 6 months when they've turned into monsters that destroy fences for fun and beat up their mothers for the last drop of milk is an easier proposition.

and now i can pootle off to my next two teaching engagements (Geelong, Victoria later this month; and Mandya, India in October) with a clear conscience. fingers crossed they'll all still have nice clean bums when in comes to shearing time when the weather warms up later this spring.


  1. I was about to leave a comment on your black dog post but so many others have sprung into action and spring has come.
    Great to see you putting things straight about crutching and docking.
    Your blog is a great source of joy and inspiration, a welcome break from the solitude of my studio.

  2. Thanks for your note on my blog. I've been enjoying your blog for a while. I love what you are doing with textiles, your photos and enjoy reading about your travels. Stop by and visit me in Wisconsin anytime. Chris

  3. Beautiful blossom!!

    I understand your care taking of your sheep..necessary duties... we used to have goats and sheep.. just a few.. my wether Angora goat was bigger in size to my female but his fleece was beautiful and did seem much softer than the male,... he would go for walks in the woods along the brook with me just like a dog.. so friendly too.
    ...and although lambs with long tails look sweet in nursery rhyme illustrations.. they can lead to more trouble later..
    I like that you care so much for your flock!!