Crazy Shaun the lamb plopped unexpectedly onto our lawn last week. His mummy, Daisy, did sneak off briefly, but not briefly enough, to visit the ram along the road a few months back. She wore the dog collar and lead of shame as we frogmarched her back through the village to her own garden.
For the past few months she’s looked identical to her identical sister Dolly. 10 days ago our neighbour said he saw a tiny fluffy black thing that looked like a lamb on the grass, on his way back from watering his donkeys. Can’t be, the sheep aren’t pregnant, we said.
Here he is. He’s a Ouessant lamb. These sheep come from the Brittany island of Ouessant, and were bred to be tiny so that fisher wives could easily handle them when their husbands were at sea. They are incredibly hardy, incredibly hard to catch, and have 12% of their total bodyweight made up of wool. That’s a lot.
We have two which we took home from the far corner of our region, Limousin in central France, tucked into the boot of the car with some straw and the appropriate travel authorisation paperwork which expired at midnight that night. France does love a dossier. The vendor thought the sheep might be sterile because they were sisters and it’s very unusual for tiny ouessants to carry twins. So did we until last week.
Our other sheep, Ellie, was orphaned at a few days old and lived behind the sofa while she was being bottle fed every few hours. She woke the whole hamlet up with her crying. As she grew older she sat on the window ledge waiting on the school bus. She looks like a monster now, being a normal sheep, compared with the ouessants.
What are they for? Ellie wasn’t planned, The farmer gave her to us because he didn’t have time to bottle feed her, but with the other two the idea was to have a few sheep as organic lawn mowers and composters. Felletin, a nearby town is famous for its wool, milling and dyeing – there are courses in felting at the Wool Festival every year. Matt and I signed up a few years ago and learnt the basics. Otherwise we use the wool we shear as insulation in any DIY projects. Mice seem to leave it alone.
Finding a sheep shearer is tricky around these parts. Wool is worth practically nothing. It’s often composted. We knew that integrating into the French way of life was inversely proportionate the level of difficulty in finding a sheep shearer. I did it myself the first year: started with the littleuns and by the time I got to Ellie my legs were so black and blue I only had the energy to do a half shear. Wanting it to look more like intention than defeat I did exactly half, with the line right down the middle of her back. Like a Damien Hirst exhibit. I breathed a sigh of relief when it grew back. I was worried that she might collapse sideways under the weight when it rained.
Stage two of integration is being asked to help at a shearing on a nearby farm. I was assigned the lowly job of tooth checker and toenail snipper. But that is irrelevant, I was in there. The stronger guys in the team were the catchers and tipper-overers, then I checked for missing teeth (to ensure a healthy number still remained), then gave a toenail snip, then the professional shearer dangling from a back support spring took over with an impressively deft electric clipper shear, before they were finally released back into the field. Where I had taken 4 hours per sheep with hand shears, he took less than 4 minutes. We got through more than 100 on a day, to my 2.
Stage 3, year 3, in rural French integration is the professional sheep shearer agreeing to us visiting with our sheep to shear. It took the best part of a day for Adam and I to catch the damned things and get them in the trailer for the 45 minute journey to the sheep shearer’s place. Ellie the big lump was easy; outfoxing the lightening fast ouessants was another thing altogether. We made traps and decoys and eventually go them into the trailer.
The next year, stage 4, is the sheep shearer coming to you. We knew we had made it in rural France.
Back to Shaun. When out little bundle arrived (via our not long sheared and identical to her sister sheep), Katie erected a tent in the garden to sleep at close quarters to the newbie and keep predators at bay. I don’t think foxes would be brave enough to scoop up even a tiny dot like Shaun with our house’s open wee policy (testosterone in wee keeps foxes away, and is a big highlight when little, and big, boys come to visit). The shepherdess was taking no chances.
Shaun has become our evening entertainment. Here he is full of the joys of life. He gets naughtier every day. There’s something about watching a lamb jumping around that warms the soul. Katie’s first shot at iMovie, with some brotherly assistance. Do you like it? Let us know 🙂