It’s natural for a mother to want the best for her child even when she’s a he and it’s a sheep.
It takes a village to raise a child. Yet it’s taken only me to raise Xanthe, my first lamb, who I am hoping will grow up to be the greatest sheep who’s ever lived.
Obviously, as a mother, I must be amazing, but not nearly as amazing as Xanthe. She is both beautiful and smart, and very clean. Mostly. If I haven’t managed to train her out of you-know-what-ing in the garage pen she shares with Michele’s lamb, Elizabeth Jane, it’s only because Xanthe and I are fighting thousands of years of genetic predisposition for sheep to do their business wherever they happen to be standing. We’ll keep trying; but Rome wasn’t built in a garage in the Wairarapa in eight weeks.
Still, Xanthe has the finest of tails, a good straight back, a playful nature and soulful eyes. She is already enormous – I can now barely lift her – and I’m certain she will become, when the time comes, Miles the sheep farmer’s most prized milking sheep.
However, I believe a greater sort of fame should be in her future. But fame, as we know, can be as fickle a fellow as a ram in a paddock full of ewes.
So, I have been studying, with great alacrity, the various ways and means for Xanthe to reach our goal of her becoming the greatest sheep who’s ever lived.
Obviously, having, say, your own TV show is one approach; it’s certainly worked for Shaun the sheep from Wallace and Gromit. Of course, Shaun’s fictional. Despite what some readers might think, there is absolutely nothing fictional about Xanthe.
Being a bit blasphemous will get you some attention. Back in 2004, on the West Bank, a lamb was born with what appeared to be the word “Allah” in Arabic on its side, which I suppose literally made it a holy lamb of God.
Then there is being an unholy science experiment, like Dolly, the Scottish cloned sheep. What a sad thing she was, and how quickly her life ended; she was euthanised at age six suffering from lung disease and arthritis, which was very unlucky. But not as unlucky as Lucky the sheep. At 23, this pet was the world’s most long-lived sheep and might have lived even longer if she hadn’t died after a heatwave in her native Australia.
It turns out the most reliable route for sheep fame is for them to be a dirty hippie and grow their hair long. It worked, as you’ll remember, for that shameless showboat Shrek, who after lurking in a cave in Otago for six years, was shorn of his then world record 27kg fleece live on TV, and later met Prime Minister Helen Clark. I was surprised he wasn’t given a state funeral when he went to the great paddock in the sky in 2011.
And now there is Suzy, an unshorn, feral ewe found this month on a remote bluff south of Te Kuiti. As luck would have it, she was to be shorn in Masterton. Here was a chance for us to study an already famous sheep up close.
On a Sunday colder than a well digger’s arse, about 100 people gathered in the car park of The Wool Shed, the national museum of sheep and shearing, to watch the great event.
Suzy, too, has a good straight back and soulful eyes. She was shorn by a Peter Casserly, the world record-holding bladeshearer who did Shrek. Suzy was calm under pressure; Peter had a nosebleed.
It took a little over 8 minutes to take off her fleece, which was just 14.68kg and nowhere near the record. The audience clapped anyway, the bitter southerly turned to rain, and a now-nude Suzy was pushed, unceremoniously, into a pen, and possibly back into obscurity.
I had wanted to take Xanthe along. But I’m glad I didn’t. At her tender age, I don’t think she’s quite ready to see the harsh realities of life as a famous sheep.
She was euthanised at age six suffering from lung disease and arthritis, which was unlucky.
South Island blade shearer Peter Casserly about to give Suzy a spruce-up.