Greg Dixon

It’s nat­u­ral for a mother to want the best for her child even when she’s a he and it’s a sheep.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - GREG DIXON

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.

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