Sheep dreams are made of this

Rear­ing a strong and con­trary lamb proves to be a sur­pris­ingly stinky busi­ness.


Is­mell like a ripe ro­que­fort. Greg smells like Miles the sheep farmer’s pi­quant ewes’ milk pecorino. Our house smells like a cheese fac­tory (or a teenage boy’s sneak­ers).

I was go­ing on a rare out­ing last week to give a talk to the women of Master­ton’s Ran­furly Club. My talk was go­ing to be about sheep farm­ing to a gath­er­ing of very nice ru­ral ladies. I know noth­ing about sheep farm­ing, but I wasn’t about to let that stop me. I should have been billed as a writer of fan­tasy fic­tion.

Years ago, when I worked at a news­pa­per in Auck­land, I worked with a very funny for­mer news editor who, upon his re­tire­ment, once sent me a let­ter ad­dressed to: Michele He­wit­son, Fic­tion Writer, Lit­er­ary De­part­ment. He had al­ways been very en­cour­ag­ing about my jour­nal­ism ca­reer.

Any­way, to give this talk, I had to un­earth some semi-de­cent, or at least semi-clean, clothes. I said to Greg: “I smell funny.” I fi­nally fig­ured out that I smelt funny be­cause, for the first time in two weeks, I didn’t smell like cheese.

The rea­son we both smell of cheese is that we are rear­ing a lamb and so we are cov­ered in ewes’ milk. There’s no use get­ting changed, be­cause the lamb has to be fed four times a day. She also has to be walked (gal­loped, ac­tu­ally) and played with.

The lamb’s name is Xan­the, af­ter the land­scape de­signer Xan­the White, be­cause she is white and you can’t keep her out of the gar­den. She at least has the merit of be­ing cheap to buy toys for; she is ob­sessed with sticks and has amassed a huge col­lec­tion, which she keeps out­side her play pen in the garage. She chases the chick­ens (good lamb!). She sleeps in her playpen on vin­tage blan­kets and a cush­ion cov­ered in my grand­mother’s best cro­cheted cush­ion cover. She also has a heated pad, on which she likes to pee. I have not yet given her one of the patch­work baby quilts, of which I have many, that said grand­mother per­sisted in mak­ing for me – but I am think­ing about it.

That would be a sort of re­venge for the giv­ing of baby quilts to some­one who has never wanted a baby. This is prob­a­bly just as well. I pre­vi­ously had a dar­ling tiny black and white lamb called Lady Cordelia, de­spite Carolyn the shep­herdess’s warn­ings about giv­ing tiny crea­tures names too big for them. She failed to thrive, alas. This was very sad and also a waste of a good name.

Now we have Xan­the, who is grow­ing so fast that, at two weeks old, she thinks she is al­ready a big grown-up sheep.

She doesn’t know she’s a baby. She’s sup­posed to be my baby. She is a twin, born so long af­ter her sib­ling that the ewe had lost in­ter­est. I was to be her adop­tive mother.

It was me who wanted a lamb to raise, but she won’t have, ahem, a baa of me. She may have been a re­jected lamb, but she was born strong and con­trary. I car­ried her into the house to show my lamb to Greg. She should have bonded with me.

But she took one look at Greg and fell in love with him. Greg is now a lamb’s mother. I pre­tend to be miffed about this.

But re­ally, what could be cuter than watch­ing a chap ca­vort­ing on a daisys­trewn lawn with a lamb gal­lop­ing and leap­ing af­ter him?

He pre­tends to be miffed about hav­ing ewe-hood thrust upon him. I sus­pect the ado­ra­tion is mu­tual. Re­ally, only a mother could love her. She smells like a goat that has been rolling in Époisses de Bour­gogne, pos­si­bly the stinki­est cheese in the world. Luck­ily, we are ex­tremely par­tial to stinky cheeses.

It was me who wanted a lamb to raise, but she won’t have, ahem, a baa of me.

Xan­the the lamb look­ing for a chicken to chase.

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