‘Even the sheeps on the hills is lonely’

by Diana Studer
- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa

From a letter which inspired the title of The Hills is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith.

Sheep may safely graze
Sheep may safely graze

Aline Templeton – Cold in the earth I remember, for the background insight into the life of a sheep farmer. She, is a detective, investigating murder. He, is a sheep farmer. I remembered the book as set in the Welsh hills, but it is Galloway in Scotland.

Sheep in Porterville
Sheep in Porterville
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

But the sheep – the sheep were different. They had colonised Mains of Craigie land even before Bill’s grandfather bought the farm and Bill’s pride in and, yes, love for his heritage went deep.

The dog at his feet lay, nose on its paws, ears flat, in an attitude of utter dejection. Her ears pricked as her mistress came in and the plumy tail gave a token twitch, then she sighed deeply and the ears flattened again. They both looked so – so defeated.

The sheep came from a ‘hefted’ flock – one with a homing instinct for its own particular territory, taught by ewe to lamb down the generations so that they never stray. Even in harsh winter conditions they would scrape down through the snow to find their own forage.

But there in the pastures, when you looked closer, were rank grasses, nettles, docks and sorrel, the ungrazed land rapidly succumbing to the stranglehold of weeds. It was happening in every field, on every hillside: the pretty, ‘natural’ landscape with its velvet-soft green contours, so beloved of visiting town-dwellers, was produced by its flocks of sheep and no more natural than a shed of battery chickens.

from Aline Templeton's Cold in the Earth 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sheep and lamb
Sheep and lamb

This book was published in 2005, and set during the foot-and-mouth epidemic when flocks and herds were slaughtered. I wonder how long it takes for a new flock to become ‘hefted’ to its own patch. As the matriarch of an elephant herd remembers where to find water in a drought.

Donkey guarding sheep
Donkey guarding sheep

In May 2011most of the flocks of sheep we saw around Porterville, had a donkey grazing with them. Donkeys will warn the sheep of leopards. And will use their hooves to defend the sheep. In North Yorkshire and in the USA.

Dorper sheep
Dorper sheep

The dorper with their dark heads recall Jacob sheep in Yorkshire and Scotland. The 'dor' part is the Dorset Horn ram. I have a thick pullover in Jacob colours, with sheep on it. And the rug I'm sharing with Chocolat on my footstool. Dark head on a white body is a pattern nature favours. I remember the gulls on the lake in Zurich, with their dipped in chocolate heads.

Sheep and Eucalyptus trees
Sheep and Eucalyptus trees
Sheep in the Riebeeck valley
Sheep in the Riebeeck valley

Crossing the Riebeeck valley in July 2011, we found a small flock of sheep. Mostly rams with twirled horns.

Ram's horn
Ram's horn

In April 2015 the National Trust was looking for a shepherd for a conservation project in the foothills of Snowdon, North Wales. Guiding the grazing of a hefted flock to improve diversity ... for heather and bog asphodel...

It is six years since I began blogging with a black stork!


Our neighbour's bead and wire sheep welcomes us home to False Bay.

Pictures by Jurg Studer 

(If you mouse over teal blue text, it turns seaweed red.
Those are my links.
To read or leave comments, either click the word Comments below,
or click this post's title)

Comments

  1. Wonderful post about sheep and so interesting that in South Africa donkeys are guarding sheep to protect them agains leopards.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm intrigued the job as Welsh shepherd. Especially as the winter storm is bucketing down today!

      Delete
  2. wow, that is amazing,,, I enjoyed every word and shall look for that book,

    a shepherd job is probably hard to fill, no one wants the isolation anymore do they.
    I think I would give it a try as long as I had a few donkeys along with,, lol,

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The resident shepherd in the linked video clip said - for the right person it's the perfect job!

      Delete
  3. Diana, I appreciated this post so much. I felt I was chewing on the language of another time, the richness of the farmer's life, his dogs, his lambs, his lonely yet rewarding work. I do to see sheep-herding trials once a year (because we have a border collie from a famous lineage) and I love hearing those in the know talk about the differences in the sheep. Some are more willful than others, some are a little meaner in temperment. I don't think I've ever seen a Dorper Sheep though. It was exciting to read that Nature favors these colors. It occurred to me since you love this language too, that you might love: "On a Northern Farm: by Henry Beston. If I can find it, I'll send you a brilliant quote by Beston about animals..."like ourselves caught in this web of life and time."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks for the book - I'm now privileged to be in reach of a City library ... and can so too seek out particular books to read!

      Delete
  4. Shepherding seems at once relaxing and incredibly demanding at the same time. I can't imagine it, really. Interesting that there are sheep and shepherds 'round the world. Sounds like an interesting book!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can't imagine dealing with the weather and the long walks. But it makes for idyllic pictures and stories.

      Delete
  5. Very insightful! I take for granted the Welsh and Scotts 'natural landscape' when I visit those countries. That those hills would change when the sheep were slaughtered didn't occur to me.P. x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Our fynbos and the US prairies are both fire adapted landscapes. Watching our burnt mountain slowly turn to green and flowers, then a few years for the proteas to become stately shrubs again.

      Delete
  6. Beautiful photos! I love chocolate heads on white body...so cute :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. chocolate and cream is a delicious combination

      Delete
  7. Such an interesting post. I love the shot of the sheep with the chocolate colored heads : )

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. and the gulls in Zurich amused me. Home of good chocolate!

      Delete
  8. In our city sheep are used to in steep places along the a busy road where lawn mowers can't come. It's nice to see them grazing imperturbably.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In Porterville it took me a while to get used to seeing and hearing sheep in our neighbour's back garden. In Zurich this city girl found it weird how many rural corners with sheep were tucked in!

      Delete
  9. I don't see too many flocks of sheep here...more cows and there is usually a donkey with the herd...I never knew why! Fascinating.

    ReplyDelete
  10. great photos, fascinating post, about a world I knew nothing about. I always had a soft spot for donkeys, now even more so!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Herd donkeys! That is pretty amazing. I have always loved images of sheep, though I can't remember when I saw one in person. We have a lot of cattle here.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hi Diana. I thought I recognised those trees as Eucalypts! I'm sure it's not the case for those who work with them, but sheep always seem such a contented animal, not out to hurt anyone. I'd love to have some of my own some fine sunny day!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Our neighbour has a bead and wire sheep sculpture, which I enjoy when we go past.

      Delete
  13. Diana,
    clever donkeys!!! Didn't now that! But, as you know, we don't have leopards in our mountains :)!!!
    Wonderful pictures!
    Have a happy happy time
    Elisabeth

    ReplyDelete
  14. What a fascinating post! I WOULD say that, as here in Wales we DO love our sheep.
    Most of yours seem beautifully fat compared to ours.
    Those dorpers are fun - they look as if they have stuck their heads in a dirty pool of something.
    As for the donkey idea - how wonderful and heroic!
    All the best :)

    ReplyDelete

Popular Posts