I look at the Ryeland ewes, white and fat with fecundity. Replete with contentment.
Contentment is a transmissible condition. I catch it off the sheep. The old time shepherds used to sleep with their sheep, out in the fields.
I do it sometimes too, on the dry nights, the sheep lying down around me. I’m not sure on those nights who is protecting whom. Everybody thinks they know what sheep are like: they’re stupid, noisy, cowardly (‘lambs to the slaughter’), and they’re ‘sheepwrecking’ the environment.
Or maybe not. Contrary to popular prejudice, sheep are among the smartest animals in the farmyard, fiercely loyal, forming long and lasting friendships. Sheep, farmed properly, are boons to biodiversity.
They also happen to taste good and their fleeces warm us through the winter – indeed, John Lewis-Stempel’s family supplied the wool for Queen Elizabeth’s ‘hose’. Observing the traditional shepherd’s calendar, The Sheep’s Tale is a loving biography of ewes, lambs, and rams through the seasons. Lewis-Stempel tends to his flock with deep-rooted wisdom, ethical consideration, affection, and humour.
This book is a tribute to all the sheep he has reared and sheared – from gregarious Action Ram to sweet Maid Marion. In his inimitable style, he shares the tales that only a shepherd can tell.