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‘An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.’ For me these words from Martin Buber resonate enormously. And may I be forgiven when I say that the animals who live in this beautiful kingdom with us with eyes positioned on the side of their heads rather than the front both excite and calm me the most?
I do, like the rest of us I’m sure, like to think that I’m a ‘people’ person at heart but once you’ve gained the trust of a so-called ‘prey’ animal that really seems to be able to see all around and who don’t bolt when you approach or flinch when you touch them, the overwhelming happy feelings flow in abundance.
Animals have long been kept as pets by us humans but who would have considered the humble sheep to be up there among the pets that have the power to enrich our lives and contribute so much to our well-being?
Enter Oreo and Cookie. The black and white Dutch Zwartbles sheep who made their way as two-day old wibbly-wobbly lambs into my life at Christmas two years ago.
It’s usually April-May time when we expect to see leggy lambs springing around the nation’s fields but some farmers breed their sheep to lamb during winter months.
The rather aptly named Oreo and Cookie, so-called due to there black bodies and white facial markings came to me as pet lambs to be bottle-fed as their mothers had both had triplets and could only feed two lambs at a time. So I decided to give these two ‘wee’ Scottish guys a loving home for life at my Smallholding.
From day one Oreo in particular used to bellow rather loudly if I tried to sneak away quietly thinking he’d like a snooze and a rest to let his bottled milk digest. He was having none of it. And that was when the close bond and soul-nourishing relationship between us started. I was his replacement mum.
He usually had his little blue ‘dog jacket’ on to keep him warm but liked nothing better than to be lifted up onto my knee and only then would the bellowing baa stop. I even found myself rocking to and fro! The last vestige of when my own children were babies still imprinted in my brain perhaps.
The bond between animal and humans can be so utterly close and rewarding, even with a so-called farm animal.
Oreo lived in little nursery shed he shared with his friend Cookie. They were too young to be put in beside my other unrelated older sheep who had turned into clumsy 80kg colossuses who had long forgotten the fragility of being young and motherless.
Roll on a year and time to take the wool off the boys. I felt slightly overwhelmed by the task I’d set myself but I decided to see if I could create a backing for Oreo and Cookie’s big fleeces to turn them into rugs and throws. I was already emotionally invested in their lives and felt sure I could do it as I felt positively inspired whenever a looked at my sheep and even more by the touch of their wool. It truly is a fabulous feeling and always makes me smile.
That rich natural lanolin that you only get when wool is raw and straight off the sheep slides over my skin which has protected the sheep from the elements all winter that in turn nourishes me is totally amazing.
I taught myself to felt the back of my sheep’s fleeces with hand carded wool and I call them vegetarian sheepskins as there is no skin on the rugs.
For me it’s never indifference or threatening but only an openness and a fragility when I look into the eyes of a sheep. The feeling that omits from those eyes brings waves of endorphins that I’d say was akin to greeting a family member or an old friend. And that’s that kind if experience we all need to help us feel good, right?
Jill Walker is a shepherdess. Her creations are available at Ecohuman and her local farmers’ market in Haddington on the last Saturday of each month.