February 19, 2006
Wool Gathering

My dad likes to tell the story about how he had a pet chicken as a child in Northern Ohio. The story does not have a happy ending; the pet came to an untimely end in the service of the kitchen, of course. But the story fascinated me growing up in suburbia, because nobody I knew had a chicken (or even a pony). It's perhaps unnecesary to add that I was (still am) a city girl and proud of it.

Thus I wonder if I need to take my own temperature and perhaps lie down for a while when I find myself daydreaming about moving back to KJ South and raising sheep at Squatter's Inn (see Dr. Surly's new photos of the place here).

Yes, you read that correctly. Easy now.

I'd be willing to start with just a few sheep, really. It seems such a refreshing change from desk jockeying, conference calls, and pushing bits and bytes--a life laden with Anglophilia, full of Wellingtons, sweaters, and wooly animals. I wouldn't even mind "mucking" the barn, whatever that means, if I could have lots of hand sanitizer afterward. Oh, and a herding dog, to run around and herd the sheep and me when I got tired.

Don't get me wrong; I know nothing about livestock and less than nothing about animal husbandry, as E. likes to gleefully point out. (These conversations usually end with me saying "You have to do what? Ewwww!" and making "The Worried Face (TM)".) I also realize that this plan does nothing for that pesky making-a-living problem, unless I learn some useful skill, like knitting and making cheese. Underneath it all I am aware that a) farming is hard work; b) possibly against the zoning laws; c) smelly, no doubt; and d) expensive; sheep must be fed, etc.

But who hasn't wanted to shed their skin (or, in this case, their wool) and walk into a totally different life? A good first step, I suppose, would be to meet a sheep in person, so to speak. Thus I would come full circle, back to where I began with the story of dad and his chicken, with the literal and figurative understanding that when it comes to livestock or lifestyles, the things you love have a good chance of ending up on the table.

The Brits apparently feel the same way according to this news report, which finds, "About 40 percent of all farmland is now sold to 'lifestyle buyers' rather than the dwindling number of traditional farmers, according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors." In addition, it quotes a food writer: "It may be the mark of the next stage of civilization that we rediscover the desirability of being a peasant." Yikes.

Life at a Vermont Icelandic sheep farm.

Awww! Some cute photos of sheep here.

DIY: Article about fleece production.

Hobby Farms magazine.

This writer looks at the term "hobby farm" and, not surprisingly, opines that no one takes "hobby farmers" very seriously. He proposes "amateur farmer" instead.

Posted at February 19, 2006 04:33 PM

It does appear that some folks farm sheep down there.

Posted by: mike on February 19, 2006 07:54 PM

"Mucking" is shoveling the shit, mud, straw, and other random detritus out of the barn and/or the animal's stalls. Ummm-mm.

Posted by: Bill on February 23, 2006 11:57 PM
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