Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Lowdown on Sheep

Ever wonder the difference between a lamb and a sheep? And do you really believe there's such a thing as a black sheep? Ever wonder how a dog herds sheep? Or if it's painful for sheep to be sheared?  Well, hold your breath no more as we went to a sheep farm and have the low-down on everything sheepish!

The answer to the first question:

These are lambs, I kid you not! And when they are lambs, they are sheared twice the first year. After that, they become 'adult' sheep (we all knew that right?, that these little lambs turn into sheep after their 1st birthday?) and are sheared once a year. The shearing is done in New Zealand November through January.

The answer to the next question:

This fella is the real deal. It's a genetic thing and it happens in about 1 out of 1,000 (I think the odds are way more than that). In reality, even two 'white' sheep can produce a black one and in the old days, black wool was pretty worthless- hence the phrase 'black sheep in the family' as in no good for nothing.

Next, sheep dogs love their job:

Leo, the sheep dog here, can herd the sheep at his master's command by looking at the lead sheep and barking loudly or nipping- it scares the hell out of them! We watched him do this several times, down the hill and then back up. Sheep dogs apparently love doing this work.

As for getting fleeced (so to speak), how are they sheared? They use machine shears and they operate like barber haircutters. We watched and it doesn't hurt them at all:

They put the sheep on their rump which makes them almost immobile during the process: 

The above pic shows a comparison of the sheep sheared (he's the scared looking one in the back) versus ones not sheared so you get a sense of the amount of wool they produce. And once sheared, they need to be protected for a few days from sunburn, then they go back into the flock. 

Shearers can make good bucks. They are paid on a per sheep basis at $2- $3 each and more for merino sheep and they can average 300 sheep per day. 

Next up- our last country on our world journey- Japan

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