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The Sheep Collector

There is nothing more Yorkshire than the Nidderdale Show. Set in the beautiful dales village of Pateley Bridge, it serves as a pilgrimage the the regions sheep farmers, and is followed shortly after by Masham sheep fair (which borders on the caricature, it is so Yorkshire).

It was my first time at Nidderdale, and it exceeded expectations. Pen upon pen of sheep stretched out in front of me, sheep shearers primed their blades, farmers fluffed up their proverbial feathers, donning their white coats and flat caps. There was certainly a competitive edge in the air.

Wensleydale stood next to Swaledale, who was beside Dalesbred and Masham. The iconic areas of this mighty county lay spread like a map of sheep in front of me. Each area proud of its own sheep breed. Each farmer casting a critical eye over horn and fleece and leg.

I love them all, each woolly bleating bundle of joy, whose fleeces have been groomed and dyed and oiled and trimmed. I have my favourites: the docile Suffolks with their soft eyes and relaxed ears, their great big backs and stocky legs are my sheep of choice. Their crossed breeds happen to be lovely too.

Perhaps the biggest pull for me are the pens of ‘fat lambs’ – as they are so daintily named. Young little lambs, about 5 months old, are penned up in groups to be shown before slaughter. It makes me feel such a huge conflict of interest. Doe eyes and trusting souls of nature’s youth stare up at me. But I know their fate.

It was one such pen that called to me. Situated in a corner and full of young lambs, was a pen that I made a beeline for. I’ve no idea why. Sheep surrounded me from all angles, but 2 brown-faced, Suffolk-cross-Welsh sheep, mixed with a load of texels, caught my heart. I cupped their faces and stroked their heads, their little muzzles reached up to be kissed. They’d stolen my show.

Two little boys stood by the pen with their mother – the farmer’s wife. I spoke some Yorkshire to break the ice and asked casually about these two lambs. Both castrated males, both played with by the boys, both loved, but both destined for slaughter. Aged five months old already, their culling date was close. I had no choice, I made my move. Working on the hearts of the kids, I pulled on their emotions. No, apparently they didn’t want their little sweet darlings being brutally killed and eaten – as it so happened…. I had sealed the lambs’ fate and so had intwined it with mine.

The main problem, I knew, was going to be men. The farmer looked at me like I was an impossible question. Puzzled, bemused, perplexed and incredulous, he was lost for words. The upturned sad eyes of his very young boys did the trick, and the sheep were mine. The first hurdle was cleared. The next one was going to be a little more tricky….

I hid the sheep purchase from Alan for a few days – I was on a promise. No more animals. Ever. Period. ‘Ok. No problem.’ I lied. So I broached the subject – and hit a wall. I wondered if he’d notice if I just sneaked them home. After all these two did look similar ish to Juno and Jupiter, but were just half the size and had different coloured faces. What could possibly go wrong?

The trouble was, was my plan of transport. I had had no problem transporting sheep in the boot of my car in the past, but this farmer was a professional with high standards and a good knowledge of the law, and the years of cavalier attitudes had long since passed. There was no way round it, I needed Alan, his truck and beast box. I had some serious work to do. I began to get to work at once.

So we all set off to the Knaresborough sheep farm with my kids in tow. Thomas, in a fog of virtual reality – having been extracted from his cave dwelling underworld of screens and games: ‘Sheep? What? Huh? Whose? Do I have to?’ Etc. Anna – forever the backstreet driver, ‘It’s down there, I told you so, don’t you know anything? etc etc’, with rolling eyes and sighs and huffs and the endless life experience of her 13 long years. It’s lucky I brought them along, God only knows how I ever managed before them…

Finally the Roman Gods were appeased and my newly named sheep: Janus and Pluto came home. It’s a tradition I started with Jupiter and Juno- name the sheep after Roman deities. God knows why. I think I’ll need female sheep next- I’m running out of pronounceable male names. My flock is now 5. Jupiter, my massive Herculean Roman-chief God-sheep ran off and fell over with the shock of it all when he encountered these lesser mortals. He had to run to me for mummy hugs and comfort. Juno, his gentle and oh-so-hungry Goddess sheep friend looked slightly perplexed but found that it didn’t affect her appetite. Bobtail scarpered. The horses played and snaked and chased, until the novelty wore off. Tara didn’t bother. The dust settled and the comfort of chaos resumed.

Even Dad’s dog found the whole thing fun.

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The horses come to see
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Janus the sheep
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Janus & Pluto
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Tara and Janus
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