A Cumbrian Farmer Writes


Sheep aren’t the most stupid of God’s creatures; they’re not even the most stupid mammal. Indeed, horses could well have been created to allow sheep to feel that smug glow of intellectual superiority that everyone needs from time to time.

Not that this is high praise. There are single celled creatures floating in seas of freezing ammonia, illuminated by the dying suns of decayed nebulae who have more idea what is going on than your average horse. But who needs intelligence when you’ve got charisma and a good body? It’s worked for horses and it’ll doubtless work for others.

But I digress.

Our next-door neighbour had an issue with sheep. She’s a retired lady and a Londoner by birth, but much to her joy has found herself living surrounded by sheep and lambs. Oh, and remember, when I say next door, she is the nearest house in that direction, but it’s a five-minute walk, so we don’t see her every week. But anyroad up, she was heading for bed the other night when she thought, “that sheep sounds a little close. ‟

So, she stepped out into her middle garden, and there, dancing along the top of the wall was a young lamb. This isn’t too improbable as her garden is well below field level and the wall top isn’t much higher than the field. Anyway, this was (briefly) a cute moment for her, until the lamb fell off the wall and landed in her garden. At this point her quiet evening erupted into chaos as the lamb frantically tried to get back up the wall to join mother and mother tried to come down the wall to rejoin lamb.

Now at this point I can tell you, with all the confidence of a professional, that the thing to do is to catch the lamb, (which was probably about fifteen kilos), and then bodily hoik it over the wall.

What you don’t do is to do what my neighbour did, which is to go into the house, get a kitchen chair, place chair against wall and pat the chair indicating that the lamb jump onto the chair and then over the wall.

This never works.

Sheep just aren’t mentally equipped to cope with this sort of thinking. Their grasp of spatial geometry just isn’t up to it. I’m glad our elderly border collie wasn’t there to watch this. Border collies can convey baffled condescension better than any species I’ve ever come across.

But she got the chair, placed it appropriately, attracted the lamb’s attention to it, stood back and watched.

The lamb jumped onto the chair and then straight over the wall where it re-joined frantic mum.

Smarter than your average sheep, obviously.

Jim Webster farms at the bottom end of South Cumbria. Jim was encouraged to collect together into a book some blog posts he’d written because of their insight into Cumbrian farming and rural life (rain, sheep, quadbikes and dogs) It’s available here.

One thought on “A Cumbrian Farmer Writes

  1. Conventional wisdom sometimes fails, of course, or it would be conventional certainty.

    Beginner’s luck, I’d say. And since this won’t happen frequently, that lady is now convinced forever that she and sheep have an uncommon understanding. And that sheep are smart.

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