Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Seed Catalog for Sheep Farmers

When I grew vegetables for the farmers' markets, I always looked forward to the day (usually around Christmas) that my seed catalogs would arrive.  Farming at this scale (for me, at least) required a certain amount of amnesia - I found that I had to forget how hard the work was last year in order to be able to even consider farming this year.  The seed catalog was always an essential part of forgetting about the prior year's tribulations.  One look at the new varieties of sweet corn or winter squash, and I was already anticipating the flavor of a new year's labors!

At our Shepherd's Picnic last weekend, I finally picked up my own copy of the latest edition of the British Sheep and Wool Book from my friend and fellow shepherd Robin Lynde (of Meridian Jacobs near Vacaville).  I'd been looking for the book for years after reading about it in one of my favorite Wendell Berry essays ("Let the Farm Judge").  To paraphrase Berry's essay, he says that the fact that there are more than 80 breeds of sheep that originated in England and Scotland - an island approximately the size of Berry's native Kentucky - testifies to the careful observation and husbandry of generations of British shepherds.

The current edition features descriptions of more than 60 breeds of sheep - information about where and how they originated, the characteristics of their fleeces, and the uses to which their wool is put.  Beautiful photos accompany the text - photos that show why England and Scotland are sheep-producing countries!

We're fairly settled on the breeds of sheep we raise - following Mr. Berry's advice, we've selected breeds and individual sheep that fit the parameters of our land, our management system and our market.  That said, I'm always interested in learning how other farmers - over hundreds or even thousands of years - have made similar decisions that ultimately resulted in the breeds we raise today.  In many ways, the British Sheep and Wool Book is a seed catalog for sheep farmers!

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