Kerry on Ferming . . .
Kerry Annal is a farmer, farmer’s daughter, and farmer’s wife, who lives and works in South Ronaldsay with her husband, Alex and collie Mhairi.
Kerry is one of a range of columnists who you can hear from regularly in The Orcadian.
Here, ahead of her offering next week, Kerry tells us about her about her addiction to buying sheep . . .
COUNTING sheep; something that’s supposed to aid you into a deep and restful sleep, but it seems to have been having the opposite effect on me. Thinking of sheep hasn’t quite kept me awake at night, but I have been busy dreaming, and counting how many sheep I could have. Then in the cold light of day, my bank balance gently reminds me of how many I should have, and the process repeats itself. For a few years now, I have managed to plod along with a small bunch of fairly average sheep. The flock arguably resembles a rare breeds convention and has its fair share of waifs and strays, or sheep that were bought impulsively late at night on “Orkney Farmers” because they were “so cute!”. Business plan? What business plan. As much as I would like to wear the title of sheep farmer, my flock reluctantly fall under the bracket of “hobbie farmer” instead. So, why do I have sheep? It’s not for the heartache of losing lambs, or having to retrieve them from my neighbours fields every time the sheep fancy an excursion, anyway.
During my moments of dreaming and reflection I have come to accept that sheep are an addiction; and like any addiction, sheep leave you not wanting to confess, to anyone including yourself, how much time, money and relationship breakdowns they have cost you. Sheep provide you with short-lived thrills, getting the odd pair of decent lambs or even a much appreciated prize at your local show. Although these thrills are fleeting, they leave you wanting more, and so you go back for more. More lambs, more pence per kilo and more red show rosettes, not much really.You underplay your habit at every opportunity and ignore the fact that you have spent more in the last year on grooming your sheep than grooming yourself. You seek support from other like-minded addicts and have “sheep counselling”, you discuss your sheep habits at length and justify their continued existence by saying that “they’re good for the gress” or “you enjoy lambing”. You reassure each other, and finish with “hid will be fine” as you laugh nervously and acknowledge that you are both incapable of adulting.
Don’t get me wrong, I have come close to going cold turkey a few times, and had the overwhelming support of friends and family in doing this. I had decided to sell the sheep and start a new life, free from addiction. With my sheep funds I could may be buy “twa heifers” or may be even an Audi. Ok, may be half an Audi. But when the crunch came I couldn’t go through with getting rid of them. I was afraid of the sheep withdrawals. Life would be duller. And so, my small flock of sheep are “still standing”. Not in a resilient and empowered Elton John way, but more of a “why is there still barley standing in a field at this time of year when it really shouldn’t be and it should have been sorted a while ago”, kind of way.
And so, whilst the emotional experience of living with sheep is comparable to addiction. The business aspect can only be described as one thing; gambling. You take your money and buy some sheep, you place your bets. You accept that any real returns will be a welcome boost but you can’t actually rely on gambling to do your weekly shop. When placing your bets, you have to decide whether to spread your bets on a lot of sheep or place weightier bets on pure sheep. Yes, I even considered going into pure sheep, which resulted in a full family intervention, or two. Sheep gambling is a slippery slope. You start mild, and before you know it you’re flicking through glossy tup sales catalogues and trying to justify the “spend more, make more” philosophy.
Sheep, and farming in general I suppose lull you into a false sense of security, as you believe you have choices and naively convince yourself that you have control of things. But you don’t. You can choose which vet you use, or where you can bury your sheep, (sorry). But you can’t choose or have control over the real contributing factors, like the weather or the price at the mart. Which reminds me, it’s almost time to go to the mart for my next sheep fix.