Alex James: Snow reveals my flock's true colours

Rural Notebook
Click to follow
The Independent Online

I've always thought sheep were white. Made them look like they needed a good wash, the snow did, or a makeover at least. The countryside redecorated in brilliant white looked so up to date and edgy: brutally austere yet utterly stylish, it seemed the perfect visual toast to the nation's straitened circumstances. But our sheep just looked like fat magnolia bumble bees on a wedding cake. They usually make the place look so much prettier, too. It's all topsy turvy but I like it.

I suppose the poor old sheep are used to not getting much credit but Britain has the biggest sheep industry in Europe. With that in mind I thought it would be worth looking at making a sheep's milk cheese. There are some great ones out there, Berkswell and Lord of the Hundred being two of my favourites but they are quite hard to find. Like second-hand Eames chairs and old globetrotter suitcases, they can apparently turn up anywhere. You never know where you're going to see one next, but you just have to grab them whenever you do.

In the course of my research I went to meet a dairy sheep farmer the other day. He was immensely proud of his dairy Frieslands. I do find that all farmers, even the meanest, grumpiest ones, are always touchingly proud of their livestock, though. This guy claimed his ewes recognised his voice. I thought you'd be more likely to get the time of day from a goldfish, but he said he'd taken two or three of them to a show and they were in a huge ring with all the other sheep and as he entered the ring chatting he noticed them look round when they heard his voice.

Well it was hard to tell if they recognised me or what my sheep thought of the snow. They just stood there chewing, staring a little bit harder than usual like Alex Ferguson in extra time.

Woollies go bankrupt

All the big houses in the Cotswolds were actually built on sheep – their wool, rather than their meat – and the houses to the west tend to be grander, with ballrooms, orangeries and cloisters galore, for the simple reason that the grazing was better there. Sheep's wool now has exactly zero value. A man will come and take it away, but he won't pay me anything for it. Strange.

My loathing for parked life

Cars have begun to park all the way up the verge. I don't mind the gypsies camping there, but there is something irksome about commuters' 4x4s on the farm's boundaries. A car park would be more profitable than award-winning lamb. Watch this space.

Comments