Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sheepish in New Zealand

We get an introduction to all things sheep at the Agrodrome, an agricultural demonstration show in Rotorua.

A mulleted host in a wifebeater comes out on stage, telling jokes as his comely assistant leads out nineteen different breeds of sheep, from Merinos to Lincolns to Romneys. I remember some of the names from my spinning and weaving days.
A sheep shearing demonstration follows. A wary ewe emerges from a doorway on stage right. After a few moments struggle, the host deftly flips her onto her back, where she sits, legs dangling foolishly in front of her. Perhaps closing her eyes and thinking of England, she allows the shearer to have his way with her. In less time than it takes me to get a haircut, the fleece is razored off and the sheep looks about half its original size.

When he asks for volunteers for milking, I impulsively raise my hand and join the other two victims on the stage. After all, I’m scheduled for a farmstay the next day, and I might need me some skills. Last time I volunteered and was called up on stage, it was for a wine-tasting. And that worked out all right.
Happily, we are milking a cow instead of a sheep. Somewhere, I’ve read tips for successful milking. Or maybe it was those lactation pamphlets I read after my sons were born.
This cow’s udder has been liberally greased up with some unknown farm substance. I don’t know if this is intended to make it harder or easier. Trying to remember the particulars, I grasp the udder firmly at the top and strip my hand downward, using my best empty toothpaste tube technique. Success! A thin stream of blueish milk splashes into the pail. The host looks mildly surprised and a little disappointed. I receive a certificate of “udderance.”
There follows sheepdog demonstrations in which one of the dogs herds several ducks back and forth across the stage and other dogs race across the backs of the mildly interested sheep in a technique called, understandably, backing. It’s kind of like a sheep mosh pit. It’s unclear whether this has any practical purpose but it makes for interesting and difficult to interpret photos.

I am convinced that nobody loves his work like a sheepdog. If they were any more alert and eager they would explode. They ought to show videos of sheepdogs at employee meetings instead of hiring motivational speakers.
The show closes with a mock fleece auction in which a reluctant Korean woman ends up owning an armload of unwashed wool redolent of lanolin. Then everyone repairs outside for a sheepdog demonstration with actual sheep.
All in all, I had a great time, but I think I have more of a future in wine-tasting.

No comments: