Ungulate watch

Lately my thoughts have been drifting over two species of being, namely, people and sheep; and also the crossover species, “sheeple.” These beings cross in both directions — we have the right to choose, in all modern and progressive jurisdictions — so that it is said of New Zealand, for instance, that it has a population of thirty million sheep, five million of whom think that they are people. (By comparison, Canada has an aggregate population approaching forty million, most of whom are deeply confused.)

I would refer to “natural-born” humans, except, I fear this would tease up controversy. Let me cloud the issue, rather, by mentioning some other ungulates, or claimed ungulates, such as goats, cows, and zebras. (We must respect diversity.) Myself, I always wanted to be a giraffe, on the theory that it would be hard for people to fleece me, and moreover, I might easily survive a hanging. But as I grow older, I become more complacent about the species to which I was assigned at birth, and all-round more conservative.

In the past, most sheep were conservative, too, if not reactionary. Your modern sheep tends to be more progressive, and tamer, but let it be said that there were always many sorts. In order to populate the Scottish Highlands during the Clearances, with sheep, while evicting the people, it was necessary to choose a more sociable sheep breed, along with shepherds, ditto. Both came from the Borders, and the latter could cope with being seriously outnumbered by the former. Too, they weren’t prejudiced against sheep with black faces, as the Highlanders once were. These “New Soviet Sheep” responded well to “guidance” from Border Collies, much nicer than the old Highland dogs, and could generally be counted on not to make a scene.

Whereas, the older breeds were often dangerously eccentric. They had “personalities,” forgetting sometimes that they were just sheep. They were much smaller, more agile, also wilier, and could outsmart many of their keepers. (A Lowlander stood no chance with them.) Too, they were gourmands, and would shamelessly eat out the finer grasses, to the outrage of the cattle. (Their replacements were easily satisfied with junk food.)

From my slight, passing acquaintance with a Soay, and what little I know of other ancient Highland breeds, they could be like herding cats. They were “delicate little beasts,” it says here, who demanded public housing in “sheep cotes,” and were tethered by day, if their keepers could catch them. Their fleece were very fine, but scanty. They made for exquisite tartans; but were kept mostly for their milk.

By comparison, your modern sheep gives inferior wool, but lots of it. They also do not mind so much being chopped up in the stockyards. They lack the multiple, magnificent horns, with which the old breeds could give their shepherd a hard biff, when they disagreed with him.

To be fair, their black-faced Linton successors can give a hard biff, too, and pointier, notwithstanding their pacific reputations, and the ewes sometimes show an elegant fashion sense, in their “floating graceful draperies.” Most tellingly, they adapted well to the uplands, and are willing to put up with all kinds of nonsense, like Canadians.

This is a warning alike to people, sheep, and sheeple. Do not make yourself too adaptable, or you will all be industrially farmed.