Shearing time: She’s a lamb once more. Reborn.

Mustering sheep

As we drive up the track, the noise becomes deafening. Five hundred shaggy ewes rounded up off the hill bleating to their trim coated lambs to stay close to mother while these pesky humans do something strange and possibly unwelcome to them on this high summer morning with the sun beating down and the dust rising from the yard in choking waves.

Ted and I have pulled up in the truck at a tricky moment. John, Darren, Louis, Spence – all stretched out in a line willing these stubborn animals to keep their annual appointment with the travelling barber. The sheep are in limbo – half way between their field and the holding area where they’ll need to wait in line for their turn. We are trying to persuade them to come out of the sunlight and go into the far end of the long dark barn. They don’t want to go. One makes a break for it back towards the field and the others, emboldened by her spirit, gallop after them. Back to square one.

Another five minutes while the sheepdogs round them all up again, snapping and growling at their heels and finally we’re back to where we were. Ted and I join the human chain to keep them from breaking away once more. For four long minutes we all stand there just feet from the line of sheep, inching forward, willing the sheep to move into the shed. The sheep eye us, defiant. The dogs run the line impatiently, patrolling like sentries, rounding up the odd straggler that dares to try its luck. One ewe catches my eye. She is quivering with nerves and fear but she has her two lambs clustered round her and each time a sheepdog comes near she stamps her foot and lunges at this wolf that threatens them. My eyes prickle at her bravery.

And suddenly they give way, the tension breaks, and they’re streaming into the barn and their new temporary pen and one by one they’re climbing the trailer in a long queue for their turn with the clippers. Sat on their bottoms they’re entirely passive as their fleeces are expertly shaved away. Do they remember the whole experience from last year? Do they suddenly recall the exquisite sense of freedom from that itchy scratchy woolly jacket – their great friend in winter, their great enemy in high summer?

Released, shaven sparkling white, a ewe trots a few paces away from the shearer and then stands, confused, suddenly alone, an individual outside her flock. And then she spots the hill ahead. Her field. She trots on, starts to run, and as she breaks into the light she jumps high into the air, vaulting the shadow of the barn. Again and again she bounds, forgetting the udder swinging between her legs and the responsibilities of single parenthood. She’s a lamb once more. Reborn.