The other night I was rifling through the internet, looking for bells for our dairy ewes. We have been considering using bells for some time, largely because they add a magical sound to the already magical sight of sheep in a green field, but also because they are quite practical to help find sheep, especially if one has gone astray. In my search, I ran across the video above. As I sat and watched, transfixed by the tinkling bells, vibrantly green grass, peaceful sheep, and the amazing sight of the waterfall that frames a pastoral landscape that would have made Theocritus weep, my sense of awe came to an abrupt, angry halt. The author of the video addresses the sheep, "hi sheep!" which is, of course, adorable. However, her companion, in the background, innocently inquires, "how can you. . . what is the difference between sheep and goats?" [email protected]!)*&^%$#!
Ok, yes, I accept that not everyone has the same interest in livestock that I do, not everyone has made it their business to gain intimate knowledge of the wonderful world of ruminant creatures. But for the love of god, didn't they go to kindergarten? Are farm animals simply not covered in kindergarten anymore, or only in some schools? I am continually stunned by the way many of the adults I have encountered since beginning this endeavor have collapsed "sheep" and "goat" into one being. At least every other time someone asks me about the farm, they ask, "how are the goats coming along?" when these people, my friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, all very smart, savvy people, all of whom have been told that we raise sheep, can't seem to separate sheep from goat. I find this troubling. Honestly, I have no bias here. I've got nothing against goats. I love goats. I plan to keep a goat or two as a kind of farm ambassador for people who want to visit the farm and pet the critters. Goat milk is lovely. Chevre, a fresh delicious goats milk cheese, is a large part of the reason I want to make cheese at all. The first cheese I ever made was a goat cheese. Goats are great. Sheep are super. I make no distinction between them on merit. I do make a distinction, however, between species. Make no mistake, I would not begrudge someone mistaking a baboon for a mandrill the same way I wouldn't begrudge someone for not knowing the difference between a standard TIE-Fighter for Darth Vader's TIE-Advanced X-1 Starfighter (though, those of you who know me well might argue otherwise!) Given that we live as members of the Western World, not central Africa or a galaxy far far away, these distinctions are pure esoterica. No, what is troubling is how very, very disconnected people have become from the very animals that have assisted us in our pursuit of civilization for a millennia. So clear was the division of sheep and goat in the ancient world that St. Matthew saw fit to use the distinction between the two species as a metaphor for the separation of the blessed and the damned!
Are we so far removed from our agrarian ancestry that our brains no longer see the difference between two similar, but altogether different species? Indeed, two species that have shared our history and have helped to form what we are today. It used to be that everyone knew the difference between a white oak and a red oak. Now you're lucky if a person knows the difference between an oak and a pine. Are our livestock going the same way? Will chickens and ducks soon be collapsed together? To put a very contemporary spin on it, I feel like it's as if Paris Hilton were being constantly confused with Ivanka Trump, only, blonde, celebrity, socialite heiresses are not fundamental to the bedrock of human civilization. Who knows, maybe, at the end of the day, the distinction is just as trivial. Frankly, I'm over it already, but I can't help but wonder if perhaps this indistinct perception between sheep and goats is a larger reflection of how our lives have become ill-defined and uncertain; we can no longer make fundamental distinctions; perhaps lines have crossed and blurred on some greater, cosmic level. Or maybe, just maybe, we all would do well to spend a little more time outside, paying attention, and giving attention to the creatures that give us what we eat. But that is just my totally biased opinion.