I never thought I would find myself face to face with a sheep in the centre of a barn, taking notes on a shearing demonstration. Then I visited Patagonia, and everything changed. On an outing to a local farm, or ‘Estancia’, we were treated to a rural experience, Chilean style. If you discount the wild llama we passed during the bus ride out there, suddenly home didn’t seem so far away at all.
First up we were treated to a sheep dog demonstration. The huaso, or cowboy, sat perched atop his dappled steed while his shaggy canine companion tore about the paddock, herding his flock. While it was not a patch on the International Sheep Dog Trials at last year’s Ashburton A&P Show, it was an admirable effort nonetheless, made all the more interesting by the appearance of a wild fox in the middle of the course halfway through the demonstration. It looked remarkably similar to a tall cat, and the dog treated it as such, hounding it out of the arena before the sheep could even bleat. The A&P judges may not have been too impressed with such behaviour, but hound and herder got full marks for entertainment.
Next up was the shearing demonstration. This was no Friday night entertainment in the local pub, but a serious educational experience, complemented by tiered seating and a running commentary from our local guide. While the majority of our contingent was intrigued by the equation ‘sheep plus shears equals fleece’, for me it was an eye opener that so many people were unaware of where wool actually comes from, despite their own knitted base layer clothing.
There have been ample opportunities to talk about sheep during my Antarctic trip as well, with tabular icebergs providing the perfect entry into a conversation about Shrek the sheep. As we cruised around the towering walls of ice, discussing the colouring and texture, I told my captive audience that back where I come from we use these kinds of bergs as shearing platforms. When a particularly large chunk drifted our way in 2006, we flew Shrek out there for a haircut. Many a discussion was subsequently held on the merits of merino wool and how to manufacture crampons to keep iceberg-faring sheep from going for a skate. While the practical applications of such an invention may be rather limited, my spiel appeared to spark renewed interest in the animal crampon industry, providing an opening for any budding entrepreneurs back home who are looking for an exportable niche…
Back on the Estancia, the sheep remained on solid ground and eventually on a solid roasting rack. A Chilean rodeo demonstration topped off the rural show before a meal of lamb on a spit was devoured. For a stepping-stone between the ice of the south and a Methven autumn, this Chilean farm was just the trick. What with sheep, farm dogs, and barbecue, it was just like being back home – the odd wild (and unshorn) llama aside.
Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian