Posted by: jefriesen | August 6, 2010

Range Maggots

Range maggots. That was the most affectionate term that my father used for those wooly quadripedal ungulates often called “sheep.” Other words that my father used to describe sheep could not be printed in a family newspaper, except for one: “dinner.” My father also used to say that sheep were so stupid, that if one sheep died, four would die in sympathy. Nevertheless, my father belonged to that school of parent who believed that the afflictions of one generation should be faithfully inflicted on the next; so each year, he would purchase three or four of the brutes so that we could “have fun.”

The ostensible reason for purchasing said animals was that we could show them at the Tri-state fair, held in Amarillo each year. But I secretly thought that he had another reason: he wanted us to suffer. Every day, it was our responsibility to go out to the small pen behind our home in the suburbs of Amarillo and feed the wooly-headed monsters. A little bit of grain, a little bit of hay and a water bucket that had to be filled several times a day, because they would keep knocking it over.

We were also supposed to work with the sheep, putting on their halters and leading them around the arena behind our house until they learned to follow like . . . well, the proverbial sheep. To understand what a chore this was, you need to know a little about the Friesen household. We were a family of five kids, two dogs, three horses and, at any given time, about twelve calves that my dad kept for roping. We lived in the suburbs of Amarillo, surrounded by hundreds of homes with kids roughly our age. The Friesen home became the gathering point, it seemed, for every stray dog, cat and child within twelve miles. In addition to the constantly barking dogs, we had kids jumping off of sheds, creating ramps for bicycles, roping dummies, digging pits in which to catch pirates, looking for horned toads and tarantulas and nearly every other activity we thought to do before the advent of gaming systems and before Al Gore invented the internet. The Friesen home was busy, and it was loud. This was not the ideal environment in which to teach idiot sheep how to follow and how to stand.

Yet we tried to work with the sheep. I would climb into the pen and look straight into the eyes of the lamb that was looking straight into my eyes and say a few soft words to the sheep. Then I would lunge towards the animal, wrapping my short arms around its neck and holding on as I was dragged and butted and stepped on. Sheep whisperer I ain’t. After a few more words, probably not as soft, I would get the halter wrangled on and the lead rope attached, cheered on by my brother, who was always glad to see me in the pen instead of him. Come to think of it, he was always encouraging me to climb into the pen first. Any time he could see me get a good thrashing and not get in trouble for it was a good time for him.

By the day of the fair, the bruises had mostly healed and we loaded our sheep into the trailer and headed into the fairgrounds. We were dressed in our best 4-H clothes, long sleeved white button-up shirt, jeans, boots, cowboy hat and a bolo tie, appropriate attire for the 110 degree heat of a west Texas summer. When it came our turn, we took our sheep into the show pen and walked them around and tried to make them stand like they were supposed to. There I stood, a Weeble-shaped kid, tethered to a white, wooly animal with an attitude. As we waited for the judges to look at . . . whatever it is that sheep judges look at, the sweat leaked out every pore of my body. For my efforts, the judges awarded me with a red ribbon. But the show wasn’t over, yet. At the end of the show was an auction, during which time someone would actually pay real money for the four-legged headache that had occupied our back yard. Not only would I get money, but I would also have the satisfaction of knowing that my sheep would soon be someone’s dinner.

To say the least, I was what they call in the real estate business as a “motivated seller.” And sell I did. I wandered around the show ring, doing my best to look like a child who needed to pay for his mother’s surgery, talking to people and asking them to bid on my lamb. And they did. At the end of the day, I received the highest price possibly paid for a red-ribbon lamb in Tri-state fair history.

And what, you may ask, did I learn from my foray into sheep husbandry? That I’m not buying any of my children sheep.





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