Sheep or Goat: What Year Is It?
Odd, isn’t it, that the Chinese Year of the Sheep can also be construed as the Year of the Goat? Cloven hooves notwithstanding, these animal tribes are of such different dispostion and utility, I wouldn’t even mention them in the same paragraph (unless that was my assignment). I have raised both, so I speak with some authority.
Sheep, they say, are docile creatures. That is, until you try chasing them around a pasture with a hypodermic needle. They do need their shots, at least here in Colorado where they are prone to dust pneumonia. They follow a leader, it is said. Unless you are the leader and you have a particular destination in mind. And they are adorable. I don’t dispute that. (David Quammen has written a wonderful account of caring for a flock that came with a property he rented for a time. Very large brainless larval insects, he likens them to. You need not agree.)
In the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico, sheep are sacred. They are so highly valued that they are never eaten; they are the provenance of women, who care for them so tenderly that they weave little grass baskets to muzzle them as they walk past neighbors’ gardens because, heaven forbid, you would not want to beat them into submission with a stick (for all the good it would do) for nibbling forbidden vegetables.
Goats, on the other hand, are in league with the devil, according to Chiapanecans. They are willful, voracious, sneaky, and destructive. Yes, they eat noxious weeds, but not until they have eaten every branch they can reach off your prize fruit trees and ornamental shrubs. However, they give milk abundantly. I have extracted hundreds of gallons of milk from goats, whereas I could never even find the teats on our sheep, let along get a good handle on them. A good Manchego is a miracle of man over nature, in my humble opinion.
But goats are personable in a way that sheep can never be. They gaze at you out of those odd rectangular pupils with the knowingness of a farm dog. They butt you playfully. They caper.
I haven’t even gotten to their fiber properties yet. For that, you need to acquire this special bundle of solid information, which we have gathered for your edification. It’s only about sheepswool; doesn’t touch on the glories of cashmere and angora. That’s a story for another time.