A few weeks ago a very large merino sheep was discovered roaming in hilly bushland country. It had been lost for a few years. Sheep often can’t find their own way home and the owner had given up looking for it.
Somehow it had managed to find puddles of water and a little sustenance from sparse native grasses. Its bulk probably protected it from attacks by feral dogs. Fortunately there are no large natural predators in Australia, certainly none that would tackle a very big merino ram.
In the wild
A merino sheep itself is not particularly big but after a couple of years in the wild a sheep’s fleece can grow to an enormous length. This lost animal looked like a very, very large gray bear. Wool covered the ears and he could hardly see. A small, sad face peered out from a long mane of fleece that was matted with twigs and leaves and flies and mud. He badly needed a good feed. And a haircut.
Some of the ancient breeds of sheep do not need an appointment with the shearer. They naturally ‘moult’, losing their winter coats when the weather gets warmer but over many years the merino sheep has been bred for its highly prized superfine, creamy white fleece and if it is not looked after and shorn regularly the wool continues to grow unchecked.
A normal merino fleece weighs about 5 kilos but if not clipped annually the result is an overheated, stressed, unhappy animal who might struggle to move with 30 or more kilograms of extra weight. Flies and insects attack the wool and if it gets wet it becomes even heavier and the animal might be unable to walk.
The bible story of the lost sheep is a familiar one to us.
One sheep has wandered away and the good shepherd leaves his other sheep safely in the fold and spends considerable time searching for just that lost one. I remember Sunday School pictures of Jesus the Shepherd returning with a tired and hungry sheep slung across his shoulders – a lovely image.
But sometimes it happens that the sheep really is lost. It might not want to be found and deliberately wanders away from its friends, chasing greener grass and other attractions. There are plenty of biblical references to our behaving like sheep: getting lost, going astray. Handel’s oratorio Messiah has one aria that starts with ‘All we like sheep have gone astray.’
We are easily distracted, getting lost in our own world. We sometimes ignore the shepherd. We don’t feed ourselves properly, either materially or spiritually. We like to go our own way and when things get tough cover our eyes and ears – like hiding under the blankets.
This lost sheep looked as if he’s wearing ear muffs and a thick scarf with a woolly cap pulled down over his eyes. Even if the farmer were to call out to him he could hardly see or hear.
But this sheep was found.
Reports said that he seemed relieved to see people and was willing to hop in the trailer to go back to his farm. There the shearer gently clipped the overgrown fleece – more than 35 kilos: enough to make 490 pairs of socks!
A skinny, half-starved animal emerged from underneath. He was a bit wobbly and vets checked that he wasn’t stressed at suddenly shedding all that weight. Then he was given food and water and a couple of overcoats to keep him warm.
He will live out his days with other sheep in a sanctuary and will have his fleece clipped each year.
Staying with your community, remaining obedient to Jesus the Good Shepherd and getting regular nourishment and care: sounds like the best advice for a good life.
Learn more of this sheep’s story and rescue.
Sheelagh Wegman is a freelance writer and editor. She is in the community of St David’s Cathedral in Hobart and lives in the foothills of kunanyi/Mt Wellington.
Sheelagh Wegman’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sheelagh-wegman.html