Three bags full

I realised today that I hadn’t yet posted any sheep sounds. So I wandered over to their paddock, where Teggan was busy scratching her belly on a hay bale, and the other ewes were hanging out in their light summer coats, having been sheared at the annual Sheep & Wool Fayre earlier this month.

Katriona the Castlemilk Moorit.
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Gracie the Southdown x Suffolk sheep, who celebrated her 1st birthday in May and was recently seen walking across London Bridge with Stephen Fry.

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Recording no. 1 is less an example of sheep sounds – they didn’t utter a single bleat while I was there – but more an excerpt of the various ambient noises that the farm sheep hear: ice-cream van, children in the play ground, trains, a power drill, and so on. It begins with Gracie peeing, then there’s an exciting moment 1 minute in, when a bee buzzes around her legs. 

Recording no. 2 was made in the sheep’s night enclosure, as they were waiting to be fed. The loudest bleats are from the Castlemilk Moorits. 

Every sheep has its own distinctive bleat, which they use for communication between mother and lamb or with other flock members. They also bleat to signal distress or impatience when waiting for food, as in my recording. Sheep are very sociable animals and need to remain within site of one another. Apparently, their flocking instinct is so ingrained that in 2006, over 400 sheep died after following each other over the edge of a cliff in eastern Turkey. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4665511.stm

Which draws obvious reference to the lemmings suicide myth, created by contrived documentary footage in the Walt Disney nature film White Wilderness (1958):

Goat Milking: from animal to object

SamanthaSweeting_milkingBramble  Last Tuesday, I milked Bramble the goat. She is still breastfeeding Hazel, her 7 week old kid, but as she is a rare breed Golden Guernsey raised for high milk yield, she produces a surplus. This excess milk needs to be drained daily for her comfort. It is a curious activity.

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Unpasteurised goat milk has a host of health giving properties. For a start, it’s composition is relatively close to human milk. This in particular interests me.

800px-Romulus-RemusSome years ago, I milked a sheep, spraying the frothy liquid straight into my mouth like a warm milkshake. And now, drinking Bramble’s milk, I am reminded of that moment. I hear the sound of the mechanical milk pump beating out its pulse. But I am older and the  hot milk hits me with a pang of emotion; comforting and claustrophobic. Joyful and melancholic. Its richness overwhelms me.

The bulk of my research over the past 7 years has been concerned with inter-species dialogues and nurture; there is a lot I can write about milk. For the moment, however, I want to direct my focus to the milk stand.

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Today, I started researching goat milking stands and found a world of architectural oddities.

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Friedrich Nagler in  World of Interiors April 2013 Photographs by Jan BaldwinThey make me think of Friedrich Nagler‘s little animal sculptures, made with reclaimed bits of metal, nuts, bolts, old taps, and so on.

I imagine a Jan Svankmajer stop-motion animation, where the milking stands come to life, running around the stable, eating hay and bleating.

Taken aside and photographed as objects of interest, they take on a gravitas unbelied by their banal utilitarian design. The inanimate object replaces the animal.

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1. Taken in the playground at ZSL London Zoo.
2. My childhood miniature rocking horse.

Lifecycles on the farm

SamanthaSweeting_BrambleSamanthaSweeting_Hazel_1dayJust four short weeks after the birth of Hazel, our bouncy new Golden Guernsey kid, we have had to say goodbye to Dylan the Southdown Sheep. With his distinctive shaggy coat and docile nature, Dylan was one of the friendliest animals on the farm, always keen for some attention and a cuddle. His unexpected death leaves us heavy of heart. It prompted children from the Young Farmers Club to share stories about other animals that have died, reinforcing the role that animals can have in helping us come to terms with mortality. I am reminded of my beautiful little cat Sanglier, who died in 2008, and the grief that I instantly felt for her, yet struggled to access a couple months later when one of my closest friends died. I remember the bleating of the ewes on the neighbouring sheep farm, in the days after their lambs were taken away. Whether or not animals feel grief is a contentious issue, but they have long been used by humans as part of the mourning process.

SamanthaSweeting_Dylan_4Dylan (2008-2013)

Some of my previous works using animals to explore death:samanthasweeting_bestilalia_9SamanthaSweeting_runrabbitsamanthasweeting_bestilalia_BAC_7samanthasweeting_pheasant_9          (Click on images to view projects.)