Out-sheeping the sheep farmer (aka the Royal Highland Show)

p1140506  Just a little note to explain  my excitement at going to the Royal Highland Show this past weekend!  It was in Edinburgh and was an absolutely massive show.  My curious sheepy obsession was in full force today, as there were mountains of every kind of sheep there. I went with my sheep-farming friend, William.  Having never been to many agricultural shows myself, Will was good company for the day as he frequents these types of events much more often then I. He put up with hours (yes, hours) of incessant questions from myself – the ever curious Ashley.

p1140508Walked around almost all of the show -from cattle to the farriers (dudes who shoe horses) to ridiculously large tractors (and their implements!) to various big supermarkets vying for farmer loyalty. I find this slightly insular world of all things farmer related to be equal parts intriguing, fascinating, and worrying. The worrying part stems from my history, really. Being from an environmentalist background (not to label myself or anything … ), a lot of conventional farming practices (and their implements!) are actively encouraged and normalised in these environments. As, I suppose, they should be – it is a conventional agricultural show, after all.

And yet, although I know that conventional agricultural practices as we know them today (especially those modelled after North American practices) have to drastically change, I’m still in love with so much of the farming world. This is where the intrigue and the fascination comes in – I love the animals, the landscapes, the customs, the community. Even if it is a million miles away from contributing to the solutions of many of the ideas that keep me up at night (increasing resilience, climate change, sustainable food consumption) … I still am so very drawn to it all.


My hope is to marry the best bits of this current farming community with the innovation of sustainable, regenerative agricultural practices. This way, we can practically grow and produce healthy, nourishing food that also supports thriving ecological and social systems. I’m learning so much these days, and there are so many people around the world who are great examples of how this can be done. That’s really another entire post, but one person who inspired me lately is a lady called Brittany Cole Bush, who has taken a sheep-obsession and turned it into conservation stewardship.

It’s a novel, innovative idea really – she takes her pack of sheep and goats to landscapes that would environmentally benefit from a nibble from some ruminants.  Located in California, the controlled grazing program could be for the purpose of reducing wildfire hazard, keeping down noxious weeds, or improving vegetation and wildlife habitat. Have a little gander at her website, and especially her video. It’s grand!

Anyways, I digress. The Show. Being at these shows always makes me want to be a farmer. Then I’m smacked in the face with reality of land ownership and government subsidy structures and all the other harsh truths of barriers to new entrant farmers. Especially those of which who are women. And who want to live in one of the most touristy and expensive areas of England… hrm. Either way, in some capacity I will have some sheep and I will find a way to do it sustainably, regeneratively. I don’t think this sheep obsession will subside until I do!

Oh, and regarding the title of this post. I think I out-sheeped my farmer friend today, too. I was going through each and every row of each and every type of sheep, while methinks poor Will was glazing over a bit, looking forward to the rest of the show. I could have happily gone through all the sheep, taking photos and internalising the differences between breeds, etc. Therefore I out-sheeped even the sheep farmer, hurrah!



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