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There are seaweed-eating sheep in the world. Who knew?

Not me, until Edie told me while we sat at the kitchen table, noshing on sushi and unwinding with a glass of dark cherry wine in the wee hours that marked Joe & Edie's safe return home. Turns out the native sheep on North Ronaldsay survive on the stuff. A bit of online research this morning suggests why: according to the North Ronaldsay page on the Orkney Islands website, the sheep are kept on the seashore by a continuous 5ft-6ft high drystone dyke. There's a nursery rhyme or mnemonic in there: "The sheep on the seashore eat seaweed, da-da, da-da-da, da-da, da..."

The question of course is what kind of yarn do you get from seaweed-eating sheep? How does it knit? Edie and Priscilla are going to find out; they each picked up a fair bit of it. Here's an online look-see; scroll down to the North Ronaldsay yarn. Then check out the castlemilk moorit at the bottom of the page. What a great name: "castlemilk moorit"!

Then there's the Weird Sheep website. It has this to say about the seaweed-eating sheep:

"On the fertile Orkney island of North Ronaldsay the crofters specialised in growing crops. They built a wall all round the island and put the sheep on the beach, away from the crops. Here the sheep were forced to adopt to a diet of seaweed or kelp. The result is a unique, small, horned breed, which produces meat and a small amount of wool. The fleece has a fine undercoat and a coarse, hairy overcoat and comes in all colours."

But is all sweetness and seaweed in North Ronaldsay? Or is arsenic turning up in unexpected places, such as sheep urine? Turns out that thanks to their unusual diet, the North Ronaldsay sheep are champions when it comes to ingesting arsenic.

Other late-night stories included unwrapping and looking at the Eddie Jones, Atom, and Clark Ashton Smith art that followed Joe & Edie home from the Worldcon. Wow. Stories from the convention, stories from London, and more stories from the Orkneys. Intermixed with houses updates and warning Joe that his email is probably full of messages about the FANAC domain registration expiring. I'm afraid I didn't torture him nearly enough before reassuring him that Jack Weaver renewed the registration and that the site is now back up and running.

By the time we all toddled upstairs, I was wearing a delicate, felted-wool scarf. It's one of the world's perfect gifts for travelers to bring to a friend back home: absolutely gorgeous, unlike anything I've seen before, weighing something like an ounce, and packing into no space at all.

Four and a half hours later, the conditioning of the last 25 days kicked in. Even though the bedroom door was closed, so Basker couldn't wake me herself, I awoke to let her out and make up her meal of the day. Edie woke up an hour later, and the morning laptops-at-the-breakfast-table, with the give and take of conversation and settling back into home routines, has filled the hours since. It's a fine, fine morning indeed.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 22nd, 2005 03:10 pm (UTC)
The sheep around Mont St. Michel graze on the salt marshes. They are served as agneau pre-salé: pre-salted lamb.


Aug. 23rd, 2005 10:56 am (UTC)
Frank X. Tolbert's A Bowl of Red speaks of wild turkeys in the US Southwest eating wild chili peppers (birds don't respond to capsaicin the way mammals do), producing pre-spiced meat. I've never seen it on a menu, but haven't spent much time in that area.

Aug. 22nd, 2005 04:52 pm (UTC)
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<lj-user="the_gardener"> has a jumper made of North Ronaldsay wool: white with light and dark grey checkered banding, all natural shades. I acquired the wool when we holidayed on Orkney a few summers ago to admire the midnight sun. Texture a wee bit on the coarse side (at least compared to the merinos we grew in Oz). I think it knitted as aran weight, but basically I do a tension test square and base the garment pattern on that. Trouble with knitting for <lj-user="the_gardener"> is that he happily trots out in winter in shorts, t-shirt and sandals to check if there's ice on the pond -- very seldom gets cold enough for him to actually wear woollies.
Aug. 22nd, 2005 05:02 pm (UTC)
I do so wear woollies! I just don't wear them indoors in winter, because of the central heating.
Aug. 22nd, 2005 04:53 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, we also ate roast North Ronaldsay lamb -- very gourmet local eating on Orkney
Aug. 22nd, 2005 05:01 pm (UTC)
Er, no we didn't, dear -- it's too bloody expensive for Orkney restaurants, so it's all sent down to London or frozen for shipping elsewhere.
Aug. 22nd, 2005 05:05 pm (UTC)
Turns out that thanks to their unusual diet, the North Ronaldsay sheep are champions when it comes to ingesting arsenic.

There is an argument that the organic form of arsenic found in seaweed is less harmful, gram for gram, than the inorganic forms found in other materials. But of course this argument only holds water if you consume very small amounts of it; munch your way through industrial quantities of seaweed on a daily basis, and it will get you in the end.
Aug. 22nd, 2005 09:32 pm (UTC)
I saw deer eating seaweed on The Dungeness Spit once. (The spit is a small extension of sand into The Straight of Juan de Fuca; the straight separates The Olympic Peninsula from Vancouver Island.) At first I thought they were eating Dungeness Crab, which would have been just a little bit stranger.
Aug. 23rd, 2005 03:14 am (UTC)
There's a website that I used to have bookmarked (ere computer crashes) about that breed of seaweed-eating sheep.

There have been all sorts of Weird Sheep breeds around--pictures of fat-tailed sheep with a wheeled cart behind the sheep to keep the enormous long -fat- tail from dragging on the ground, a majorly odd one. I don;t know if that breed still exists.

Have you ever heard of "The Wool Arts Tour"? It's held every years in central New Hampshire, on Saturday and Sunday of Columbus Day weekend. There typically are five sites involved, the Wool Room in Antrim, a farm I can't think of the name of in Francestown, is it, or somewhere else a few miles north of Antrim, there's [something]view Farm in [can't remember the name at the moment], there;'s Mirage Alpacas farm in Washington (town named after George Washington who was there for the naming ceremony), and the Fiber Studio in Hennicker which is about nine miles west of Concord, NH. Farmers sell entire fleeces for as low as $20. There's raw wool (bags with the name of the particular sheep) of merino (including black merino), Romney, etc., bags of alpaca fleece, raw fiber from goats, angora rabbit fiber, roving from various sources, spun fiber, sheepskins and lambskins, demos of sheep herding, spinning and weaving (several women bring rabbits and spin angora yarn directly going from plucking fur of German white rabbits laid on their backs in their laps to yarn being spun on portable spinning wheels in front of them; others spin flax into linen, or wool from sheep; one fellow knits socks and gnomes), angora rabbits and angora and cashmere goats for sale, there are lamb kebabs and lamb stew etc. available at two of the sites (Mirage Alpaca and The Fiber Studio) for food... one of other the sites has pumpkins and such for sale.

The Tour has signage--sheep signs with arrows pointing to the roads to take to the sites. The Wool Arts Tour has been in effect for close to 20 years, if not 20 years, now. The scenery can be gorgeous, with the foliage showing yellow and orange and flame red and if the weather is nice against brilliant blue sky. There are also farms along the way which sell unpasteurized apple cider. (the prolems with unpasteurized cider were from large commercial operations which didn't dothings like -wash- the apples off and didn't do small batch manual processing, and grazed cattle in the apple groves and used -dropped- apples.... there's a place in Harvard, Massachusetts, that the last time I was around there in the fall (two or three years ago) made hand-pressed cider, the fellow cut the apples up and packing the cutup apples and pressing cider live in front of customers, meaning that he was -seeing- each apple individually that was going into making the cider. The places was on a road off a road off route 2, I think the exit off route 2 is 119, going south into Harvard center. The street off the street off two, runs parallel to route 2 slightly south of route 2.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )


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