Sheep For Sale

There are huge old trees in Ganora’s gorgeous gardens. The kind that have cradled generations of Karoo farm children in their boughs  –  for voyages to sea, Secret Society meetings, and the occasional sulk. I’m sure they still do, but on the hot, blue-skied day we were there, they were just standing around on the lawn providing shade for the around seventy farmers. Mostly men, in varying shades of khaki and plenty of blue (don’t accuse me of not catering to dedicated followers of fashion: blue is this year’s colour for farm-wear. And probably last year’s, and next year’s, I’ll stop there), and they were all talking Sheep.

You see, we’d been fortunate enough to be invited to the annual ram auction at Ganora, a ridiculously beautiful farm outside Nieu Bethesda that is not only a working sheep farm, but has fossils, ancient rock paintings, superlative guest rooms by all reports, and lovely owners, the Steynbergs. I stray though. This day was about the sheep.

Down on the bottom terrace, the farmers milled about between the rams (also milling about as much as they could in their enclosures, and slipping out at any opportunity to run amok amongst the humans). After being offered tea and an array of delicious snacky bits, including sweet and sticky koeksisters  – Karoo gasvreiheid is beyond compare  – I watched in fascination as they looked in the sheep’s mouths, examined their woolly jerseys and made notes in their auction booklets, of which I could make neither head nor tail (see what I did there). All I can say is that there is obviously a complicated science behind it.

And then it was auction time. We all piled into the shed and the auctioneer started the sale, his call as strange as that of *something that talks very rythmically and very fast*. Sorry, but I just spent an hour down a Google search wormhole trying to find a Karoo animal that sounds even vaguely like it, but couldn’t. Luckily I recorded it, see below. It’s a weird, on-edge-meets-lullaby feeling, watching (and listening to) an auction.

The very handsome ram gets put in a pen in front of the auctioneer (facing the room of buyers) for all to see, he explains their good points, the hammer drops and then it’s quick-quick, as farmers vie with each other, raising their hands, showing their numbers, being spotted by the spotters (dudes that stand on each side of the auctioneer watching for any missed raised hands, and shouting when they see one). Each ram went for anything between R6 000 and R16 000. I held my breath and didn’t scratch my nose until the hammer dropped for the sale each time, in case I suddenly found myself the proud owner of a ram. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a sheep, but I fear the sheep wouldn’t love my city garden. And, Dwayne.

Once the auction was done, the prices paid, the rams back out in their pens waiting to go to their new homes (and meet their new lady sheep), we all retired back onto the lawns in the shade and enjoyed lunch  –  braais creaking under the weight of the chops being cooked on them, delicious, fresh salads and ice cold beer. Remember the gasvryheid I mentioned earlier? This is gasvryheid on steroids.

We all know I’m already a huge fan of the Karoo, but the more time I spend there, the more I get to experience the inner-workings of the land, the more of a fan I become. There’s a whole world going on out there, a sometimes tough and harsh world, but it’s a world with a gentleness, an unhurried passion, that one doesn’t see in the city. Here, on these farms, your work really is your life, and it’s hot and unrelenting, but it’s done under huge, clear skies on vast plains with so much air to breathe. And there are such lovely people (and sheep, and dogs, and ground squirrels, and, and …) all scattered about.

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