If you thought you had noticed a decline in sheep in Kansas, you were right. The government last week came out with an estimated inventory. They found only 70,000 head of all sheep and lambs.
That was tied with last year’s count for the all-time record low.
However, the breeding sheep inventory was up 2 percent from January, 2011, to 34,000 head, and the inventory of ewes one year and older was up 3 percent from last year. Replacement lambs and breeding rams stayed at last year’s numbers.
It was back in early 1987 I was single again and had a little tract house for a time in east Topeka. It had a cold, empty clean basement under all its 800 square feet above. But there were friends. Visits from them and my boys were steady and warm. I had a job. A co-worker, M. B., was a good talker. He wanted to make haggis. That’s an old Scottish treat made of the sheep’s heart, lungs and other organs. It’s all ground up with gobs of fat and seasoning, plus some oatmeal or barley and boiled in the beast’s stomach. Me, I preferred lamb chops.
So it was natural that we set out to find a lamb or two one off day, a bitterly cold one in early February. It dropped to five below zero without the wind chill a few hours later and the sun was shining in a cold blue sky. Anyhow, we bought two lambs at a farm near Harveyville from a good ol’ gal, Linda. We put the animals in the back seat of my 1974 Dodge Dart, which had logged mileage sufficient to circle the globe six times, and drove through downtown Topeka with two sheep staring out the back windows at city slickers.
Our processing plant was a scraggly apple tree in the backyard. We gathered the innards for M.B.’s haggis and then wrapped the carcasses in an old clean sheet and hung them in my cool basement to age before the meat and we froze. I cannot recall what we did with the fleeces, but I sure didn’t wind up with them, and I don’t think M.B. did either.
We got a lot of laughs for many years from that outing. It’s the only lot of anything we gained, because the chops were not overwhelming in poundage, and I have a suspicion M.B. never got around to wolfing down that haggis like some starving, bedraggled, battle-weary highlander of four centuries ago might have.
Soon, I was back in Wabaunsee County, which had a few commercial sheep growers at the time, and even a few old-timers who had herded sheep as lads between Topeka in Shawnee County and points west deep into the Flint Hills. Sheep were a big deal for many cultures across history. The wool was probably more important than the meat, although each sustained countless lives through trying times. Wool blankets, socks and suits are still my favorites in each of those categories, especially against the cold. Sheep, I salute you and thank you, as do, I’m sure, those who claim to like haggis.