Duck Plucking and Sheep Shagging

Friday night the wine-maid (do wine bars have barmaids?), E., asked husband if he shoots. The sum total of his firearms experience is a morning downing clay pigeons on a North Yorkshire estate. I can better this having once conducted target practice with a pyramid of beer cans in a swampy Florida field. After a moment’s pause to consider if any of this qualified, he answered no.

E. doesn’t shoot either. She was asking because she just bought a bird plucker and is trying to drum up business. She went on to describe how her new piece of culinary apparatus works like an Epilady for poultry.

I rather admire E. and her entrepreneurial streak. She is recently split from her partner, whom it has been indicated to me in hushed tones is someone of note in the horsey set, but seems to have wasted no time getting on with it. In addition to her wine bar duties she has launched a home cooked meal service that supplied a Thai red curry for a dinner party we hosted a few weeks ago. Now the mechanical duck plucker. She is the embodiment of the plucky (no pun intended), pull yourself up by the bootstraps, country gal archetype. I may have to take up shooting just so I can see the bird Epilady in action.

My education in how food makes it to the table didn’t stop with E. This week I also learned, courtesy of an episode of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, that the coloured markings on a sheep’s behind indicate whether or not she’s been shagged. A device harnessed to the ram’s chest supplies the dye.

Out for a walk today, a ewe looked me straight in the eye and began to stamp her front hooves like a demanding child. She had a freckled face and excellent posture. She stamped some more before turning away to reveal that her entire back half was covered in orange. Apparently the ram in this field likes sassy types.

A second look around proved the ram in this field isn’t picky. The pasture was a walk of shame on a grand scale, a virtual promenade of harlots with orange bottoms everywhere. I felt a bit sorry for those few gals that hadn’t seen any action, their still-white coats a prudish badge.

Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstall also provided an explanation for the sudden appearance of all these orange backsides: if you want a lamb for Easter, the rams need to make a visit by Guy Fawkes (the fifth of November). The technical term for the mating season is the rut, a word which has several definitions including “a recurrent period of sexual excitement in certain male ruminants” and “a fixed, usually boring routine.” Guess it depends if you ask the ram or the ewe.

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