One sheep, two sheep, a hundred sheep or some sheep?

I was outside with a student who was with us for a séjour linguistic and we were going to feed the sheep. “How many sheeps do you have?” He asked. “We have 18 sheep”, I replied. “No, no Jane,” he said. “You have told me how important it is to say the S at the end of plural nouns in English”.

Well it is necessary to pronounce the S to make a noun plural, if there is one. But, like many rules both in English and French, there are exceptions. There are a few words that do not have an S for the plural. For example sheep, salmon, trout (truite),deer (cerf), fish , moose (l’orignac) and a few others.

There are some words that change and do not have an S. A few common examples, man (pl men), woman (pl women), child (pl children), foot (pl feet), mouse (pl mice) and tooth (pl teeth). There are others too!

There are some words that add ES. A few common examples, dishes, peaches, buses and kisses. There are others!

The English language uses words from other languages, such as French, Italian, Greek , Latin and many others, and these have different endings. This is a subject that many native English speakers have difficulty with and to verify more obscure words is a good idea for students of all levels and nationalities.

Soay sheep running for food.

BUT, to return to the sheep and their food, the student asked me what kind of sheep we have and why we chose them?

Our house, Trapeharde, has some very hilly (vallonné) land which is very difficult to manage. We had several options as to what we could do.

  1. We could attempt to keep the brambles (ronce) under control by using a strimmer (debroussailler). This could be a quick way to exhaust yourself (epuisant) yourself and maybe fall or having an accident.
  2. We could pay a contractor to visit and do the work. This could be a quick way of spending a lot of money very quickly.
  3. We could keep animals on the land. This could be a way of looking after the land ecologically with the advantage of providing us with meat. “Hmmm”, we thought. “Perhaps this is the best option.”

Having made the decision to keep animals, the next question was which animals? We did not have any experience of keeping animals, other than cats, which would have been useless.

We thought about goats. A good friend who keeps goats told us that they would be good but the problem with them is that they are escapologists (les champion de l’esquive). They also need a shelter (abri) to sleep in at nights.

We thought about sheep. We found information about shearing (tonte), cutting of hooves (les sabot) and their need for a shelter. This all sounded rather complicated.

Soay sheep with their ram.

While we were considering the best option a good friend told us about his sheep which are a breed (race) called Soays. He was very pleased with his Soays. They don’t need to be shorn (tondirent). They don’t need to be helped with lambing (naissance). They don’t need a shelter. They don’t need their hooves cut. In fact they are very independent and tough (autonomous) et (robuste). The meat from Soays has an excellent flavour and texture and is low in fat. This sounded great. “What were the disadvantages?” we asked. The only one he could think of was their size. They are a small sheep so when they are slaughtered (abbatage) there is not a lot of meat. We searched for information on Soays and found that they come from Scottish islands and are similar to sheep found in Corsica, les mouflon. They are so independent that , in the 1930s some were left on islands near St Kilda and they did not need a shepherd (berger) to look after them. In fact they thrived (etre florissant de sante). We decided that these would be the ideal sheep for us. We bought 4 pregnant (plein) females and a ram (belier). Several years and many delicious meals later we have no regrets!