Amelia sat on the gate wondering idly why the sheep were separated off into different fields. She was not expected back in Mrs Goddard's school for an hour since she did not study drawing and might therefore regard the countryside.
Mr William Larkins was approaching. William Larkins was not especially keen on young girls at the best of times, and especially not those sat on gates he was wishful to go through. However he raised his hat to Amelia and bade her
"Oh I pray you Mr Larkins, will you explain to me why some sheep are in some fields and some in others?" she asked.
William Larkins looked at her with a touch of grim humour.
"Do you really wish to know that Miss?" he asked.
"If you please" said Amelia. "I find them most relaxing to watch."
"Very well Miss" said Larkins. "Firstly that field you are looking at has ewes with lambs; a lamb is a lamb until it is weaned. Then it is called a hogget; an ewe-hogget if it is female, a tup-hogget if it is male and a wether-hogget if it is gelded."
"Oh! Does that not hurt the poor lamb?" asked Amelia. Her father was a blacksmith who also gelded horses so at least she knew what Mr Larkins meant.
"Well maybe it does Miss; but not for long" said Mr Larkins "And it means the wether may have a useful life producing wool. The wool of a tup or ram is poor quality. Otherwise all male lambs might as well be slaughtered for meat. As it is the first shearing of any sheep can produce almost twice as much wool as any subsequent shearings; sometimes on a good year almost forty pounds of wool from a first shearing. Of course tup-hoggets are sheared too though the wool is not so good; after that first shearing they are called shearlings; a ewe-hogget becomes a grimmer, and a wether-hogger becomes a dinmont. We keep them separate so that we know which is which; wethers might be in with ewes but we do not want a tup in at the wrong time so the timing of the lambs birthing are wrong."
"So when do they just become tup, ewe and wether?" asked Amelia. William Larkins laughed.
"Well little Miss, after the second shearing a ewe and a wether are as you see them; and a tup is a two-shear tup. Then after the third fleece a ewe is a twinter-ewe and at her best for breeding more lambs. And when she ceases to breed she is a draft-ewe. But she may still produce good wool for a while. But we do not want to breed off ewes that are too young, any more than you are ready to contemplate marriage yet, I wager."
"It is very complex" said Amelia. "Mrs Goddard has failed us; for we learn French and Italian but I fear she has never taught us to speak sheep."