Sheep Colonialism on the Farm

That one would make a nice roast leg of lamb, with mint sauce, roasted potatoes, and vegetables drizzled in peppery sunflower oil – I thought as I watched the sheep at Riverdale Farm. The rest of the beast could make lamb chops, stews or minced into lamb burgers.

The sheep ignored me as I daydreamed of ways eating them.

There are about a million sheep in Canada, and about a third of these are in Ontario. The sheep are kept for wool, milk and meat. Sheep’s milk make delicate tasting cheese and yoghurt. Sheep byproducts turn up in a variety of things such as the lanolin in skin cream and lipstick, to the chamois used to polish cars and pad bike shorts. (Do some male bikers add extra chamois to bulk up their appearances?). My favourite sheep byproduct is the sheepskin throw on my armchair.

Yet, sheep are not native to Canada. The first sheep that went ‘baa baa’ arrived in this country in the 1540s, in the ark of settler-colonialism.

In other words, the Europeans bought their familiar farm animals with them to the new-to-them continent. From sheep, to cow, to horses – they are all invasive species. But we don’t think of them in this way, as they are part of the taken-for-granted farming landscape.

Sheep were fresh food on foot for the colonizers.

Christopher Columbus took sheep with him to the Caribbean in 1493 for this reason. Sheep became part of the plantation culture of the Americas. They were shepherded by enslaved Indigenous, and later Black, workers.

In Canada, the sheep came with the French colonizers in 1540s. By the time they were joined by English colonizers some 200 years later, there were thousands of lamb chops on legs in the country. Thus, sheep are part of the ongoing ecological colonialism in the Americas.

For some people, sheep trigger nostalgia for the simpler days of rural living. Rory the sheep and Stan the bull, are the stars in The Barn, a Canadian comic strip. They are funny and have attitude, which leads to trouble, but somehow they always find a way out. From another perspective, The Barn reifies ecological colonialism as the Canadian norm.

Canada has a miniscule number of sheep compared to other countries shaped by settler-colonialism. There are some 30 million sheep in New Zealand and a whopping 75 million in Australia. Sheep are not native to either of these countries. Just think of how much their landscape and ecology has been altered by these alien grazers.

A sheep sauntered up to the trough to drink water. Its creamed coloured wool was splotched with mud. The sheep were indifferent to the children and adults watching their every move. The little flock in the urban farm continued to do what sheep do best – huddle together and chew the grass.

I strolled home – my dinner would be curry lamb, with rice and peas. They had no goat at the supermarket, but lamb is a close substitute. Sheep colonialism on my dinner plate. You can support the blog here.

© Jacqueline L. Scott

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