April 10, 2015

Something New Every Day


You learn something every day.
I was out scouting possible picnic places for a birthday party of a nephew, when we ran into a herd of sheep somewhere in the mountains above Beirut. The winter is over, and shepherds have been moving their troops back to the summer pastures up in the mountains. I regularly run into shepherds and their troops while hiking up in the mountains, and so you assume I’d know a bit about sheep, but I had no clue what they were doing as a number of women were trying to tie the sheep into some kind of line system. A double rope was tied to one sheep’s neck, held by someone, and the rest was somehow intertwined, one facing the other, neck to neck, into that rope.


I know that they do not really use the sheep for wool here (as far as I know), so no sheering. Were they trying to line up the troops for the abattoir? Feeding time? You hardly need to tie them up for that, besides, the fields right now are green and luscious, not likely they need to be fed at this time of the year.

When I got closer, I noticed ladies working with pots of white milk. They were milking the sheep. This was one of those ‘duh’ moments for me. I know you can milk ewes because you have sheep cheese and yoghurt, but since I had never seen it, it never occurred to me they would milk sheep here in Lebanon. I thought they were only kept for selling them for the meat.


The lady overseeing the herd, some 150 sheep, explained her sheep get milked twice a day. She couldn’t tell me how much milk they produced, but she pointed at a two 50L milk containers, that get filled and picked up twice daily. I seriously doubted a sheep can produce 1 liter per day, but I surfed the web a bit, and it seems that the sheep of this region, awassi sheep, a local breed well adapted to dry conditions, are actually the second highest milk producers of all sheep breeds.

 The Awassi evolved over centuries for hardiness, disease resistance and ability to survive in hot and dry environments typical of much of the Middle East. Recently, they have been selected for milk production. The fleece usually is used for carpet. (Source)



And it seems that a lactating Awassi can indeed produce up to a liter a day, according to  this source, although not 365 days a year. And so the sheep I see up in the mountains on my walks are not actually kept for the meat, but for their milk.  

It is definitely THE perfect place to organize a birthday party for some Beirut city kids of a posh private school.  We’ll have them chase some sheep, roll around in sheep dung, and in the end they can drink the unpasteurized milk they will have milked themselves. I can just see those moms freak out; ‘ya mama,  wash your hands, don’t touch that, don’t drink that, don’t put your hand in your mouth, you’ll get sick, that’s dirty!’

And so you learn something every day.


Anonymous said...

Nice end of the story...both - for the sheep not getting slaughtered and for the 'ya mama...!'. I can see\hear it too!

Elie Touma said...

Very natural and inspiring photos as I always expect from our dear Sietske !!
Many thanks and enjoy Lebanon.