And Lo, the Angels appeared unto the Shepherds.

Why was it the Shepherds in particular? They were the least likely people to be called on to first visit the New Messiah. They were un-couth and un-holy – they couldn’t always get to the kirk on the sabbath (then, as is now) – but shepherds are universally understood to be humble, thrifty, genuine, everyday folk.

Nativity plays up and down the land will have had children dressed up as those shepherds over the last few weeks. It’s a straight-forward outfit to organise – tea-towel head-gear and a stuffed sheep toy – there seems to be one in every family household. I used to think that it was just our kids that had story books about sheep, but it seems every child learns that sheep go baa.

Sheep are part of the culture of the country. There are 66 million people in the UK, and around 33 thousand of us employed tending to sheep – that means for every 1 of ‘us’, there are 2000 of ‘them’. For comparison, 1 in 43 work for the NHS and 1 in 130 are over the age of 90. In fact, there are almost as many centenarians as shepherds in the country. Cammy Wilson is doing a great job with ‘The Sheep Game’ in helping us explain our culture to some of ‘the 2000’.

One of the things on my bucket list is to go to Northern Norway and see the herds of reindeer. The animals fascinate me – I have seen them grazing in the Cairngorms and I like their structure, their beautifully soft hide and the presence that their antlers give them adds a regal appearance. They also seem to have a nice nature for what is basically a wild animal. I am sure this behaviour has been modified by many hundreds of years of association with their human herders.

I once saw a documentary on a Sami family – and how their lives revolved around their great herds of these wonderful beasts. I would love to spend a few days helping them gather and working in the yards to understand the behaviour of the reindeer and how the Sami prize one over the other. I wonder if they talk about ‘glint of the eye’, or ‘flinty bone’, or as the case of the bull that stood out on the television, his ‘braw, wide muzzle’.

I wonder if they get as excited about individuals as us sheep enthusiasts in Scotland do about our own animals? I wonder if they have an equivalent to a Dalmally Tup Sale?

The family in the documentary had two teenage daughters that were lending a hand with all the tasks and had been brought up immersed in the culture of the Sami people and the reindeer. However, they were about to go South to the city to continue their education.

The documentary left us with the realisation that the future of that precarious way of life depended on one of these lassies leaving the allure of the city lights and coming back home to take on the herding.

It got me to thinking...I wonder if we would miss them if they were gone? Would the world miss reindeer herding? For all the wee bit reindeer meat that is eaten and the trade for hides, perhaps not. Surely, we could replace that with more efficient chicken or lab-based meat and ‘fake-fur’. And the hills of Norway – would the landscape really be much different without the reindeer? Certainly, the lights would have gone out and the people gone but that is what we mean by re-wilding is it not, and all for the best?

But that would be the end of a people and a culture, and we would all be poorer for that. Joyce Campbell from Armadale is another who has done a great job showcasing what really goes on, not only in the hills of the North, but in the minds of the people who live in and work them.

Perhaps there is not a great deal of difference between what Joyce and her neighbours are doing in the Sutherland hills and what the Sami reindeer herders are doing in the Artic Circle. In the grand scheme of things, would we really miss the sheep on these hills? Would the world miss Scottish sheep farming if we all packed up and let the land re-wild?

Well, of course it would. There is the small issue of the £300 million output that the Scottish sheep sector contributes to the economy for a start. The 2.5 million slaughter lambs feed a lot of people – a blog from a generous American chef estimates a lamb will feed 50 people, while the slightly more frugal UK Department of Health and Social Care advises the same lamb would extend to 200 meals. That’s somewhere between 125 and 500 million meals from the grasslands of Scotland.

In any case, we aren’t going to stop keeping sheep because we are a stubborn breed and have a passion for what we do that goes far beyond what makes sense. We have the same single-minded determination that comes with people who are tied to the land in tough places all over the world – people like the Sami reindeer herders.

In terms of the policy decisions facing Scottish agriculture this coming year, I hope those who make the decisions affecting sheep in the hills and uplands are not only thinking about food security and the environment but consider the culture as well. The culture that supplies stubborn people with work ethic and determination, the people that marched to the pipes in battles of the past, the people who carved new lands in the colonies and the people that get straight through to interview because they are ‘farm-raised’ …and some who return home to the glens to keep the culture going.