THE CUNCU SHEEP

APPEARANCE - SPECIAL ABILITIES - TERRITORY
HABITAT/BEHAVIOURDIET - MATING - USAGES
- MYTH/LORE

One of the largest species of sheep, Cuncu look built rather than grown. Their sturdy appearance is belied, though, by a docile nature that makes them a favourite of the nomadic herders who keep them for their thick, versatile wool. This wool offers ample protection against the harsh weather of the frozen north, and may even house a cheewick bird, which builds a nest amid the sheep’s fleece and keeps it free of parasites.

Appearance. Among the largest of sheep breeds, the Cuncu is imposing in its bulk. Growing as high as a man’s waist, they are stocky, almost square-looking animals, well insulated against the northern weather. There is a noticeable difference in the builds of males and females – males tend to be longer in body than they are in height, with a typical ram measuring a ped and a fore from nose to rump, but only a ped tall. Females tend towards the opposite, being sometimes taller than they are long. Usually, though they are about a ped both in length and height, giving them a curiously compact appearance.

The formidable appearance of Cuncu is increased in the case of males, which sport large curling horns, thickly ridged and often growing into impressive whorls which frame the
sheep’s face somewhat like a warrior’s helmet; an apt impression to give, as their main purpose is in fighting other males.

Cuncu have large, blunt-muzzled faces, usually light brown in colour, though individual
sheep can also sometimes be found with black, white, grey or spotted faces. The eyes are a little small, in proportion to the face, and are generally coloured a warm amber-brown. The nostrils are long and sensitive; the ears small and rounded, with a thick fringe of hair to keep them warm. The head is held at the same height as the back, so that the profile of the animal makes a flat line, adding to its stalwart, stoic appearance – they seem always to have their shoulders squared and their heads tucked down, braced to calmly withstand some imminent attack.

The wool of the Cuncu is long-locked, though tightly curled, so as to knit together into a thick fleece, impenetrable to the elements, and forming a significant portion of the animal’s bulk. The wool can vary in colour from jet black to dull grey to rusty brown, and has a soft, though fairly greasy texture when growing on the sheep. When fully grown, you should be able to sink your fingers entirely into the wool before touching the warm, soft skin of the sheep.

Cuncu have short, but very strong legs, with wide, tough hooves, covered over by a fringe of long hair. There is no tail to speak of, making the sheep very compact, with both the head and feet capable of being tucked into the body, to be protected from even the most unrelenting weather.
Return to the top

Special Abilities. Cuncu are renowned and valued for their hardiness, being very well adapted to the harsh climate of Northern Sarvonia. On the exposed plains that make up their native environment, their thick fleeces and compact build provide insulation against the most biting winds. Their short legs can be tucked under their bodies, and their heads ducked down almost like a gopag, so that no part of their body is exposed to the elements.

As well as protecting the sheep from the weather, and providing a valuable commodity to the shepherd, a Cuncu’s fleece can also offer refuge to a remarkable bird known as a cheewick. These small plains-birds have a symbiotic relationship with the Cuncu. They aid the sheep by hunting parasites that infest their wool – a real problem for such a thick-fleeced animal – and also build their nests in the fleece of the sheep, which offfers them a safe, sheltered place to raise chicks, with an abundant food supply in the form of ticks and lice plucked from the fleece.
Return to the top

Territory. A longhaired sheep, the Cuncu thrives in the cold snowy extremes of Northern Sarvonia and can be found in abundant numbers north of the Prominent Mountains. They populate many of the open meadows and plains in this northern land, and are herded in large numbers by the Ice Tribesmen, as well as by other peoples in smaller numbers, further south, where they are farmed for their fleece. Many of the Cuncu dwelling in the Caaehl’heroth peninsula have been domesticated by the Kaaer’dár’shín half-orcen people, who learnt to herd them from the Antislar people, who have long kept Cuncu for their wool.
Return to the top

Habitat/Behaviour. Despite their formidable appearance, the Cuncu is a relatively docile animal and is herded quite easily, as they tend to stay in their flocks, requiring only gentle coaxing from a shepherd to move on. The Cuncu travel in large family-oriented flocks of between 20 and 30 sheep, which, in the wild, tend to be led by the oldest ram or ewe, though domesticated sheep have learnt to follow the shepherd instead.

Wild flocks are nomadic, travelling across the plains and open country of Northern Sarvonia in search of fresh grazing. In the summer months they often follow larger herd animals, such as paxen or wison, to help increase their defences against predators. If a flock is threatened by predators, they tend to bunch together, with rams pushed to the outside where they display their horns and often charge the attacker.

They are amiable creatures and often gentle with humans, with one exception: rams are noted to be fierce and hot-tempered in the mating season. For this reason, contact between men and rams at this time is not suggested. Females with young lambs may also be aggressive if they feel their lambs are the focus of too much attention, and all Cuncu are likely to react badly to dogs, cats or other possible predators that get too close during the breeding season. Cuncu are especially wary of dogs, as they are a favourite prey of snow wolves. This inbuilt fear of anything dog-shaped means they cannot be herded by trained dogs such as cattrel, but fortunately their generally docile nature means a human can manage unaided.
Return to the top

Diet. The Cuncu eats many low-lying grasses, mosses, roots, and other plants within their range. Among the most prominent are the alth’ho and lythe-grass. In the winter, they eat almost any plant they can find, including the bark of some trees and low shrubbery. In the far north of their territories, they also rely on hrugchuck grass, like most animals of the area, using their hooves to dig through thick snow, and their blunt muzzles and square teeth to crop even the shortest vegetation. During the winter they can also survive on the withered remains of lythien moss, which still retain some nutrition. Water can become a problem during the winter, however, as they can’t gain as much moisture from their food as during the summer. Though they can eat snow, this is a last resort as it lowers their body temperature, so during the winter Cuncu must travel farther than usual to find liquid water, or food sources such as hrugchuck or sap-rich tree barks, which can provide moisture.

Domesticated Cuncu don’t usually have to go to such lengths, though, as their shepherd will often light a fire to melt snow and provide them with drinking water.
Return to the top

Mating. The Cuncu has a six-month gestation period. Rams initiate contact usually in the eight or ninth month of the year, the months of the Sleeping Dreameress and of the Fallen Leaf. They will often contest with other males at this time, using their horns as butting devices. These contests look fierce, but don’t usually result in casualties, as rams will carefully try to gauge the size and strength of an opponent before challenging it. After the lesser males are defeated, the now dominant ram will mate with receptive ewes in his herd. The female then carries her young until the third or fourth month of the year; the months of the Awakening Earth and of the Changing Winds. The Cuncu is not normally known to bear twin lambs, but exceptions have been noted. If this occurs, the weaker lamb will most likely not survive, as the Cuncu does not produce enough milk for two simultaneous offsprings. In such cases, one lamb is usually taken off the mother and hand reared by the shepherd. These lambs, which tend to grow into very tame adults, are often termed “heel sheep“, for the way they follow their owners around.
Return to the top

Usages. The fleece of the Cuncu is shorn in late spring, during the fifth month of the year; the month of the Singing Bird after the birthing cycle is over, relieving the animal of its second heavy burden for the warmer months. It is, mostly, a “carpet type” with a varying degree of both length and width. The long, lustrous fleece, hanging in separate locks, also makes the Cuncu fleece especially attractive to those who practice the older art of hand spinning. The fleece is easily spun after washing and carding, and a quality hand spun fleece may often sell for three to ten times what a commercial buyer would pay for it. While it does not readily take dye, the natural black, grey, silver and brown colours of the natural coloured Cuncu are among the most sought-after fleeces at shows and sales.

The Antislar people, however, have developed highly successful methods of treating Cuncu wool so that it takes the bright colours they favour in their fabrics. though the exact method is a closely guarded secret, it’s widely known that the fleeces are treated by a lengthy boiling in a solution which seems to bleach all the colour from the wool, as well as from most other things it comes into contact with. By this method, Antislar people are able to create the brightly coloured Cuncu wool garments so characteristic of the tribe. It is believed that the Kaaer’dár’shín half-orcs took with them the knowledge of herding Cuncu and processing their wool when they formed their own tribe, and though they tend not to use bright colours so much, Cuncu wool is still an important commodity to them, as is the milk and meat of the sheep.

Cuncu are not otherwise widely used for milk or meat, except by the Ice Tribesmen, who will often butcher old or weak individuals for meat, and occasionally milk the ewes. Young sheep are often killed for their skins, which makes good quality vellum for writing on.

Cuncu Sheep Statistics

Measurements Rams Ewes
Height 1 ped 1 ped 2 fore
Length 1 ped 1 fore 1 ped
Weight 2 pygge 5 heb (2 ½ pygge) - 3 pygge 1 pygge 5 heb (1 ½ pygge) - 2 pygge
Fleece 2-3 hafeb per shearing Return to the top

Myth/Lore. Cuncu have been domesticated for a very long time, and have become of great importance to those who rely on them for their livelihood. There are many stories and songs which feature them, such as this traditional Northern song, which has its versions and variants among many of the tribes who keep Cuncu.
 

THE CUNCU SHEEP ARE GONE
BY ALTARIO SHIALT-ECK-GORRIN

Traditional Remusian herder’s song, recoded and translated
by Altario Shialt-eck Gorrin and Alysse the Likely.


The cuncu sheep have all run off,
the cuncu sheep are gone,
Look in the valley, comb the hills,
the cuncu sheep are gone,
Go pray you find them, pray they're safe,
the cuncu sheep are gone,
Look at the ground boy, search the tracks,
the cuncu sheep are gone,
The great bear hunts, the great bear eats,
the cuncu sheep are gone.

Why have you slept, what have you done?
the cuncu sheep are gone,
Now we'll be hungry, we shall starve
the cuncu sheep are gone,
Your mother cries, your father shouts,
the cuncu sheep are gone,
Go grab your arrows, grab your bow,
the cuncu sheep are gone,
Tonight we’ll feast, on rich bear meat,
the cuncu sheep are gone.

Cuncu are often regarded as a symbol of hardiness and utility, at least among those who herd them. Shepherds of the Ice tribes often wear a scrap of raw Cuncu wool on their clothing as a mark of their profession.

The Cheewicks that nest in their wool are also given significance, with a popular folk belief that the birds bring the sheep news of the weather, so that they know to hunker down when a storm is coming. Herders pay close attention to the behaviour of their sheep, and are usually quick to find shelter if they notice the sheep lying down and tucking their heads down. Indeed, they do seem able to tell as much as half an hour before bad weather hits that it is coming, though this is not likely due to any action of the cheewick’s part.
Return to the top

 Date of last edit 8th Sleeping Dreameress 1670 a.S.

Information provided by Anaea the Marked View Profile by Seth Ghibta View Profile