That’s the first thing I thought of when I saw this lovely old shepherd cradling one of his lambs…and although I knew that “by hook or by crook” means “by any way possible,” I had no idea what shepherds actually used crooks for; a crook looked like a pretty worthless implement to me.
Boy, was I wrong.
Turns out, their purpose is threefold: shepherds uses crooks to carry newborn lambs back to their rightful mothers when confusion reigns in the lambing pen (they cannot touch the lambs themselves, or the mothers will reject the babies due to the scent of humans); they use the blunt end of the crook to prod sheep along the way whenever they are driving them; they hook strays around the leg or neck to drag them back into the fold where they belong.
My trusty 1902 Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog had a shepherd’s hook for sale—a metal one that fit snugly over a pole (you supplied the pole).
The Montana Shepherds’ Crook was “the best and strongest crook that has ever been placed on the market.” It consisted of a pear-shaped loop with rounded curves on the inside to prevent hurting the sheep. Thousands (they say) were in use in the United States.
A mere seventy-three cents.
And there was, of course, a Bo-Peep Crook, which was the same as a Montana, but lighter.
For the ladies, I guess; for the shepherdesses.
There was more equipment, too: three different styles of shears—the Western, the Eastern, and the Celebrated Burgon & Ball’s (each in three different lengths of blade); two equally disgusting jars of salve (for those “worrisome nicks”); there was fleece detergent and a sheep dip (for “vermin”).
The best item, though, was the Montana Special Sheep Shearing Machine, “…considered one of the best by a great many of the large sheep growers throughout the United States and Australia.” It had a large wheel, mounted on a solid post; an enclosed gear in a fixed frame that ran the cutters.
So, one man turned the wheel, the other sheared the sheep; they got the job done, all right – by hook or by crook!