Commentary

Shaffer: Bubba, the outlaw sheep? Now that’s a hot auction item

jshaffer@newsobserver.comJanuary 12, 2014 

  • Interested?

    Bubba the ram will be auctioned at 10 a.m. Jan. 31 at Elodie Farms, 9522 Hampton Road, Rougemont. Anyone may bid, and there is no minimum. To view Bubba before the auction date, call Dave Artigues at 919-479-4606.

— Last year, the art world witnessed the most expensive piece ever sold at auction: a three-piece Francis Bacon series that brought a cool $199 million.

In the same week, bidders plunked down $83 million for a 59-carat diamond nicknamed “pink dream” – again, the costliest jewel an auctioneer ever hawked.

But I think those puny marks will be shattered on Jan. 31 when the Durham County Sheriff’s Office puts its grand prize on the block – a 125-pound, bearded, curly-horned quadruped with a weakness for apples and sweet corn.

Yes, Bubba the outlaw sheep is for sale. Bidding starts at a tantalizing zero.

Bubba, an exotic breed known as Barbados-Mouflon, spent four months at large in Durham County, ranging from the neighborhood around Streets at Southpoint mall to the campus of GlaxoSmithKline, peering into windows and drinking out of bird baths.

$10 a day

He repeatedly evaded his captors with speed and a leaping ability that rivals an adult kangaroo. Deputies finally caught him in a manmade trap baited with fruit, but even then, they had to construct a special tunnel to transport the slippery ram from cage to truck.

Since then, he’s been shacking up at a Rougemont farm at a rate of $10 a day. An ingrown horn, burrowing into his head, racked up a $300 vet bill, which also may explain his churlish behavior.

But demand for the shaggy ram has been just short of rabid. I get queries about Bubba more or less daily, and I’ve never even met him. You’d think he laid golden eggs judging by the number of farmers and refuge workers shooting their arms in the air.

The county attorney’s office says Bubba would have found a home immediately if not for state law requiring 30 days of confinement and an extra 20 days of auction notice, an antiquated requirement that attorneys secretly hope the legislature will change.

But here’s the thing: The auction is open to any sheep buyer, regardless of intent. That means the sheriff must honor the bid of a grill master with a taste for exotic meat.

“In theory,” said spokesman Paul Sherwin when I asked. “I don’t know if they’re good eating.”

‘Sweeter than beef’?

Barbados-Mouflon burgers aren’t exactly a popular dish, but go ahead and run them through Google. You’ll find recipes. I did. “It’s a little sweeter than beef,” raved one conoisseur, “not as grainy or sinewy, no gristle or grease.”

I don’t think that’s going to happen. Too much fuss. And not too long ago, the county successfully auctioned off a pot-bellied pig. For 5 bucks. As a pet. And he wasn’t nearly as agile as Bubba, or as interesting to describe.

“This is one cool ram or sheep or goat or whatever,” said Marie Inserra, assistant county attorney.

So I’m going to be in the audience on the last day in January, not because I’ve got room for a ram in my backyard, but because I want to see the auctioneer keep up with the tornado of bidders, waving arms, frantically bidding into the hundreds, thousands, millions, any price.

Or at least 20 bucks.

jshaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

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