Sheep Maintenance

This weekend we took the opportunity afforded us by the wonderful weather to do a load of sheep maintenance.  We also hired in a little extra help, for the first time, to help us in the task.  Over the course of four hours we maintained twenty adult ewes and half a dozen lambs.

The maintenance consisted of:

1)      Check tags – have they got two, and is at least one electronic.  The few which weren’t tagged we re-tagged.

2)      Dag their bottoms – trim away any pooey fleece, and make sure their bottoms are nice and clean.

3)      Clip their hooves – get the worst of the growth down, and check for footrot/scald – fortunately none found.

4)      For the Soays only, help their moulting along by pulling off as much of the free fleece as possible.  With some of them this was nearly their whole coat, with others it was only the barest of handfuls.

5)      Clik them.  This involves spraying Clik along their backs and in an arc over their front legs and then across their bottoms.  Clik helps to prevent flystrike by stopping any fly eggs laid on the sheep from maturing.  I like it because it lasts 16 weeks, though with the Mules and Suffolks at least we’re going to need to get them sheared in the very near future, as soon as we can line someone up.

The lambs were easy, we just cliked them.

It was back breaking work, but very satisfying when we finished, and we released them back into the fields, knowing that they should be much less likely to be hit by flies, and that they were generally in tip top condition.

Catching a lamb!

Catching lambs is not easy.  Well, catching lambs which are more than a few days old is more than not easy, it’s almost impossible.  They’re fast, they’re nimble, and they really aren’t interested in being caught.  Usually after I’ve checked them in their first day or so, and done any docking or castrating required, I’m unlikely to handle them more than once until a week or two before they go on holiday.  That single time is to get them in to spray them to protect them from flystrike.  I try and handle them as little as possible as it’s really rather stressful for all involved.

I do however always catch them within a day or two of birth.  Over the years I’ve developed a bit of a technique for this.  At first I just used to try and grab them, which could work, but was variable.  In fact it would often take me more than a few minutes to catch a lamb, and involve me chasing after lamb and ewe as they took me on a tour of the field. If it was twins or triplets, then the remaining one or two would be off, and much more difficult to catch.  Sorting out half a dozen lambs might take me an hour or so and leave me knackered.

Now I think I’ve got it just about right.  The main trick is to separate the ewe from the lamb, usually by cutting between them.  As soon as that happens the lamb, or lambs, become confused, and while they might initially run away from me, they’ll then start running back towards their mother, and as long as I’ve kept between them, that means towards me.  If it’s a singleton, then it’s as easy as scooping it up.  Twins I now try and get both of them together, as it saves a lot of effort.  For triplets I’ll try and get two, and then accept a little more of a chase for the third.

Docking Soays – Not Needed

Since we had our first set of lambs we’ve endeavoured to castrate the males and dock tails.  The castration is to reduce aggression in the flock, and allow us to keep the flock together longer without the risk of unplanned pregnancies.  If we didn’t castrate we’d be taking the boys at about eight months, which certainly for our Soays would be far too young.

We’ve also always docked, which is to reduce the risk of fly strike.  We’ve lost a few sheep to fly strike over the year nonetheless, and it’s horrible.  reducing the likelihood of a fly strike is a definite priority (and to that end I’ll be spraying the flock shortly).

When we got the Soays we just added them into the same routine.  I wait for a day before catching them, docking the girls and docking and castrating the boys.  Their tales tend to be shorter, so I’ve only ever been taking off a centimeter or two, but thought it was probably helping.  I’ve recently been told this isn’t necessary, and some investigation on the internet seems to confirm that they are considered short-tailed and don’t need to be docked.  So I will stop docking them!

Soay OAPs enjoying the shade

Something I wrote a month or so ago and forgot to post!

We have two Soay Rams remaining as part of the OAP flock. They’re fairly old, and never threaten me with butting, which is good! I try and check on them every day to make sure they haven’t died or been hit by flystrike, and one of their favourite places  is hidden in a little group of trees at the corner of our property:

From any distance it’s difficult to see them, and usually by the time I actually see them I’m so close that they’ve decided to get up and move away.  I had started creeping up to the trees to make sure they are ok, and to avoid disturbing them – and that’s how I got this picture.  They got up shortly afterwards however, so it wasn’t a total success.

Since then the grass has started to yield less goodness and they have started to come to me when I’m feeding the rest of the animals, which makes it much easier to check on them!

Sheep Sorting – and Poo.

Yesterday we did the next stage of sheep sorting, and caught about half of the sheep from within the OAP field in the channel between the pigs.  The idea was to separate out the girl lambs and put them with the others in the small field with the cows, and also to do some quick maintenance on the remaining lambs.

Of the fifteen sheep we caught, one was an old OAP Soay ram, fourteen were boy lambs, and just one was a girl lamb.  I’m really starting to wonder if I counted the lambs properly when I was castrating them – I think I should have 19 boy lambs, and 15 girl lambs.

Quite a number of the boys had mucky bottoms.  Amongst other things this can be caused by worms, or by being moved on to rich pasture, and some breeds of sheep are more susceptible to it than others – particularly Suffolks we’d been told.  As the majority of our white cross sheep are Suffolk crosses it explained why there were so many dirty bottoms.  The main purpose to docking their tails is to limit the muckiness, which can be an attractant to flies and therefore flystrike.  This certainly helps reduce the amount of build up, but not completely.  So yesterday we decided to trim around their bottoms (also known as crutching).

The process was very simple.  I grabbed the appropriate sheep, and secured it against the gate and stood there manfully holding it.  Alex then had the extra pleasant job of trimming the fleece all around the lucky lamb’s bottom.  This ranges from just unpleasant all the way to disgusting.  It’s especially exciting when the lamb in question decides to poo while being ministered to (about 33% do so), and some of them even peed as well, all over my boots (but no higher!).  In all we (I get to take partial credit as I held them!) cleaned up the bottoms of about eight of the lambs.

We have recently discussed a more aggressive animal reduction plan, which means taking something like twenty lambs on holiday at the end of November, therefore I will need to take some of the boy lambs as well.  This being the case it seemed sensible to move all the lambs we’d caught into the small field, as this should help in catching them when the time comes, and also in grazing down the field.

It does mean we need to catch the remaining lambs from the OAP Soay field, but we’re definitely making progress!

Sick OAP Soay

Yesterday evening we had a call from our neighbours down by the lower field.  Actually they’d called several times but we’d been out and not got the message until the evening.  They were calling as they were worried about one of our sheep.  As soon as we got the message we headed down to see what was going on.

One of our OAP rams was lying down, which is not that unusual.  However he didn’t get up when we approached, which definitely isn’t right.  Our neighbour saw us and came out to give us the full story.  Apparently he’d been lying down in that one spot and hadn’t moved all day.  He’d mostly been on his side, but she managed to get him on his front.  He didn’t look great, he felt a little cold, and we couldn’t get him to put his weight on his legs.  We checked him for flystrike – fortunately nothing.  I tried the last test – would he eat?  I found an ash tree and stripped off some ash leaves and gave them to him.  At first he wasn’t interested, but then he started munching away quite happily on them, and he actually perked up a bit, though not enough to get up.

After some discussion we decided that we’d get him under cover and see how he was in the morning.  We thought maybe if he had decent cover and got some food down him he might have a chance.  However, given that he’s probably 10 or 11 years old, which is pretty old for a sheep, we weren’t entirely confident.

We set up an area for him in the animal restaurant with some straw to keep him comfortable and warm, and gave him a saucepan of water and some more food, which he nibbled at somewhat tentatively.  We left him somewhat expecting to find him dead this morning.

However this morning he was still alive, and quite perky – though still not willing to get up.  I gave him some more food which he ate with a bit more verve and refreshed his water.  Maybe he needs a rest and some food without competition, and he’ll be up and about again.  There’s always hope.

Here he is in his little nest:

Further Sheep Duties

The last time we made a concerted effort to deal with the various sheep husbandry tasks we had waiting we were rained off about halfway through:

Yesterday we decided to try again and had a bit more luck.  Alex didn’t have much time as she was about to head off on a trip abroad, so we had to confine our ambitions, but we knew we definitely had to get to some of them given the limping we’d seen.

First up were the Soay ewes.  Two of them were limping badly – including, I think, Mouton.  Catching them was tricky, we managed to herd a number of the sheep into a temporary area of hurdles, but sadly not the Soay ewes.  Using the feed bucket we had managed to get them in the small area near the Animal Restaurant, and it really should have been easy to catch them.  The first one led us on a merry chase for about five minutes, at the end of which both Alex and I were exhausted, but an excellent dive by Alex secured the ewe.  The second one, who was probably Mouton (I didn’t check her ear tag), was much easier.  We got her into a corner, and I confused her using Grobbelaar style leg movements so she didn’t know which way to dive past me as I moved slowly forward until I got close enough to grab her.  Both of them had a little bit of footrot which we scrape and sprayed.  They also both had parts of their hooves where there are holes in the hard nail side of the hoof where the mud gets in and starts to create larger holes.  We did our best to trim those down.  Part of our problem is that our pasture is so soft it doesn’t wear their hooves down well – though if I can get a lot more concrete hard standing down that should certainly help a bit.

We could then move on to the sheep we had rounded up in the hurdles.  We had three of the ewes who we’d not caught before, one of the Suffolks, and two of the Mules, including my favourite sheep, White Face (this is an old picture of her with one of her lambs behind her):

White Face has been our most prolific mother, having had triplets in each of the last three years, and arriving with two lambs at feet.  She’s also the most intelligent of our white sheep, making sure she gets the most of any food – and also usually very good at avoiding capture.

Both White Face and the other Mule were a bit of a handful, but we eventually managed to get their feet trimmed, and a small amount of footrot scraped and sprayed.  We then moved on to the Suffolk.  They are such solid sheep that getting her into position was a bit of a chore, but eventually we had her sitting up against Alex’s legs and we could get to her hooves.  She clearly hadn’t been to the chiropodist for quite a while and there was lots of extra growth.  We trimmed her hooves and scraped the small patches of footrot before releasing her.  I decided that we’d use a triangle to mark all the animals we’d treated this round, so we now had five sheep with bright red triangles on them.

We had two boy Soays in with us as well, Luke and Muga.  Luke we gave a quick foot trim which was easy, but Muga had different ideas.  He is a very strong Ram, and though much smaller than the Suffolks he is much harder to handle.  However we really needed to get to his feet as he’s been limping a bit recently, and a limping ram is less likely to be able to perform his ramly duties!  Eventually after a bit of a struggle and some shouting (mostly at each other) Alex and I had him in position.  Trimming and scraping took a bit longer as he was wont to struggle, but eventually we were done.  Despite it being late in the season for flystrike I also took the opportunity to Clik the sheep we hadn’t caught before.

We released the sheep we had caught and went to look at the one last sheep we’d planned to catch.  This was the Suffolk ewe we’d had to treat when we got back from holiday (, and she was still having problems.  We caught her easily as she wasn’t interested in moving too far, and quickly had her in the sitting position.  She still had bad footrot affecting all her hooves.  She also had these strange sort of footrot growths between the two parts of the hoof, it’s the brown lump (which definitely isn’t poo) in front of the blood in this picture (notice also all the blue and purple on my finger and thumb!):

I need to find out more about this as it’s not on every hoof, and I’ve only seen it on a couple of the Suffolks before, never on the other breeds.

Once we were done with this Suffolk Alex had to head in, and I decided to check on Bertie.  He’s been limping a bit (as well), so it was definitely required.  One of the great things about the Angoran goats especially is that they are easy to handle, and turning them and trimming them on my own is not a problem.  I spread some straw on the floor of the Animal Restaurant, flipped Bertie on his back and dealt with his hooves in a  matter of minutes.  As usual he was fairly placid throughout the experience, kicking a bit when I was scraping his hoof, but as soon as I let him go he was quickly up and eating the straw quite happily.

I followed Alex back into the house feeling much better – the sheep might be limping, but at least we’d treated that and it should hopefully get better, especially if we have some dry weather.  I was also exhausted form the running and wrestling with sheep, and my left hand was bright blue from the spray but I felt that all in all, it had been a successful bit of maintenance!

Sheep and Copper Poisoning

Never read all the bad things which can happen to animals.  It’s horrible and will put you off owning them.  However, sometimes it’s useful to know things…

Our first animals were goats.  So we bought them goat mix to eat.  Perhaps naive, but it seemed to make sense.   It was a combination of grains and it had been molassed to make it extra nice, and the goats certainly seemed to appreciate it.  When we got sheep we also fed them goat mix (on the basis that we didn’t want to buy multiple types of feed, and they seemed to love it).  However we discovered that you shouldn’t feed goat mix to sheep as it contains too high a level of copper and therefore could kill them.  It’s also kind of expensive, possibly on the assumption that goat owners are rich or something.  So we switched to a combination of ewe feed and coarse mix.   Ewe feed is pellets of grain and such like, and coarse mix is a mixture of grains much like goat mix and without the molasses.  They didn’t go crazy over it in the same way, but still seemed happy enough.

Some time later we decided that we needed to get a lick or two for the animals, including the cows.  The different licks make it clear what can eat them, with a big cross through the sheep for the main cow lick – as it has too much copper in it – but there are several nice general ones, so we got one of those.  A second time we’ve been careful and sensible about copper.

I decided to read up about what copper can do in my sheep vet handbook.  I rarely read it because the pictures are so horrible and I just feel depressed about how many things can go wrong with sheep.  Most of which are fatal.  The first chunk about copper is that sheep with a copper deficiency can have problems when lambing and a whole bunch of things which might be done about.  The second section about copper poisoning was much smaller and can be summarised as – sometimes a sheep will have too much copper and the only likely symptom is death.  This wasn’t hugely helpful, but I figured we were in a good place as we’d controlled their copper intake and I shouldn’t worry too much about it.

Very recently I was idly reading the ingredients tag on our ewe feed.  It looks like this:

Notice about halfway down the line which starts with EU regulation…  Seriously, this is called ‘EWE FEED’ and it may be poisonous to our sheep.  Words fail me.

Anyway, we’ve been using this feed for about two years, and to be honest though we’ve had a few sheep die in that time, all but one of them was easily explained (flystrike, or age being the main reasons).

A search on the web found me this:

Note that one of the breeds which can be at particular risk is the Soay and it’s crosses.  So at this point I’m starting to think we need to change our feed.  To be fair it’s never the only thing they get, they get grass through the summer and hay over the winter, and we have been mixing it with coarse mix.  But still.

Another link borught me here:

Much more useful, for a start it seems to indicate that there might be some signs which would warn us of copper poisoning (none of which are currently issues for us), and it also doesn’t mention the Soay as a susceptible breed.  Also some good pictures of their livers…

So panic kind of averted.  I think we’ll see what the other feeds available are, but probably when winter comes we’ll continue to mix the ewe feed in with the coarse mix, as well as the hay.

Another option Alex has mentioned is to look at buying the constituent parts of the feed in bulk, and making our own.  It could save money, but would be a real challenge…


Back from Holiday – Part 2 – More footrot!

We decided to do a quick tour of the animals after lunch to make sure they were ok.  Our initial cursory look at the sheep and goats showed they all looked good, until I noticed one of the Suffolks lying in the animal restaurant area*.  All the others had run towards us in happiness, they’d clearly missed us… but she was just sitting there.

As I approached her she slowly got to her feet and stumbled forward a couple of paces, clearly limping on three of her legs!  Alex ran in to get the bits and the straw while I grabbed her and held her in position next to the wall.  While she was held like that I checked out her rear end to make sure there was no fly strike, but although it was a bit mucky it seemed more about the fact she’d been lying in the poo than anything else.

We flipped her over, which is not the recommended way of dealing with sheep but we find it easy when they have real footrot problems and it means we can both work on her.  Her hooves were pretty bad – I forgot to take my camera out otherwise I’d have got some shots – with three of them having bad footrot and the fourth having fairly bad rot.  We trimmed them, cut out as much of the rot as we could given her discomfort, and then sprayed them with the blue antibiotic.  We also trimmed the fleece around her rear to get rid of the muck and make sure it wasn’t attractive for flystrike.

A quick special marking on her so that we can check her again in a week or two, and we sent her off after bribing her with a saucepan of feed!

I didn’t then I’d be dealing with footrot within an hour of getting home, and I sit here typing with some of the blue dye on my hand from the antibiotic spray.

The rest of the menagerie seemed fine, which was good news at least.

* we have built a feed store area with some hard standing which has somehow picked up the moniker of the animal restaurant.  It has a lockable area for feed and several areas for hay, and at some point will have gates so we can keep the animals out, or if necessary hold them in when we need to examine them.

Clik-ity clik!

This morning I was looking at the OAP Soays and decided that if I could I should really get them in an Clik them.  Clik is a spray on chemical which helps to protect the sheep from fly-strike.  It works by slowing and stopping the development of the eggs that the blow flies lay – before they turn into maggots.  This is good, because the maggots will burrow into the sheep’s flesh and start to eat them, and not only is this extremely painful for the sheep, but if there are enough of the little nightmares then they will kill the poor thing.  It’s one of the most disgusting things we have ever had to deal with as animal keepers, and having avoided it completely for our first couple of years, we’ve been hit a few times a year since, and have lost two sheep in that time (both of whom were old and/or unwell, probably making them easy targets – but still not the way we’d want them to go).

Since we had our first permanent sheep we’ve tried to ensure we regularly spray them to protect them from fly strike.  The first spray we used was Crovect.  This is an insecticide which kills the flies, the eggs and the maggots – so is what we use to treat a strike.  It’s nasty stuff is Crovect and stings if you get a lot on your skin, it also needs to be sprayed all over the sheep to completely protect them as it doesn’t work it’s way over them.  We swapped to Clik a couple of years ago for a few reasons.  One is that it’s a bit cheaper than Crovect, it lasts quit e bit longer, 16 weeks against around 6, and it also doesn’t burn when you get it on you.  The best thing is that it works it’s way over the whole sheep (it uses soap as it’s base and I think this helps), so all we have to do is spray a line across the back, and then an arc over their rears.  The downside of Clik is that it can’t be used to treat a strike, so we keep some Crovect for that, just in case!

We have a channel between our pig areas which is usually lushly grassed as the pigs only occasionally get into it, and the sheep can only get into it if I leave the gate open.  After I’d fed the pigs this mornign I opened up the gate for the sheep, thinking to myself that I’d get some food to lead the sheep in and then try and trap them.  The rather strangely one of the old OAP rams just wandered in, and soon the whole Soay flock followed.  I quickly closed the gate, and they were all ready to be Cliked – brilliant!

When handling sheep the best thing to do is get them into as small an area as possible, so they’re all squished together.  We used to think this wasn’t very fair so we’d leave them a load of space, all that happened was they ran around, and in some cases jumped over the hurdles! Here’s the OAPs this morning after I managed to get them cornered with a couple of sheep hurdles:

Usually when I’ve managed to get hold of the sheep I like to check they’re ok.  The old Soays all seemed well, though a few of them had scraggly fleeces.  I decided to help them, by pulling it off.  They don’t like it much, but they look much betetr afterwards, and I can only assume they feel much cooler:

Once I’d done that I sprayed them one by one with Clik, trying my best to get a thinck band down their backs, and then an arc across their bottoms.  All finished off with a spot of bright red stock spray, so I know who’s been done.  Here you can see them eating some food afterwards: