Sunday, 15 June 2008

Low maintenance sheep

A busy day at Rock HQ on the sheep front.

We had expected our friendly shearer to turn up and give our flock a short back and sides. This meant we had to capture the maniacs, but as they are led by their stomachs it was an easy task luring them into the stable with a bucket of oats. William vacated his stall and busied himself mowing the lawn for us and we waited for the man with the clippers.

And we waited.

It was a good plan, once he had finished taking the fleece off the beast it would be passed to me so I could trim its feet. Sheep are fairly self sufficient animals so easy for the smallholder to care for. There are however essential jobs that have to be done to ensure the welfare of the animal and therefore provide a plentiful supply of chops. Every year they have to have their fleece removed, otherwise they get too hot, they do shed their fleece naturally if you don't shear them but it happens in patches and your fashion conscious sheep doesn't think this is a look that suits it.

Their hooves grow all the time so they need trimming at least once a year otherwise the hoof starts to grow misshapen, folds over on itself so trapping dirt, this can become a breeding ground for bacteria and the sheep gets footrot, which can eventually cripple the poor beast.

As they are not toilet trained they need their bottoms cleaned regularly, this process where you cut away the soiled wool from their sheriffs badge is called dagging. Ours are suffering a bit from eating fresh spring grass and so have the squirts, their backsides and sometimes other sides are liberally coated with bright green poo. This attracts flies who lay eggs and the hatched maggots eat the poo and then start eating the sheep. So clean bums means happy sheep.

As ours were going to be sheared dagging was not so essential but we were spraying them with an anti fly spray to prevent infestation.

And we waited.

Once the sheep were sheared, had their feet clipped and bottoms wiped the plan was to inject them with part two of the vaccine to stop seven nasty parasites giving them poorly tummys, and they were going to be drenched to clear any worms from their gut.

Apart from that list sheep are low maintenance.


It was a good plan, failing only because of one element, our friendly shearer didn't turn up. He was coming tomorrow night. Not good as I am away on a course.

So we carried on with the part of the plan we could do as Tracey is going to busy enough with me away again without having to attend to the sheep. My arm must be getting better as I am now able to wrestle the unruly Ryelands and trim their feet. Each animal in turn had a pedicure, bum wipe and spray, injection and worm drench. True to form I managed to inject my left index finger, just like I did last time, whilst injecting the same lamb, Daffodil. Judging by the way my finger is throbbing I gave myself a pretty good dose this time. I refrained from shearing the sheep, after what happened last time I realise it one country skill I may never achieve proficiency in. I will post a picture later to show you the results of my ham fisted efforts.

Whilst I was sheep wrestling Tracey provided me with backup, handing full syringes over the stable door, doses of drench when needed and plasters a sympathy when I self administered medication.

She also brought down Crispy our massive Ram single handed. After several attempts by yours truly to corner the brute in the bottom corner of Oak Bank he sought refuge in a patch of nettles and looked like he was going to make a fight of it. Tracey stepped in and calmed the monster by talking to him, amazed at the audacity of the sheep whisperer approach the bemused Ram stepped meekly forward allowing her to tickle his ears while I sneaked up on him and leapt on him rodeo style bringing him to the ground.

While I was engaged in this round of sheep maintenance my mind wandered, as it often does, at one point I was considering the usefulness of velcro gloves when catching sheep, but mostly I was wishing my Dad could see me now, shepherding. Don't worry, hes not dead, its worse than that, he lives in Manchester. Anyway its thanks to him that I am a smallholder, and keep sheep.

He was a shepherd, quite what insanity drove him to change careers back in the early nineteen seventies from working in a garage to being a shepherd I shall probably never know. Quite how he managed to convince a hardened and typically Herefordian shepherd called Ivor to take him on as his assistant shepherd when Dad's experience of sheep previous to his interview was sliced on a plate with gravy and mint sauce. Somehow he convinced him and we moved to a four hundred acre farm which became my playground. Without Dad taking such a life changing chance when I was five years old I would have missed the experience of country life that helped shape me into what I am now, an enthusiastic amateur small scale farmer. To him for that I am eternally grateful.

Happy Fathers Day.

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