Wednesday, 9 June 2010

And sometimes it is about the sheep shit

Caring for livestock isn't rocket science. Animals need food, water, space to act out behaviors genetically programed into their species. They need protection from the elements, and sometimes from themselves: lambs get their heads stuck through fences, horses scratch an itch and in the process get their blankets tangled around their feet. Generally speaking, if an animal is not stiff, on its back with its legs stuck up in the air, you're doing OK.

I was told when I started keeping sheep that they have two aims in life: to escape and to die. We succeeded in keeping our first orphan ram lambs alive and well (until they went into the freezer anyway) so I was feeling marginally confident that I was ready to start with a small breeding flock of ewes. And so far they haven't escaped or died either.

But, part of the 'not dying' program involves a semi-complex vaccination and deworming cycle. And this can feel like rocket science. There are SO many drugs available to accomplish this.

Six weeks ago, I started their course of injections. If you remember, I accidentally injected both myself and the lambs that first time.

Well, it's not just a one shot deal, so to speak. A second course of vaccine has to be given within 4-6 weeks of the first, or you need to start the whole process over. And injectable wormers need to be given once, then again 7 days later, and repeated on a bimonthly cycle, plus extras 4-6 weeks before lambing to ensure the immunisation is passed onto lambs.

And then there are flukicides to administer. And pour-on treatments to prevent flies from laying their eggs on a sheep's arse. Sheep are to be pitied for sure, with all of god's other creatures out for a free meal at the sheep's expense. I'd run away or die too, if I were being plagued by flies, worms, parasites, and snails that ate my liver.

Anyway, there was some confusion at the vets and I ended up with 3 syringes of vaccine and a window of 8 hours to administer them to the sheep. I jumped in the truck with my meds, called underkeeper Pete to give me a hand sheep wrangling, and was ready to go. It all felt very "Mission Impossible".

The sheep are significantly larger than they were when I gave them their first injection 6 weeks ago. We tied some sheep hurdles to the fence like a kind of makeshift crush. I lured a sheep in with food and squashed her between the hurdle and the fence - like a sheep sandwich.

The picture in the book showed a relaxed sheep being easily injected. Just pinch a bit of skin on the neck and insert the needle it said. It's never like it is in the book, is it?

Syringes, bailing twine to tie the hurdle, and a scoop of feed - all the necessary tools according to the book

Sheep are quite weedy when it comes to even mild pain and they thrash about and bleat pathetically. I had my knee in the sheep's side, and Pete was trying to sit on her but it was like a woolly rodeo. I never managed to get the vaccine needle into the sheep, but I did manage to stick it in my hand yet again. I pulled it out of my hand, aimed for the neck, missed, and squirted the entire vaccine onto her wool. Crap.

I tried with the wormer. I got half of that injected into her and the needle out just in time, as she lunged over the hurdle and made for the other end of the paddock. I thought that there must be an easier way. I had 6 more injections to give and I didn't know if the sheep could take it, let alone my immune system as I was guaranteed to jab myself at least another three times.

On the up side, I wiped the blood where I'd stabbed myself onto the sheep's back, for easy identification of which sheep only needed a half dose. Just a handy tip for you.

I called the vet to see if a vet or vet nurse could come out and inject my lambs, and show me how to do it properly for next time. No one was free. I now had 6 hours to get the meds into the sheep, and I had to drive back to the vets for another dose of vaccine to replace the one that was now drying and crusty on the sheep's wool.

In desperation, I went to Tuss, the farmer who gave me the lambs. He and his three brothers are tenant farmers on the estate. They raise cattle, sheep, and crops. The farm is hidden in the woods. I found the farm and the youngest brother (in charge of milking). He directed me to Tuss's house. I got lost but ran into the oldest brother (in charge of beef cattle) and eventually found Tuss. I apologised for showing up unannounced and promised I could do it myself next time if he just showed me what I'm doing wrong, and anywaythevetcan'tcomeoutandI'mworriedthatI'llmissthewindow missionimpossibleandallthat...I was in a bit of a flap by now. And I was down to 5 hours.

Tuss is a sheep guru and unflappable. Bless him, he came right over and showed me how to hold a sheep more effectively, so there was no rodeo this time. I was able to easily inject a calm sheep, just like in the book. And he talked me down off the ledge with regards to vaccines and wormer and timings. Most importantly he looked over the sheep and said I've done a good job raising them.

No worse for wear

So, for all my complaining in the last post about the worst in people's nature, Tuss redressed the balance for me. I don't want to rely on favors from my neighbors, that's not fair to them. But when I'm stuck - really stuck - I found someone kind enough to help get me unstuck.

Now that the lambs are settled (until their second dose of wormer next week) and my weather pinecone tells me to expect rain soon, I will start my indoor chores and read up on the agricultural guidelines and principles I've been avoiding for the more rewarding work of digging, planting and hatching. It's not so bad as I've set up an outdoor office -

We had another good pheasant hatch yesterday. The percentages have surpassed our targets, so we now have some surplus chicks to sell to other shoots. The meat chickens are growing into their semi-free range lifestyle. They're starting to display more normal chicken behaviors like scratching and dusting and fighting over the best spot in the sun.  

They sure do poop a lot.


Paula said...

Another good ending. I'm glad you had your faith restored. Sorry about sticking your hand. You remind me of the Carol Burnett Show skit where Tim Conway plays the dentist to Harvey Korman's patient, and Tim sticks his dominant hand with the Novocaine, which renders him useless for the remainder of the appointment. That was the skit where one of Tim's ad libs made Harvey laugh out loud...he actually howled on national television.

The lambs look great, by the way, and so does the outdoor office! I especially like the office because I love being outside. Good luck with the next doses!

Poppy Cottage said...

Yep. Pretty nice guy, just shame not a bit taller and not so 'in with the ark' on independent women!!

Judging what your read, maybe come a look at my bookshelves one day xx

Kim said...

Those little sheep faces sure are cute. Just recently found your blog and I have enjoyed your "story". Glad today was a better day.

Jennifer Montero said...

Paula - I LOVED the Tim & Harvey sketches. Harvey was always the one struggling to keep it together and the skits where Tim amde him laugh were always the best. Thanks for reminding me of those two!

Colette - Tuss reminded me that he has a couple of black Dorset fleeces for you. I can collect them for you but you may want to stop by yourself...:-)

Kim - Thanks for reading and for the comments. The sheep are very endearing little souls for sure.

Poppy Cottage said...

I think I could stop by and pick them up (he does make a rather fine cup of tea) I'll text him. We must try out this drum carder (before I have to take it back) xx

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I just KNEW there was a reason -- besides the great stories, the engaging prose, and the animal pictures -- that I read your blog. It's the handy tips! Now I know what to do next time I half-inject a sheep vaccine and stab myself instead -- wipe the blood on the sheep for easy identification.

Jennifer Montero said...

Tamar - Here at M&T, we're all about infotainment....

Sara Rall said...

My husband was a veterinary technician for many years. He says the vets in his practice stuck themselves while giving vaccines on average once a month. And I volunteer as an ambulance worker (EMT) and even though I'm not the one doing the actual injecting needle sticks are so common we have to watch an annual safety video about it and have a whole reporting system in place. At any rate you are by no means alone!