Sunday, 14 November 2010


There's quite a bit to looking after sheep, but none of it difficult or unpleasant. In fact handling sheep, once you get the technique right, is rewarding. They're lovely - warm, soft, and sweet smelling like a pile of leaves. At least until you get to the far end.

It was time for my small flock to get their dose of wormer, a foot trim, and general check-up. I haven't bought a worming gun yet because of the expense, but I do have large syringes and I figured these would work just as well - without the needles attached of course. I'd never done a foot trim before but I looked it up in my Practical Sheep Keeping book and it seemed straighforward enough. I have foot shears and a knife, and antiseptic spray left over from treating dog wounds not worth stitching.

I think the sheep knew I was coming. All were perfectly sound the night before. By morning, Eurdora was lame on her front foot, and Eunice (newest ewe lamb) was lame behind. Typical. This was going to test my severely limited knowledge of foot care. It did.

I only have 6 ewes but it took me a good hour to pen them up, and catch hold of each one to perform the necessary ablutions. First I trimmed all four feet -

Finish with a bit of blue spray, the shepherd's friend, between the toes -

I've learned to wear gloves because the blue won't wash off your skin, it has to wear off in its own time.

The lambs were exempt from the worming and pruning, but they hung around to watch -

My syringe delivery system worked great -

 With one small caveat: I forgot the blue spray residue on my gloves -

 And now the ladies all have blue moustaches for the next week or so -

Nevermind. I'll pretend it's an homage to Salvador Dali.

I couldn't figure out what was wrong with either of the lame sheep. It wasn't obvious, no thorns or hot spots or rank smells. I needed a second (knowledgeable) opinion. Dickie the shepherd came and had a look for me the following day, by which time Eunice was better and Eudora was worse.

Foot rot. There was a small crack on the side of Eudora's foot which had allowed the bacteria to enter. We burst the infection examining her which made her immediately more comfortable. When I moved the fence to give them fresh grass today, Eudora was noticeably better, but I will probably get her a shot of penicillin from the vets Monday morning, just to be sure. Looks like I'll have a chance to practice my intra-muscular shots then.

But now Eunice the lamb has gone lame again, and I can't figure out what's wrong with her. I hope Dickie's free tomorrow.

Autumn is over in our part of England. High winds have cleared the trees in our garden of leaves and apples. It's been wet every day so Milkweed is more bog than field. Our dew pond is full again which might attact a few passing ducks. But the cold and wet condition takes its toll on all the animals. I rigged up another creep feeder to supplement the lambs -

They will still suckle from their mothers but the extra nutrition will benefit both parties.

The dogs have done 20 days on the shooting field already. Dulcie can't hold onto any weight and halfway through a wet cold day she "hit the wall" as runners say. I always carry a mini Mars bar for this sort of emergency. A quick release of glucose and the afternoon off brought her around. But the best thing we've done is install a heat lamp in the spare kennel -

It's only one of the lamps I use to keep day old chicks under, but with the kennel door closed it produces a comfortable ambient temperature. Now at the end of a work day, I can towel off the spaniels and put their coats on them to keep their muscles warm while they dry off. And I can put them directly into a warm, dry kennel in a fresh bed of straw. I still need to wire the lamp in properly but it's doing the job for now, plugged in to a waterproof socket.

Kenneled working dogs have hugely different requirements to pet dogs. They need to grow a weatherproof coat, but they also need a warm, dry place to relax and sleep. Dulcie, Podge, and Spud are having 3 feeds a day to maintain their weight, including high calorie foods like oil and eggs. It's like feeding atheletes. 

I adjust the dogs' diet every week based on their workload and how much weight they're holding. Jazz and Pip are great at maintaining their weight, but both are lazy and know how to shut off on days they don't work. Dakota holds her weight because she lives indoors. The others need extra care.

It took me time to build up experiential knowledge about dogs and about horses. I hope in time that I'll be able to build enough of the requisite knowledge to make sure my sheep are at their best. So far the sheep are surviving in spite of me.


Karen Thomason/Gordon Setter Crossing said...

Hi Jennifer, I'm no expert on sheep, but, I wanted to share a little info about dogs and chocolate. Studies have shown that chocolate is actually toxic to dogs. Some will tolerate it better than others. Most can not digest it and it can build up in their body and become a problem, or cause death. A 16 oz. chocolate bar can kill a puppy.
A much better and more effective alternative is glucose tablets. You can get them in any pharmacy here, or order them online. The tablets are not expensive, and easy to administer.

Jennifer Montero said...

Karen - I said the same to my vet when he suggested the mini mars bar. Apparently it's low in cocoa (the theobromine in cocoa is the toxic part)and high in sugar. He emphasised that it's for emergencies only, and not treats.

I suspect the dogs would happily eat glucose tablets as they're not fussy. I'll put some in the doggie first aid kit, just in case.

Paula said...

Hi Jennifer- I've been stuck for the past several days watching and re-watching Victorian Farm on YouTube- the second time around is to take notes- there is so much good information. Have you seen it? There is a lot on sheep, which might be of use to you if you haven't seen it. Might also be worth a look-see again if you have. The guy they have helping with the sheep has been a sheep farmer for a long time, and taught them how to get the ewes on their butts- no spooning!

There's also a shoot in it, which was kind of interesting.

I love the picture of the dogs in the kennel- they look like they're holding still for a treat!

Jennifer Montero said...

Paula - I have seen Victorian Farm, and they just happen to be repeating the series again on BBC now. I really enjoyed it, though Mike and I were dismayed at how many overlaps there are between Victorian life and our current one.

The shooting is almost exactly the same. Our seasonal and chore cycle hasn't changed, and if I can get Alan & Kitty working together I'll have an equivalent of Clumper doing a few jobs in spring. We still rely on rotational grazing principles. A lot of the food prep and recipes haven't changed much either (excepting sheep's head stew of course!)

I sure wish I had their range of outbuildings and barns though!

Maria said...

Hi Jen,
I'm sure it's been said before, but your lambs look very cute! I like the Dali homage / blue moustache thing.

This Saturday's Guardian magazine had Justin Beiber on the front cover (and an interview inside), which made me laugh and remember - if it weren't for you, I would never have heard of him (nor would Mike...). The interview made me laugh even more (he's so young!!).

Happy hunting , dog tending and sheep-farming.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Taking an hour to get six sheep into a pen and give them a pedicure sounds like world-record time to me. I know it would have taken me the best part of a week.

Now that I've heard about Victorian Farm from several sources, I think I'm going to have to watch.

My bubonic lamb envy continues.

Jennifer Montero said...

Maria - I'm sorry I brought you down to our level with the Justin Beiber thing, but I'm glad it's made you laugh. He's so young he's almost foetal, AND he's writing an autobiography!! He's not even experienced puberty yet. Celebrity never ceases to confuse me.

Tamar - Why watch Victorian Farm when you can come to ours and live the experience for yourself. Wearing corsets or contracting trenchfoot optional of course. Edwardian Farm starts on BBC tonight so I'll let you know about the sequel.

Your Bubonic lamb envy sounds chronic - you want I should send you some blue spray just in case? If it helps they're a lot less cute when they're breaking out of the fencing twice a day every day.