Sheep Maintenance 101

Last night was our twice yearly ‘catch and care’ session with our Soays. Soays have a bad rep for being impossible to round up, but patience and forward planning is the key. They are intelligent and wild, so you need to lead them (bribe) them rather than chase them. We learnt this the hard way.

So last week we spotted that some of our lambs were scouring, (which means they have upset tummies). They were getting pretty dirty round the back end, due to the wet and hot weather we began to get worried about strike fly. this is where flys lay eggs in dirty wool, and maggots hatch and eventually burrow into the sheeps skins… I know.. totally Gross. Anyway, it’s pretty nasty and no self-respecting shepherd wants that to happen to her flock. So.. We set up a large catch pen, with a smaller pen within it, and fed them in there for a week.

This brings me to last night. Becs pootled down to the catch pen shaking a box of ewe nuts, they all ran in and then she gently closed the gate behind them……save the drama for your lama..all sheep contained…no chasing… no swearing.

A word on preparation. We knew were trying to clean them up and trim some wool, so we had a pair of dagging shears and a big bucket of water and a stiff brush. While we have them caught we also worm them with Combinex. I do this by using a plastic syringe and dosing them orally. 6mls for the rams, 4-5 mls for the ewes and 2.5 mls for the lambs. You work out the dose on weight. We also needed to trim their hooves, so one pair of hoof trimmers were on hand. We had some antiseptic wound spray, because you never know what you might find and of course some strike fly spray. Lastly we always have a can of marking spray, we don’t routinely mark them, but if I find an injury, I like to mark that sheep with a number so I can keep an eye on it’s behaviour in the paddock.

All of theses bits and bobs were in a plastic box outside the catch pen, but in easy reach.

Soay adults are horned, so rather than turning the sheep over (horns in your face) we normally straddle them and hold onto the horns, this keeps them pretty still. You shouldn’t really try to move them around holding onto horns, but can I just say, the grip is really around the animals middle, holding the horns is just to keep it’s head still.

So usually Becs catches the beast and holds it, whilst I play vet. The order goes like this.
1) load up the worming drench
2) catch sheep
3) administer drench
4) trim wool from back end.
5) check for strike fly
6) spray for strike
7) trim any unshed wool
8) trim hooves
9) release back into paddock.

We are a pretty well oiled machine now and when we release, the Sheep exits from the other side of the catch pen into the paddock. I’ll try and add a photo later.

Everything went well. All the adult ewes and the rams were fine. The lambs needed lots of cleaning up but only one had a bit of strike fly. We caught it early enough that the maggots were just in the wool and not in the skin. With this lamb, I basically trimmed all the wool from her back end, cleaned the area totally and then sprayed for strike.

This has been a bit of a learning experience for us, luckily we had done a lot of reading about strike, so we knew what to look out for. The minute sheep have scoured, my view is, you need to be extra vigilant and make plans to catch them up asap. I was on the look out for strike type behaviours, e.g. like excessive wagging of the tail and also the animal craining round to it’s back end, as though to scratch.

It’s pretty hard physical work. It took 2 of us 2 hours to hold and treat all of our sheep. 6 lambs, 5 ewes and 2 rams. Smallholding is not the ‘skipping amongst the strawberry plants’ affair that some people imagine. By the end of the 2 hours, both of us were basically covered in sheep poo and wee. It’s not at all twee or quaint….sometimes it’s just about maggots and crap.

I love it though.


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