Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Novice Shepherd learns on the Boreray Boys

So 19 September dawned and it was time to address the results of the droppings samples I'd taken to the vet.

The Boys had roundworm, which we were advised to treat with 'clear' wormer.  Bob had said that they'd had 2 courses of Heptavac, but that if they were looking 'off' a 3rd one wouldn't come amiss, so we were armed with the bottle of that as well and syringes.  I also wanted to dag Boris and any other sheep that had been scouring a bit, partly so I could better assess if the worming treatment was successful, and I thought it would be a good opportunity just to check their feet. 

The Boys were unaware of the excitement ahead of them.  Oh, I should add that the yet-to-be-named one does now have a name - Broder.  A modern version of the old Norse name for brother.  Very apt since he and Brookes-Wright are the only pair of brothers in the group and they do like to do things together.  Broder is the last one in this photo, taken as we gently walked behind them, encouraging them to go up the length of the paddock towards the pens we'd made using borrowed sheep hurdles.
It was actually easier than I'd anticipated to get them into the pens, but I realised the long, narrow shape of the paddock was perfect for calm herding into the pens at the end.

Then it was time to get hands on - and here I must confess to taking time to appreciate the quality of the fleece in the sheep I was holding.  Can't wait for next year when I get their fleeces off them!

 Here feeling around their feet and between their toes to check for anything that shouldn't be there.  A minor bit of foot trimming was done where the outer edge of horn had grown down and bent over the sole - easily removed leaving a nice rim of horn lower than the sole and no toe trimming needed.

Giving the wormer and getting it down the back over the tongue turned out to be much easier than I'd feared, and I sensibly got 'assistant shepherd' to stick the needle in them, which he did with no problem and very quickly so it was over before they knew.

Only Boris, Bertie and Bilbo needed any dagging, and Boris got a good wash round his rear end as well.  Interestingly the two brothers, Brookes and Broder were completely clean.  I'm quite sure that 'proper' shepherds don't go round their sheep's mucky rear ends with cloths and warm water (making sure not to rub and felt the fleece of course) but it did leave Boris really clean, and hopefully more comfortable.

So that's Bilbo and Bertie both done and just the 3 larger Boys to do.  Having carefully read in my Sheep Book for Smallholders the correct way to turn sheep into sitting positions to work on them, we realised that with sheep this small there were alternative options.  For any other beginners out there, it goes without saying not to just copy what we did, but to consult knowledgeable sources about the correct way to lift and turn sheep of all sizes.

While I'm sure the sheep didn't enjoy this, we did manage to keep them calm throughout.  When they were all done, we gave them a couple of minutes at the 'treats' bucket (beet nuts) while pondering the big decision - was this the time to let them into the big field?

Deciding that the benefits to them of being on 'clean' ground while their wormer worked outweighed the difficulty of catching them again once outside the paddock, the gate was opened.

Then the fun really started.  They went around closely examining the fencing round the field.

Now, I'd not put extra chicken wire on the bottom gate because the gap below the bottom rung was far too small for a sheep to get through..........

Yes, that's Brookes-Wright enjoying identical grass on the other side of the gate - and he's one of the larger sheep!  I actually witnessed him going under the gate - does he have no respect for his belly fleece dragging himself across the ground like that?

Then of course Brookes realised he didn't like being separate from the rest of the Boys so stepped back and took a running leap at the fencing - this is full height shire wire with 2 strands of barbed wire on 5'6" stabs....... he didn't make it.  As I charged down the hill I could see that his head was trapped between the 2 strands of barbed wire with his horns hooked over the top strand and his back feet trying to get support on the shire wire.  I managed to get to him and take all his weight but couldn't get the wire off his horns while holding him up.  Fortunately my 'assistant shepherd' wasn't far behind me and he managed to do the unhooking.  At this point Brookes' safety took priority over photographs.   It was a miracle that Brookes appeared completely unharmed in any way, but very close inspection revealed that he didn't even have a scratch on him. 

So then I spent the rest of the day putting chicken wire on that gate as well (it was already on the paddock gates and the all-important gate to the driveway and road) and putting more fencing bits where the burn goes under the fence.  There may be vertiginous sides to the burn there, but I was leaving nothing to chance with these Boys.  Bertie and Bilbo had already shown great interest in the plants growing in that area.

Finally, exhausted, and with great respect for all the shepherds and farmers who grow our wool and number their flocks in the hundreds, all the jobs were done and I could enjoy the evening.  Yes, it was a full moon - and I do wonder if that led to Brookes trying his most stupid jump.

 There have been no jumping attempts from any sheep since then, and they are now very happily settled in the big field with it's huge selection of meadow plants to eat as well as the good grass.  They seem to spend about half of their time grazing on non-grass plants.


  1. Oh oh - what a day, and what a scenery in the last photo! Glad all went well! It made me remember my experience of a friends sheep finding a very small hole down in a ditch where there was no fence... so taking care of the 15 dogs in her kennel turned into fence making and sheep catching :) Sheep are much smaller than they look (at least before shearing)!

  2. Oh, the responsibilities you have with the boys! But aren't they beautiful?

    There probably are not too many sheep who will have as much care given to their fleeces as yours will--cleaning with special attention not to felt! Will you be training them to line up for a weekly bath next? ;-)

  3. How exciting! And I'm not the least surprised that you were washing their bottoms with water, warm even! Those fleeces had better be like gold, as this rate! Lovely blog post.