Dag­ging sheep an ugly but nec­es­sary chore


Hands-on farm­ing in­volves dirt on hands be­cause there are some jobs which are not so clean. We have just worked our way through one of the less nice but most nec­es­sary chores, of dag­ging. The topic of why sheep get dags is prob­a­bly not cov­ered in con­ver­sa­tions over cap­puc­ci­nos at the cafe but it does get ru­mi­nated on over rural re­fresh­ments.

Not all sheep pro­duce tidy lit­tle fae­cal pel­let piles. Some have cus­tard con­sis­tency poo which sticks stinkily to woolly bums. Not all sheep stand up to cleanly evac­u­ate their bow­els. Some sim­ply con­tinue to sit chew­ing cud at one end and cre­at­ing piles of messy muck at the other end.

In­ter­nal par­a­sites af­fect lambs caus­ing scours and so drench­ing is im­por­tant to re­duce worm bur­dens and dags. Feed eaten also changes di­ges­tion and the byprod­uct of it. Dry pas­ture in, gen­er­ally re­sults in drier drop­pings out.

The warm days and reg­u­lar rains this au­tumn have given great grass growth. Lush, soft green grass in, has cre­ated lots of lush, soft green stuff out and the build up of this around the rear end is called dags. Some dags dry out and hang in pen­du­lum shaped art­work which rat­tles as the sheep moves. Some dags are a damp and dark dec­o­ra­tion, and both batches have a dis­tinctly earthy aroma with a less than del­i­cate hint of dock, de­cay and di­ges­tion.

So for a num­ber of rea­sons farm­ers need to re­move this crop of un­de­sir­able de­signer dags. The main rea­son we clean the back­side, air the skin and re­lieve the weight of ir­ri­tat­ing wet wool is for the an­i­mal’s wel­fare. The sight and smell of on-the-hoof warm dungy yum­mi­ness at­tracts flies. These pests lay eggs in the con­tam­i­nated wool and hun­dreds of mag­gots hatch, chew and burrow. This con­di­tion is called fly­strike and is far bet­ter pre­vented rather than treated.

Re­mov­ing dags also re­sults in less soiled fleece when mobs are in yards. Hav­ing well dagged sheep means less con­tam­i­nated wool in the clip, hap­pier shear­ers and wool han­dlers.

So be­cause not all sheep pro­duce and carry dags we go through the clean/dirty draft­ing process. This re­quires good team­work be­tween the caller at the back and the op­er­a­tor at the front on the gate at the end of the race.

The ‘‘clean’’ mob head out to the pad­dock and the dirt­ies are run through the dag­ging plant. Big­ger pens lead to a long nar­row pen and sheep file up a race and into a crate. This re­strains each an­i­mal while dags are care­fully cut off with the shear­ing ma­chine.

The topic of why sheep get dags is prob­a­bly not cov­ered in con­ver­sa­tions over cap­puc­ci­nos at the cafe

Some farm­ers dag sheep across the shear­ing board but we are glad of our dag­ging set up as it takes some of the hard work out of a less fun job. Jock is on the hand­piece and I help keep sheep mov­ing up the race to re­ceive his min­is­tra­tions. The well known stereo­type of sheep be­ing fol­low­ers is not true as some pos­sess highly in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic think­ing and take some per­sua­sion to present them­selves for clean up.

It’s a work­place with sounds of hiss­ing hy­draulics, bang­ing gates, in­ter­mit­tent com­pres­sor noise and hooves trot­ting on gravel. With strong smells of lano­lin and ex­cre­ment. My dili­gent hus­band pa­tiently and repet­i­tively catches a sheep, pulls the switch, deals with dags, and re­leases the clean sheep out of the crate.

The mob be­hind grows smaller and the pile of dags grows higher. We get in a rou­tine and do about 100 an hour. Dirty work for hands but it leaves my mind free to think of all kinds of things ... like words for my next col­umn.

Joyce Wyl­lie is a sheep farmer at Kai­hoka in Golden Bay.


Lambs re­turn to the pad­dock with clean rear ends.

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