THE BIGGEST problem with not shearing sheep often enough or at the right time occurs mainly in warm and humid places like the Auckland and Northland regions. Having too much wool makes them prone to flystrike. Flies like smelly damp things and sheep with wool, particularly after a bit of summer rain, are extremely attractive to flies as a place for them to lay eggs.
When the eggs hatch, the maggots crawl down to the base of the wool onto the warm skin of the sheep and begin to eat dead skin cells and oils on the surface. This tickles the sheep, causing them to try to scratch the annoyance away which is impossible if the wool is long. You'll see the flies following and landing on an animal which is fly-struck. A sheep will often try and run away from flies, will shake her skin to try and keep them off, and flick her head toward her back to try and chase them away, but the flies will always win.
The maggots will soon start eating live skin, which is increasingly painful for the sheep. It will eventually become so distressed it gives up trying to escape and will usually head for a shady place. If you don't find it, it will slowly die, in great pain.
This is an illness caused by toxins which are produced by the spores of a fungus that lives on dead grass matter near the soil, beneath the growing green parts of some grass plants. The fungus occurs in summer and autumn and is worst after rain when the ground conditions are warm and humid.
The toxins cause liver damage and a sheep will become very sensitive to light. In severe cases the skin around the head of a sheep will die and peel off, but earlier signs will include animals seeking shade and being unusually twitchy.
It’s very important to talk to your vet about special products that can prevent facial eczema which need to be administered in January, February and March.
These are only a few of the issues you need to keep in mind if you have sheep and no previous experience of looking after them, but there are many more. Some vet clinics run education seminars for people new to keeping farm animals – ask your local vet to see if they can run one for you – and talk to your neighbours so you can learn more from them.
rest of the mob pushed her over the edge and she went but her leg couldn’t. Snap. Bloody shame. Nice little sheep.
“I don’t think I will be allowed to dog tucker her. Bugger to have to dig a big hole. But what’s the option?
The result was Alice was standing in a corner of the paddock, all her weight on three legs, the other just hanging limply. The Vet knew he wasn’t being invited to visit; the economics of it just didn’t add up.
Big Jim reported the sheep had been shorn (carefully) and transported back to her paddock like the queen mother in the back of the station wagon. This all had happened while Little Jim was still at school.
“Well, sheep aren’t like horses,” the Vet said. “They can manage to get around on three legs. It might not look pretty. But short of some financially crippling x-rays, orthopaedic surgery and plating… well… you could just splint it and see what happens.” “Seriously?” “Yes,” the Vet replied. “A bit of plumber’s kitchen drain pipe would do. Slice it open lengthwise, ease it over the leg, pack it up with cotton wool and secure it in place with some bandage. Have a look under the packing every few days to make sure the leg stays dry and it isn’t rubbing.
“As long as you aren’t trucking her anywhere, as long as she is able to move around and graze and is not in any distress. Keep her with her mates, so she has company. Don’t put her back in the main flock where she might get shoved about. But just watch and see.”
So Little Jim was tasked with giving her an extra handful of sheep nuts a day, and reporting on her progress.
A few months passed and the Vet had forgotten all about the adventures of Alice. But then he was called out to Morriseys to palpate the breeding rams, flipping each of the big boys over on their bums and doing a scrotum check for epididymitis or any swellings or abnormalities that might stop them performing their stud duties. Heavy work that left him smelling like a ram in mating mode.
As he drove past the house paddock he spied the pet sheep on the way out. Little Jim was just back from school, and Alice was ambling over to meet the boy, or at least to check out his pockets for leftover school lunch. The splint was gone and she was moving along just fine, full weight on all four feet.
“That’s a real racehorse you got there now, Little Jim, now we just got to hope the rest of her adventures aren’t as dangerous.”
“Yep. She’s the first to the nuts in the morning. Pretty good doctor eh??”
“Doctor who?” asked the Vet. “Me or you?”
“Well, I am sure you have looked after her just great. And I didn’t do anything. No, I just meant Doctor Time. Time is a great healer.
“And magic. And my Dad. And a bit of old pipe.” ■