Foot care

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Down On The Farm - By Clive Dal­ton and Mar­jorie Orr - avail­able on

Most sheep re­quire reg­u­lar foot care. Their hooves grow con­tin­u­ally and un­less they are walk­ing on sur­faces which keep them worn down, the horn will grow too long, of­ten curl­ing around un­der the soft part of the foot, trap­ping dirt and bac­te­ria which can cause in­fec­tions.

A sheep which can't walk com­fort­ably can't graze and if it can't eat, it will get sick and die. Foot trim­ming is done with a pair of heavy-duty cut­ters, used to cut away the over­grown hard part of the hoof, rather like cut­ting your own toe­nails. In­testi­nal par­a­sites may be a prob­lem, al­though that can de­pend on in­di­vid­ual sheep, whether you have a breed­ing flock or just a few sheep to keep the grass down. Well-fed adult sheep usu­ally don't have a prob­lem with in­ter­nal par­a­sites be­cause they be­come im­mune or are re­silient to them.

Par­a­sites will of­ten be­come prob­lem­atic for sheep if they're preg­nant, sick or old. Again, talk to your vet on the best pre­ven­ta­tive prod­uct to give to your sheep, and how of­ten. If you keep a ram, you'd bet­ter plan for lambs. Most sheep breed in late sum­mer and au­tumn (al­though it can hap­pen at other times) and the lambs will be born five months later. Lamb­ing can hap­pen suc­cess­fully with­out hu­man in­ter­ven­tion, but some­times a birthing ewe will need help or they'll die, slowly, in pain. If you have lamb­ing ewes you must check them at least twice a day, morn­ing and again be­fore dark, but prefer­ably more of­ten.

If you don't know any­thing about sheep or you work many hours away from home and can­not at­tend to your sheep for long pe­ri­ods, do not breed them – there is too much that can go wrong dur­ing preg­nancy and birthing.

Alice was a 60kg, top-of-the-line Rom­ney, ris­ing two tooth. For cow cock­ies, that means she was no longer a heifer and was com­ing up to be­ing a first-time calver. For any­one else, she was al­most two years old.

She was bred on Mor­risey’s place, a good dual-pur­pose an­i­mal with a clean, nicely-crimped woollen coat, eyes and nose clear of the wool, good meaty haunches and loins. She would go well ei­ther as a wool pro­ducer or in the freezer.

Ex­cept Alice was the much-loved and fussed-over sheep be­long­ing to Lit­tle Jim Mor­risey, aged eight and a half. She was never go­ing to end up in any­body’s freezer. He had bot­tle fed her from new­born af­ter she was found stuck down a bank, her mother hav­ing de­liv­ered two more ba­bies in the time it took Alice, wrig­gly and slip­pery, to slide over the edge and out of sight.

But once the triplets were put back to­gether, the ewe didn’t want any­thing to do with the first-born she had for­got­ten all about, so Alice was taken home and Lit­tle Jim was charged with look­ing af­ter her morn­ing and evening feeds.

Alice was named, ob­vi­ously, be­cause she had fallen down a hole and had more than enough ad­ven­tures for one very young crea­ture. She blos­somed. There were bright red and pur­ple rib­bons and rosettes in Lit­tle Jim’s room to prove it: Best Pet Sheep. Best Carer of a Sheep. Most Obe­di­ent Sheep. Most Beau­ti­ful Pet. At dif­fer­ent times in the last cou­ple of sea­sons, Alice had won them all.

But just as it is writ­ten some­where that if you drop a slice of toast and rasp­berry jam, it will in­vari­ably land jam-side down, so it must be an­other of Mur­phy’s more ob­scure laws that the most aw­ful things will hap­pen to the best pet sheep, not the anony­mous flock mem­bers. Be­cause Alice cer­tainly wasn’t anony­mous.

And now the Vet had been rung and was be­ing asked what to do about Alice.

“It was just damned un­lucky,” Big Jim ex­plained.

He was tak­ing the main mob up to the wool shed to give them the day in the yards to empty out, then he would run them un­der cover that night. The pet ones, Alice and her two pad­dock mates – nei­ther as big or as beau­ti­ful – came along too.

“Well, I just opened the gate and put the dog be­hind them. Fig­ured they could run up with the mob. They would prob­a­bly find their way to the front of the shed and be first across the board, then they could me­an­der back to their pad­dock.

“It was go­ing over the bridge was the prob­lem. Just a lit­tle tim­ber bridge be­tween the mud­flats, mainly use it for the quads, but the stock like to go that way too to keep their feet dry.

“Would have been all right, but that young pup I am work­ing up, Nero, sud­denly de­cided they needed a hurry-up. He didn’t re­alise the bot­tle­neck was be­cause of the bridge. I guess he just thought they needed a shoo along and that was his job. I was up the front get­ting the next gate open and hadn’t no­ticed what was go­ing on.

“Next thing there are sheep fall­ing off the bridge and spilling over the sides down into drain. Bit of a schemoz­zle re­ally, con­sid­er­ing I wanted them all clean and dry for shear­ing.

“But this thing must have been in the middle of that lot, got her leg down be­tween a cou­ple of the bridge tim­bers, then the

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