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