Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Now I am not trying to be crass today, but I know that some of you might be thinking of getting into the sheep business, and want to make sure you know what you are getting into.
Today's topic is "Marking" or sometimes called "Working" sheep. When the flocks "lamb", or have their babies, each of the lambs has to be "marked". First step in marking sheep is to put some type of identifying mark on the sheep to show ownership. Sort of like branding cattle, but for sheep what is typically done is you have this tool that is sort of like a big set of pliars. The part that comes together has a large number of closely spaced needles, which form a pattern, like a unique number or shape. You have to hold the lamb down, and then clamp the tool down on the ear. The needles go through the ear, and then leave a scar pattern like a brand in the ear.
OK, that was the easy part. Next up, you have to hold the sheep in a headlock, and then run a metal tube down its throat. The tube has a hand pump, and is tied to a bottle of medicine/poison you carry on your back. You stick the tube down the sheep's throat, and then give him two big squirts of medicine to kill/prevent stomach worms. Not so easy, but it gets worse.
Now, for sheep, the number one problem is usually associated with the sheep's tail. It is always getting tangled up in something, and gets in the way of the sheep effectively (pardon me) pooping. It can create a blockage of poop outside the sheep under the tail. So . . . the tail has to come off. This is done with a sharp knife, and in one fast smooth cut. Then you daub some medicine on the little stump that is left.
Now, finally, most of the males have to be castrated. When lambs are born, half are female and half are male. To continue propagating the flock only one male is needed for every 10 or 20 females. The problem with letting the little male lambs grow up to be Rams is that you really can not eat Ram meat, and the Rams fight. So, you need to castrate most of the males, so they will grow up to be fat juicy docile sheep. When I used to do this, they had a tool to help you do the job. The items to be removed from the sheep are in a little "pouch" First step is to cut the little bottom end off the pouch with a sharp knife. Then, the items to be removed are very slick and slimy, and the goal is to remove them without causing undue pain or stress on the animal. Hence you can not grab in a manner that squeezes them at all. The items to be removed are covered with a very thin skin like material which is not sensitive. If you can grab that little membrane with the tool, you can pull them right out with minimum discomfort to the lamb. The little tool had some special grippers to let you grab the membrane. Now realize, you were expected to brand, worm, de-tail and castrate a lamb in about two minutes, so time was of the essence.
When I was doing this job, the old timers scoffed at the little tool, saying it took to long and did not work. They would have one guy hold the sheep, and they would cut the bottom of the pouch off with a sharp knife, and then would lean over, grab the items to be removed with their teeth, pull them out, and then spit them in the bucket (for later making into fried Rocky Mountain Oysters). I kid you not, that is the way they did it, and in fact it was quicker than trying to use the little tool. That is the technique being demonstrated in the picture above.
Still want to be in the sheep business?