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Archive for the ‘wethers’ Category

Horrified

This past Monday, as my DH was off for the holdiay, we decided to have a late lunch in town as well as pick up a needed part for the ’53 Merc he’s working on. We left the wethers and Loki in the pasture area that had been cleared of snow, eating breakfast, and the girls had the run of the area around the barn. Both groups had plenty of hay to nibble on to keep them happy.

But when we came home, we were not prepared for what was going on down towards the barn. Two loose dogs had walked across the fencingΒ  on the property line we share with the county, on top of the snow, and were attacking the sheep!

I flew down towards the barn to find the boys standing between the dogs and the ewes. Somehow the gate to the corral at the barn was open and they were keeping the dogs from even getting close to the girls. But the price the dogs were extracting from the boys was terrifying.

The first thing was to get the dogs away from the sheep. The larger dog was a black and tan medium dog of maybe 40-45 lbs. That dog saw me and stopped his attack. The smaller dog which looked to me like a cross between a terrier of some sort and some kind of bulldog was still attacking poor Shaun who was struggling, brought down in the mud and melting snow. I had to pull the smaller dog off Shaun, then chased them out the gate to a now waiting husband.

We were lucky in that both dogs had collars with tags and owner’s phone number. Ralph took control of the dogs and calling the owner and 911 while I got the sheep penned inside the barn and started to assess the damages. I ran to the house after penning all the sheep and called our sheeps’ vet, Dr. Rob to come on an emergency. I grabbed B-vitamins, ProBios, towels and some warm water and went straight back the barn to do what I could until Rob got there.

Loki had very little damage – a couple of facial wounds where it looked like one of the dogs might have tried to get him, as well as a superficial gash on one leg. He was the least hurt of all the sheep.

Sven had all the wool from the back of his head and a shoulder torn out by the roots. His ears were both torn but the worst for him was a bite to his right eye. At first I thought the dog had taken his eye completely, but when Rob examined him, he found it to be the lid that was very damaged. We’ll know more when the swelling subsides.

My buddy and rock, Colin, had quite a bit of the wool on his hindquarters torn out and had gashes and puncture wounds to his back legs. He was/is limping as his right hock was nailed pretty well. He, too, had the ears torn a bit and a gash above an eye.

The worst one was Shaun. His wool from the middle of his back to and including his tail was ripped out and he sustained many, many gashes to his haunches. His skin is just raw from all the wool being torn out. Some of the wounds had mud in them from his being downed by the dogs. We got most of the dirt out of the wounds, but Dr. Rob felt it would take time for the body to push the remaining dirt out. It was too deep and would have caused Shaun even more pain to scrub them out.

Both Shaun and Colin were in shock by the time the vet got there.

Had we not gotten home when we did, I’m sure we would have found one or more of the sheep dead, or at the least, way more torn up. I’m certain Shaun would have been dead if I hadn’t gotten to him when I did. Every day since I have been treating each sheep. At first we did massive supportive care with injections of B-vitamins and dosing each with ProBios to support their rumens and keep them from shutting down. Injections of banamine for pain and Draxxin for it’s awesome antibiotic support were given as well.

Right now, the boys have improved to the point of not requiring the banamine but will get another Draxxin injection 14 days after the first one. Draxxin is wonderful and the fact that it works for fourteen days just means less stress for the boys – and me. I still have to watch for wool falling off the sheep due to stress as well as to keep observing the pregnant ewes for signs of stress or abortion of their lambs. I may not know all the answers until April when the girls are due top lamb.

We’re not out of the woods yet, by any means, but I’m hoping that with good supportive care the boys’ bodies will heal. Their mental wounds may not heal so easily. Every time I look into their faces I remember the terror I saw in Shaun’s eyes as I pulled the vicious dog off of him. My mind knows I did all I could for them and there was virtually no way I could have kept loose dogs, walking on top of the 4+ ft. of snow at the fence along the swampy are of the pasture, from walking over the top of the fence onto our property – but my heart is torn over seeing the boys in pain and hurt,…and terrorized. And I am so angry at loose dogs and their owners.

The owner was cited by our animal control officer. On March 8th, he will have to appear in court to please guilty or not guilty. Here in Arizona, the law is on the side of the livestock owner. I really can’t say too much here, for the reason that this will all be decided through the courts. But, I can say that I am so glad we caught the dogs and they had collars with tags on which were active phone and contact information.

The boys are heroes in my eyes. They put themselves between those dogs and the ewes. And I thank God these are Shetlands – sweet, gentle, tough-as-nails Shetlands. And a part of me hopes they gave as good as they got.

This attack did something else as well. No loose dog will be tolerated on this property any longer…ever.

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Goodbye, Ole…

…be a good boy and remember, you’re a Sheep Thrills Farm sheep. Do your job and represent us, and the Shetland breed, well!

Ole as a yearling

Yes, Ole has found a new, wonderful home with Mayleen. Mayleen is a grad student at Northern Arizona University doing work in sustainable agriculture. She is researching local, small-scale agricultural producers to learn more about the challenges and rewards of their pursuits and has a particular interest in livestock issues as well as a love of Shetland sheep!
Mayleen moved to Flagstaff from Maine where, among other animals, she had a pet Shetland ram. She had come over to interview me about the sheep. As we stood at the barn, the sheep introducing themselves graciously, she spotted the pen where two black wethers paced the fence line looking longingly for some of the attention the others were receiving. I explained to Mayleen that Ole was up for sale but his brother was in the pen to keep him company. As she started giving Ole scratches and the beloved brisket-rubs, I could see Ole looking into her eyes. He had become a puddle of wool as she hit all those spots he couldn’t reach to scratch. He was putty in her hands.
That evening I received an email thanking me for my time with the interview and…was Ole available still? She wanted to buy him. She really missed having a Shetland. It was fate. πŸ™‚
Yes, I replied with another email. He’s yours. So, last Friday, Mayleen and her daughter, Maia, came to pick him up. Mayleen doesn’t have any other sheep (yet) but does have two horses sharing Ole’s area. He’s inside a pen, but the horses live right next to him and have their heads hanging over to visit with him all day long. She’ll keep an eye on him to see if he develops any signs of depression, but so far he’s been fine and settled right in. I suspect he’s loving all the attention he’s getting now…much more than I could have given him.
I drove over today to get a nice picture of Mayleen and Maia with Ole, but the wind was blowing so badly (as it does on the east side of Flagstaff) that the two of them got blasted in the face with cinder dust and dirt.
All dust aside, here are a couple of pictures of Mayleen and her new Sheep-BFF:

Looks like True Love to me. May you both have a very long, loving and wonder-filled relationsheep!
Make us proud, Ole! We know you can do it!

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Sven: “What did she say, Ole? Did she say we have to go?”
Ole: “Yup. That’s what she said. She said that because I’ve been ‘feisty’ with the other wethers, I have to go. Well, OK…I guess I did try to take over when Skittles left, but Colin didn’t push back, so I just took over. I think that was a mistake, Sven.”
Sven: “Well, duh! Ya think? Geez, thanks for nothin’, Bro! I sure hope I go to a fiber flock. I have the most wonderful black fleece.”

Yes, it’s been a hard decision, but the time has come for both Sven and Ole to find new homes. While Sven has stayed sweet and does have incredible fleece (may have to re-think him), Ole has become a little devil at times for unknown reasons. I should have tossed him in the trailer with Skit when he left to keep him company to Colorado, but I didn’t think of it then. Naturally.
For some reason, Ole became very pushy for attention which slowly turned into bashing other sheep out of the way to get attention, to finally throwing his head into the Shepherdess when she didn’t move fast enough to suit him during feeding. Mistake. Lethal mistake. He’s got to go – one way or another. As my friend, Lois, states, “Life is too short to waste time and affection on bad wethers.” She’s right. Ole has to go.
Sven may be another matter, but he may go also. I got to thinking after advertising the boys on Craig’s List that if I do sell both these boys, I won’t have any black fleeces left in the flock. Both Colin and his sister, Loretta, are iset with more of a frosted black to their fleeces. Sven’s is almost totally black. Ole, on the other hand, is turning iset as well, so why keep him?
Wethers usually have just one job on a sheep farm – to make fleece. Or to make meat. Since they aren’t capable of breeding their lives tend to be shorter than those of breeding quality animals. If their fleeces go coarse for some reason, or they develop bad attitudes, they need to go elsewhere. Sometimes that “elsewhere” is the freezer. So, with limited space hard decisions must be made at times. One leaves that a better one might take his place.
Ole was wethered for being an “assertive” lamb. He would have made a very dangerous ram with that attitude. No matter what we did discipline-wise to him as a lamb, Ole insisted on being in the middle of everything. And if you had cookies in your pocket you better come forth with them or get butted. Wethering (the removal of testes in male sheep to render them sterile, for the non-shepherd readers) usually changes the personality to where that sheep can become a sedate, friendly, productive member of the flock. Wethers usually make great pets. And it has worked for these past years, but for some unknown reason, Ole started developing more aggressive behavior – way more aggressive behavior. He went over to the Dark Side.
This change might be due to different things, but I’m hoping that a change in location (i.e. different flcok or becoming a fiber pet) might be just what he needs. It’s that or the freezer. “Life is too short to waste time and affection on bad wethers.” And all manner of discipline has not been effective. (sigh)
So, if anyone reading this wants a wether…just contact me. πŸ˜‰

And below, you see just a sampling of what happens to me when I try to just relax to watch tv…that’s L’il Rascal on my lap. “L’il” because he has a hero, an inspiration in his young life – “Uncle Rascal” of Rascal’s World, for whom he was named. And some of you wonder why my laptop can’t fit on my lap sometimes. πŸ˜‰

Just blame Rascal…and Daisy, and Pixel, and Mooch, and Shadow, and Ziggy, and Europa! (When my DH snapped this photo, three other cats had been in the chair with me just before he came in the room with the camera.)No wonder I can hardly move when I get up.
Maybe it’s time to finally install that Ejector Button.

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I was out in the pasture this past Friday looking for noxious weeds that might not be too good for the sheep to eat. After my walk, I let the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Plus One out to have some time grazing and stretching their legs. I had my camera with me and decided just to take a few photos…then I realized something…
We sheep people are always discussing our ewes and rams, whom to sell, whom to breed and so on. But it struck me that we often overlook some very important members of our flocks. The wethers.
For those of you not up on the “sheep lingo” a wether is a castrated male sheep. Male sheep are wethered for various reasons – horns not correct, conformation isn’t up to show or breeding quality, a bad disposition, for meat production – are just a few reasons to wether a ram or ram lamb. In other countries, most males are wethered during their first week of life. We here (at our farm) tend to wait a bit for a number of reasons. I like to see how a lamb starts to grow. More than once I have seen a lamb look like it would be a good ram only to have something come up like a bad temperment or bad horns become a deciding factor a couple of months down the road. But I digress…
Wethers have no agenda. They have no raging hormones that interfere with their dispositions. They live only to serve (or to be served, I guess). And I have to admit that some of my favorites in my flock are wethers. Let me introduce them to you…

Above is Shaun the Sheep. Shaun was the very first lamb to hit the ground here at Sheep Thrills. He would have made a beautiful ram except that sometime during the recovery from my back surgery, his horns went from nice to turning inward and downward, the points of which were rubbing the middle of the back of his neck. The horns were trimmed the same time Shaun got, ahem, “trimmed” by our vet Dr. Rob. His color is remarkable to me – a red iset, meaning he’s a mahogany red with white wool mixed in giving him that frosted look. It’s just beautiful. And is beautiful to spin!

Next we have Colin. Colin’s real name is Mountain Niche Colin P., but we just call him Colin. He was wethered for two reasons. The first was that he followed Ralph everywhere and wanted to be his pet. The main reason was that his horns were turning and very close to his cheeks. There would have been very little room had the horn girth expanded.
Colin is a gem! He is the one who inspects the newborn lambs and is very belligerent if you don’t let him in the barn to view the newbies in the lambing pens with their mamas. All the girls trust Colin and let him even sniff the youngsters. And it’s Colin we turn the weanlings out with. He takes charge of them and teaches them all things sheep. He’s actually one of the hardest workers on this farm, being both lamb-mentor and buddy to Skittles, the Ram. It’s amazing to think of all he really does around here. And I think I’m the Boss. πŸ™‚

Then we have the two Do-Da Brothers, Sven (above) and Ole (below). Both of these guys were wethered due to pushy behavior. In Ole’s case it was very pushy, dangerous behavior. If left intact, Ole would have become a dangerous ram. Sven is really a very mellow guy who just is “there” and fits in anywhere. He’s not assertive, nor is he shy. He’s kind-of “vanilla” but a really good vanilla.
As for Ole…Ole is my joker. He would love to come in the house and be a dog. I suspect some of his earlier behavior is due to this personality trait. He wants to be in your hip pocket. When I go to feed in the mornings, it’s Ole who greets me at the gate, not pushing for food necessarily but just wanting to be pet and have someone say “Good morning, Ole”. He’s the pest…the one who follows me into the feed room to see if there’s anything interesting in there he should have.

Now I mention horns alot. There’s a sad fact in any kind of animal farming. The fact is that few of the males have what it takes to be a good sire. You have to be picky about that 50% of the genetics of your next lamb crop, so you look for the best: good horn growth that is open and clears the face, good conformation, good temperment (yes, a bad temper gets passed along) even survivability and resistance to disease and parasites. The sad fact is that most male sheep do not make the cut. Then what do you do with them? Well, mostly they go to market. Shetlands are valued for their quality wool, so if there is any chance of an animal “making a living” as a wool producer, we try to give it to them. But you can’t keep them all. Most people I know who have had an overabundance of ram lambs say this year they will probably go to market, wool or not. Feed costs are prohibitive. And we just don’t have the space for any more wethers.In fact, we may not breed any sheep this fall due to the economy, but we won’t go there here in this discussion.

As for me, I’ll just appreciate the guys I do have now. I love them all and each one for his own attributes…besides….they have the softest fleece of anybody!

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Last evening, I had to take the wethers out of the pen they were sharing with Skittles. Except for Colin, I noticed that Skit kept herding the smaller wethers into a corner at the bottom of his pen. He would not let them near the water trough, or near any of the spots I had placed hay in – trying to have separate areas that everyone would be able to eat. Somehow, Skit would keep chasing all of the others away from any of the piles of food liked some crazed fanatic. He hogged it all, trying to gorge himself with all of the food. He was getting everything plus keeping anyone else from getting much of anything at all.

What alarmed me was that he wouldn’t even share with Colin, his best buddy. I had an inkling about this and was watching his behavior for the past few days. Usually, Skit would eat his hay sharing with his buddy but keeping a wary eye on the smaller wethers as he munched. Everyone got to eat what they were supposed to. I suspect he felt he needed more, pig that he can be, which started this behavior in the first place. Then, he became hopped up on hay and timothy pellets, causing the abusive behavior.
The “last straw” for me was finding poor Ole absolutely covered in grass and hay when I went out to feed yesterday. It was very apparent that “someone” had broadsided Ole, causing him to be thrown flat to the ground and then on his back. Ole was also walking around as if stunned, just very slightly limping. He was in the far corner with his brothers, Colin placing himself between the smaller boys and Mr. Piggy, in full “I am the Protector” mode. Enough.
I opened the gate to allow the wethers into the barn-proper. Skit can still be nose to nose with them, even share hay with them through the fencing if he wants. But he can’t block them from eating. I knew it was the right thing to do when the four wethers went straight to the water and drank their fill. I then put out some hay, hay-pellets plus a pan of minerals and bicarb-buffer. After feeding the ewes and giving Skit a much smaller protion of hay I sat on the stoop watching the little boys and Colin eat in peace. As I sat there, each of the boys, in turn, came over to me, put their head in my lap (still happily munching on hay) and looked up at me as if to say, “Thanks, Mom. I was getting so very hungry and thirsty.”
I suspect that Skit will settle down when he gets back to having only his portion of feed. I will watch behaviors to see if Colin wants back in with Skit, or wants to stay with his babies. Colin loves the little ones. Yup…I think it may be that Skit will eat alone in his pen, in full view of the other sheep, until he settles back down. All the boys will still be turned loose together in the pasture where they all have room to run if need be.
Space can be a problem when you have animals in intensive farming situations. I’m sure there are a few Shetland people reading this, on small places of their own, nodding in acknowledgement of having the same problems. Whom do you put with whom and do they have enough space? How can I manage the pasture so everyone gets some pasture time without overgrazing the land? We rotate pasture areas to try to keep the grass and land healthy. This can be a very hard thing to do in Arizona. We are blessed with a stream and green grasses for about 2/3 of the year. I have even had neighbors come over and ask how I still have grass when they can’t keep any growing on their places. I try to explain the concept of rotational grazing and that it works for even small spaces, but it doesn’t seem to sink in. I explain that a horse will eat pastures down to dirt if allowed to be in an area for a long time. For some reason, they just don’t “get it”. Sigh.

On the UP side of things, we may have a shearer lined up for next Friday! I am so jazzed about the prospect of having the flock shorn! I may not have the pregnant ewes shorn even though we’re not close to lambing until mid to late April. The shearer that’s coming is a woman with much experience and is known for her gentleness and quality of work. I will defer to her judgement as to whether or not it would be safe to shear the ewes. Or she may have them stand for shearing, I’m not sure. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, I expect. Bless Katie, in Taylor, AZ, for offering to contact this person and share her with me! I will have more to tell next Friday, I’m sure! πŸ™‚

As you can see from the above photo, snow has melted to where the hens can get out and “Talk a little, peck a little. Talk a little, peck a little.” Come to think of it, maybe everyone here at Oleo Acres is just plain ready for warmer temperatures – the snow has melted from everywhere but the north side of buildings and hills, the sun is shining, and the birds are definitely into their “Spring Songs”. But the wind is still very cold.

I think we all just have Cabin Fever. The days are lengthening and all signs point towards moving toward summer. And IF the wind dies down a bit, I think all of us will reclaim our sanity or at the very least head towards normalcy…any day now. πŸ™‚

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