Sunday, August 5, 2007

Why Do Sheep Have Green Ears?

Every year it comes around again, my least favorite day on the farm. I'm sure it's the sheep's least favorite day too.

Yesterday was that day. In the blazing 90-degree weather, we wormed, vaccinated, tattooed, and ear-tagged all the lambs.

For the sheep, this entails getting rounded up into a pen, then caught, one at a time. First, a nasty liquid worming medicine is squirted into her mouth, then a needle is poked into her skin. Green ink is rubbed into both ears, then each ear is pinched--hard!--in a clamp that pokes multiple tiny holes in the ear to form the lamb's ID tattoos. Last, another clamp punches a larger hole in one of the ears to install the ear tag.

For the human, the process entails lots of sweating, physical strain, bending over, and dodging sharp flailing hooves and horns as each lamb is caught and held immobile for the process. Bear in mind that some of these lambs weigh more than 70 pounds right now. By the end, I am exhausted, literally dripping with sweat, covered head to foot with spatters of green tattoo ink, and aching in every muscle. If I'm lucky, I may not have thrown my back out in the process.

Sheep Torture Day is a necessary evil. The worm medicine and vaccinations are important for the animal's health. The tattoos are required by the breed registry for all registered sheep--which they pretty much have to be if I want to sell them as breeding stock. The ear tag is a tracking measure mandated by the USDA Scrapie-Free Flock Certification Program, of which I am required to be a member because I own sheep that are the result of artificial insemination from semen imported from Iceland.

So, like the sheep, I don't have much of a choice in the matter. I dread doing it because, let's face it, getting holes punched in your ears HURTS, and I hate to be the one hurting them. They get over it really quickly, but when it's happening, they sure do jump!

I feel bad, and wish they could understand me when I explain it to them:

"Look, I know it doesn't seem like it right now, but this is really a GOOD thing. It means that you're good enough to join a breeding flock. You'll be a valuable flock member and have lambs of your own. You won't end up in somebody's freezer come October. That lamb over there, the one who ISN'T getting tattooed? He didn't grow out as nice as you. He's destined to become lamb chops. So hold still and let me do this, okay?"

Normally, Ken holds the lambs while I do the worming and vaccinating. Then I hold them while he does the tattoo and ear tag.

But this year, I'm trying to make a series of short video clips showing what it's like to run a farm. So we restrained one lamb on the shearing stand so that Ken could mark her ears, unassisted, while I filmed the process.

Click here to see the video.


Mark said...

What a dramatic rollercoaster ride! I'm so glad I could get caught up on all your escapades. And now I've heard your voice as well! I can't help but feel bad for the lamb - even though it's all for the lamb's own good. You are stronger than I.

What you need is a good Best Seller novel to put out there! A few well earned residuals would get you some hay and whatever else you needed.

I hope you still plan on renovating that outbuilding so that you can host writers retreats and workshops.

I quite like your Brezny. I'll keep an eye on that site from now on. The Universe is always sending us messages (or so I believe). It's just a matter of recognizing them as such and interpreting them correctly

I hope the Universe gives you everything you need. I'll be sending bountiful thoughts your way.

Nancy Chase said...

Hi Mark! Good to see you here. Thanks for reading my blog! If we ever renovate those outbuildings, maybe you'll finally come visit us, eh?

As for the best seller idea... who knows, maybe our Keeping The Farm adventures will turn into a book someday. Unfortunately, book sales aren't exactly a speedy way to make money, though, are they?

Thanks for the bountiful thoughts. Keep 'em coming please--we can use all the help we can get!

Ness said...

Sheep Torture Day. LOL Great video, very educational.