Sunday, May 25, 2008

Worming Day Rocketsheep!

Yesterday, Ken and I rounded up all the sheep to give them their Bo-Se shots and to check which ones needed worming. I also mixed up a batch of my own personal vitamin/mineral drench to give them all, to get them off to a good start for the summer.

We knew this task would be something of an ordeal. That's the trouble with raising an unusually intelligent breed of sheep. They can tell the difference between when you're just calling them in from pasture to feed them and when you're trying to lure them into a catch pen to do something unpleasant to them.

We managed to lure most of the sheep into a moderate-sized catch pen by pouring dishes of grain in there and then shutting the gate after them once they were inside. That left about half the lambs outside. We made a little catch pen next to where all the adult sheep were caught, and gradually herded the lambs into there, where I caught them one by one and handed them over the fence to Ken.

When all the sheep were in the one catch pen, we got ready for the main part of the task. One by one, we caught each sheep, and one of us held it while the other gave it the Bo-Se shot, the vitamin drench, and checked to see if it needed worming.

You do this by using your thumb to press the sheep's lower eyelid down and open, and checking the color of the inside tissues. If they are red or dark pink, the sheep is healthy. If they are pale, the sheep is getting anemic, most likely from an infestation of barberpole worm (Haemonchus contortus), which is the most troublesome and deadly sheep parasite in this area.

Because parasites eventually build up immunities to chemical wormers, I am trying to breed my sheep to improve their natural resistance to parasites. I have a few sheep that are very parasite resistant, and others that are not. With careful selective breeding, I hope to have my whole flock showing good resistance within a few generations.

While checking the lambs yesterday, I was pleased to see that the lambs whose parents were both resistant seem to have inherited that resistance. The rest of the flock had varying degrees of light-to-moderate infestation, and only one sheep had a severe infestation. After yesterday's treatment, they should all be feeling better in the next few days.

Last summer, I developed my own vitamin/mineral drench recipe for my sheep. Several other breeders of Icelandics tried it and reported excellent results---almost immediate improvements in sheep suffering from heat/parasite related stress and bottlejaw. So I'm posting the recipe here in case it might help some other shepherd.

Ingleside Farm Sheep Vitamin & Mineral Drench Recipe

1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup blackstrap molasses
1 cup Red Cell
1/4 cup Vitamin E Liquid
1/4 cup concentrated liquid garlic

Stir thoroughly.

I dose at the rate of 30-60 ml per adult sheep and 10-30 ml per lamb, depending on size and condition.

Vinegar aids the sheep's overall health and improves wool quality. It contains small amounts of potassium, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorous. Molasses improves taste and is a good source of iron, calcium, manganese, potassium, and magnesium. Red Cell is mainly an iron supplement that includes a wide range of other minerals and vitamins as well. Vitamin E helps the sheep absorb selenium, which is crucial to withstanding summer stress. And the concentrated liquid garlic is a natural wormer.

NOTE: Red Cell contains copper. While Icelandic sheep have proved to need a small amount of copper in their diets, other breeds of sheep are usually much more copper-sensitive. Do your research and choose your copper dosages wisely to make sure you don't poison your sheep!

Anyway, things were going along pretty well for the first part of the task. When the catch pen is full, it's easy to catch the sheep because they are too crowded to run around. But as we dosed each sheep, we let her out the gate into the yard, so we wouldn't accidentally dose anyone twice. Even though I keep records of each sheep's dosage and condition on my clipboard, mistakes could happen. And besides, it's easier to catch the sheep you haven't dosed yet when they're not all mingled in with the ones you have.

As the crowed in catch pen gradually thinned, the sheep had more room to try to avoid being caught. And of course, the ones that remained were all the ones who were more skilled at avoiding being caught in the first place, since we obviously caught all the easy ones first!

So, we were about halfway through and were trying to catch the next sheep. Ken was bending over trying to grab Mona as she swerved past him, when all of a sudden she rocketed straight up in the air---and straight into Ken's face! I heard the CRACK when her hard skull crashed into Ken's face at full speed. Thank goodness Mona is one of the polled sheep (although Ken pointed out that if she'd had horns, we would have been able to catch her more easily).

Poor Ken staggered out of the catch pen, and we rushed him up to the house to put ice on his face. I had my nose broken by a horse running into me when I was a teenager, so I knew just how he was feeling. His nose wasn't bleeding, and it wasn't crooked, so I knew it wasn't broken. But his cheekbone was swelling, his teeth were numb, and by nightfall, he'd developed a black eye.

He rested with an ice bag on his face for a few hours, but the rest of the sheep needed to be done, so before nightfall, he bravely came back out and we finished catching and dosing the rest of the flock.

Now it's time to start thinking about ways to improve our catch pen system to be more effective. Less stress on the sheep means less stress on the humans as well!


Amy - "Twelve Acres" said...

Poor Ken! I feel his pain!

I just love the fact that you are breeding for parasite resistance rather than relying completely on medicines. It's such an intelligent approach to breeding. Well done!

Kris said...

Oh, my face ached just reading about it -- it immediately brought to mind the time our ram nearly broke my husband's jaw, in much the same manner.

Have you tried using a crook to catch your sheep? Sometimes it can be a little easier because your reach is that much longer.

Thanks for the recipe, I will be mixing some up soon, though maybe without the red cell.

Nancy Chase said...

Yes, we do have a sheep crook, but we had forgotten and left it up at the house that day. Big help!

We also have a big, soft rope that we tie in a loop and drop over the heads of the most difficult sheep---mainly the very large rams who are so strong that we would not be able to easily hold them once we caught them.

Nataraj Hauser said...

Hey! Good news:



Nancy Chase said...

Wow... who knew that was a big problem? Here I was just thinking the sheep had poor manners, I had no idea they were ruining the environment! :-)

Family Stone said...


I own Icelandic sheep in Northern AL and was wondering if you could give me some assistance.

I'm at:

I've got two sheep with 'bottle jaw' and I suspect one or two more aren't far behind. I used your drench recipe yesterday and I'm wondering how you'd proceed to administer the drench over time to clear everything up.


John Stone