This weekend I helped my herding instructor – who is back from her trialing adventures – do some practical sheep work: worming. Sheep seem to have an inordinate amount of trouble with parasites and require regular worming. As I’ve mentioned, a few of the sheep had shown themselves to be wormy (they get skinny with puffy faces and can die if left untreated) which suggested that others may have worms as well. Even though they were wormed not too long ago, it was time to do it again.
I know virtually nothing about raising or caring for sheep but am trying to learn what I can. I’m not sure how much of what I know about dogs (and cats) translates to sheep, but I think the principles must the the same. As I’ve discussed before, in adult (i.e. over 2 years of age) dogs, parasites are an indication of a lack of vitality in the life force or immune system. In other words, if your over 2-year old dog contracts worms (other than tapeworm), there’s probably something more serious going on that should be looked in to. I have been wondering if the same thing holds true with sheep. When we wormed the flock, it was obvious that most of the lambs were wormy, but only some of the adults. I would assume that the adults who did not show signs of worms had developed an immunity to them. Still worms seem to be a very big problem in sheep, regardless of age or health.
My understanding is that sheep will acquire parasites if they graze in the same area for more than 4-5 days as they keep reinfecting themselves. I expect in nature they would wander constantly, leaving their droppings for birds to pick clean of parasites long before they return. Where I live, however, fields for livestock are relatively tiny. Fields more than, say, 30-40 acres (and typically much, much smaller than that) are bought up by industrial farming and used for growing corn or soy. The poor sheep just can’t wander the country side as they do in the UK. This, I suspect, either reduces their vitality, or leaves them in fields so full of parasites that they can’t help but acquire them. Perhaps both.
In discussing this with my two friends who raise sheep naturally, I was told that managing the pastures is the key to reducing parasite load. Apparently sheep parasites live lower down in the grass, so if you let the sheep eat the grass down below 4-5 inches, that increases their chances of reinfection. Frequent rotation of grazing areas helps a lot in that respect. Another way of reducing parasites is to have other animals in your fields, such as chickens or cows. Cattle graze at a different level than sheep, and help break the life cycle of the parasites when they consume them. Ah, so much to learn!
So saturdayI went to help worm the sheep and, as it turns out, to vaccinate them as well (hmmm…). The dogs rounded up the sheep and brought them into the barn. We then put them through a cattle shoot, then hopped into the shoot with them. Next we wrestled into submission, one by one, all 80 lambs, ewes and (yikes!) rams, jabbed them with the vaccine gun, and gave them a dose of wormer by mouth. We then separated out the rams from the ewes as the ewes will be coming into season soon and lambs born mid-winter don’t have much chance of survival. The boys were then put in one field, and the girls in the other.
That all took about 5 hours. By the end, our backs were aching, we were covered in mud and manure, and I did my penance for vaccinating by getting jabbed a couple of times by the dirty needle. My left hand is rather infected today as a result, and I’ve been downing homeopathic remedies against infection from punctures (Ledum) and pain (Hypericum). My legs and even hips are covered in bruises from being rammed by those big horns, or kicked. And I want to become a sheep farmer…why was that again?