Because pollen is clouding my brain (and nose, and eyes), today’s Monday101 will be a short one.
When handling the swine species, always account for the sunlight. Since most pigs are raised inside, they tend to have a fascination with sunlight and will run at it with wreckless abandon.
Should you happen to be using your own body to block a pig’s entrance to the outdoors, please keep your feet together. The light shining between your legs will otherwise ALWAYS result in a pig being loose in the neighbors property, and your butt on the ground 30-50 yards from where you started. And it’s not an enjoyable piggyback ride.
Monday 101 Day is a new theme I am launching in efforts of 1. educating the average reader about interesting tidbits in the various facets of the Agriculture world as I learn them. 2- improving my abilities to speak volumes with few words (I was not blessed with brevity). If you are an average, removed-from-ag reader who would like to learn something, or if you are a farmer/rancher who thinks something should be shared, please leave me a comment! I’m always looking for cool ideas
Happy Monday!! Hope everyone has a great week
It’s a good possibility that when you hear “flip a sheep” you conjure up an image similar to cow-tipping. In fact, flipping sheep is a relatively peaceful animal husbandry practice that allows sheep to remain calm while being sheared, getting his teeth checked out, or getting his hooves trimmed. I say “relatively” because in my experience, sheep are rather frantic animals. It probably doesn’t help that I’m not a sheep whisperer.
In any case, once you successfully flip the sheep, it really is entirely peaceful. There is something about a sheep sitting on his behind that makes him go almost into a trance. They stop resisting your presence and really just chill out (remarkable!). This allows for quick, safe practices such as the ones listed above to be carried out without much hassle to either party.
Shearing sheep not only allows the wool to be used for socks and mittens, but it also helps keep a sheep cool & clean. Sheep can also go wool blind, which means the wool grows so long around their eyes that they have trouble seeing, and this affects their ability to properly find and graze grasses.
Just like cutting your own finger and toe nails, hoof trimming is important for overall foot health. While you are trimming, you also dig out the mud and dirt in their hooves to make sure they are dry and do not get infected. Just like humans, the longer the hoof, the more dirt you can hide up there! If a sheep’s hooves get too long, they will cause sore feet and sheep will not walk on them properly, leading to bigger problems.
Don’t be alarmed! Sheep do not have top front teeth. More on that at another time…
Checking teeth is important in any livestock or domesticated animal. Since they don’t brush twice a day, its a lot easier for things to go wrong. Checking teeth can tell you the age of the sheep (like seeing baby teeth, or how many adult teeth have come in so far, or how worn down they are can signify elderly sheep). Some sheep are also born with strong overbites (parrot-mouth) or underbites (Monkey-Mouthed). This affects their ability to chew properly and can mean it is harder for them to get the proper nutrition they need. If a sheep has particularly bad mouth structure, you will not breed them to avoid passing it on to the offspring. Similarly, if a sheep has gotten to the point that they have bad mouth health, it may be time to send them to market before their sore mouths become a great discomfort, or worse, the sheep begins to go hungry instead of chewing on sore teeth.
So, now that we know 3 main reasons for flipping sheep, how is it done?! First, you have to catch the sheep you want to flip. Sheep are EXTREMELY gregarious and do not like to be separated from their flock, so this is often one of the more challenging aspects. It is helpful to catch the sheep firmly around the stomach and around the chest (to keep it from running forward). There are a few different techniques, but for little people like me, this is one of the easiest:
Step 1: Catch your sheep.If right-handed, Stand on it’s left side with its head to your left
Step 2: Wrap your left hand gently but firmly around the muzzle and push its head to it’s right hip (don’t worry, their necks are very flexible and they can naturally touch their nose to their hindquarters)
Step 3: Reach your right hand around the sheeps back and reach for its front left leg (you will really have to wrap yourself around him to do this).
Step 4: Pull it’s left leg towards its right one to get it off balance, and guide it into the “sitting” position. Slightly recline him so that his back rests against your legs and waist.
Step 5: Remember to do all of this in one fluid motion or the sheep will run away laughing at your clumsy antics.
Hurray! Now that he is contently daydreaming, you can reach around to his hooves/teeth/whole body to get your chores done! If you are effecient, you can shear, trim, and check teeth in under 3-4 minutes! To return the sheep to his flock, simply push him forward a bit, you’ll be amazed how he jumps to life and leaves you in the dust for his buddies.
This professor demonstrates how to flip a sheep in slow motion. Notice that she stresses doing it faster and not dallying…you could get kicked if they try to outwit you. Also notice how he just sits there like a bump on a log once he’s successfully flipped. If only they could be so nonchalant all the time…
When I first began working, I thought I could surely get by without using a hot shot. The truth is, sick cattle really are much different than normal, happy cattle. Just like people, they get grumpy when they don’t feel good. They become uncooperative because their noses are runny or their heads hurt from their fever or their lame leg is painful to walk on. But also like sick people, sometimes you have to have a little bit of pain (shots or even the emotional drain of visiting a people-doctor) in order to feel better (or even survive altogether). My first day experience definitely opened my eyes to the idea that sick cattle are not to be treated the same way as healthy cattle.
Some sick cattle handle the idea and process better than others. Some are so sick, they just kind of look up feebly as if to say “whatever you want to do, fine. I feel so crappy, I don’t want to fight. Can you help me?”. But other cattle are more like myself when I’m a patient- “Hell, NO I don’t want you to check my temperature or force me to eat soup or get a shot. GO AWAY”. These cattle, the ones like me, are the ones that are dangerous. These are the ones like that Hereford I saw during my first 30 minutes on this job. They are the ones who forget about the whole being a normal cow, having a flight zone, behaving like a prey animal thing. These are the ones who will come charging at you with every intention of killing you. Or these are the ones that simply will NOT move into the chute to get their diagnosis and/or medicine.
This causes a lot of frustration. When you are trying to do a good thing, and no one seems to be listening to you saying that what you are doing is, in fact, a good thing, it makes you mad. And yes, we realize that the animal can’t rationalize and we can’t pull it aside and explain that the process will be short and the shot won’t hurt too bad and that soon enough, they’ll be back with their friends. But nonetheless, we just want them to cooperate! The faster and quieter they go through the chute, the less stress on them. This is especially crucial to the severe cases. Cattle that are bloated or just too sick can easily die in the snake while waiting their turn to be doctored and released. We try to get those cattle to enter first, so we can get them in and out as quickly and nicely as possible, but sometimes they dash into the snake in the completely wrong order.
And we have had some die in the chute. Some of these likely would have died within a few hours anyways, but it is still a sinking-stomach situation to have one die while you are trying desperately to make it better. Especially when you know that they were suffering quietly behind an animal that balked and clogged the flow for 20-30 minutes because it was being stubborn and you were struggling to find a humane way to convince it to move forward.
This is where hot shots become especially useful. The hot shot looks like a stick about 3 ft long and has a very dull prong at the tip. Sometimes, just waving the hotshot as an extension of your arm can help guide cattle in the direction you need them to go. Other times, such as when the cattle are already loaded into the snake, it becomes necessary to administer a small jolt of electricity to the backside of the animal. Just as electric collars for dogs, the jolt helps redirect the animal’s brain from one mode of thinking to another. This allows the animal to try something different. (As dogs get shocked when they move forward through the invisible fence, they usually take the jolt as a sign to stop and go back to where they were before the shock). With balking cattle (or backwards-moving cattle), the shock redirects the brain into a forward moving motion (shocking the back of the body makes them move forward away from the source). The jolt only lasts as long as you hold the prong to the animal while pushing the button. In my experience, it takes less than a second of electricity to get the desired effect. The skin may raise on the hide temporarily, but in 3-4 minutes there is absolutely no sign of damage to the animal. The pain of the shock goes away even faster than that: as soon as the prod is lifted. It is a very decent practice and when used correctly, hot shots can literally be a life saver.