A Spa just for Sheep?
Remember the scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and her friends finally make it to Emerald City, and receive the royal spa treatment? Well, it might not be an exact parallel, but when we give our sheep the ‘spa treatment,’ it’s much the same idea. We trim and clean their hooves (manicure and pedicure), shear away matted, stubborn wool (our version of a wash and perm), and check them for any parasites they might have picked up in their travels (umm… juice-fast, anyone?). Twice each year, in the spring and fall, we round up our flock of Katahdin sheep and lambs, and prepare them for the rigors of winter cold and summer heat.
Here’s what a morning of sheep spa treatment looks like at our farm, Smith Meadows.
- The sheep wait in the corral. We raise about 200 lambs a year on our farm. 15-20 at a time are allowed admittance into the ‘spa’. No pushing or shoving, please!
- We select a small group, and walk them across the meadow to a handling chute.
- Aaron gently holds a ewe while he trims her feet. Our lambs enjoy reading magazines while they wait. Their favorite is “Sheople.”
- A cleanly trimmed hoof. The hooves grow much like human nails, wrapping around the outside edges of the foot (where the newly-trimmed white edges are). Because they walk on their ‘hands’ all day, it’s important to keep this area trimmed so dirt doesn’t become trapped.
- Next, we gently raise the eyelid to check for parasite indicators. Internal parasites feed on the sheep’s blood. By checking beneath their eyelid, we can quickly (and painlessly) determine whether or not the animal has an infestation. If the eye demonstrates good color and bright veins (as seen here), then the lamb has few parasites. If the eye is pale and anemic, then we administer a dewormer. This way, we never dose animals that don’t require treatment.
- Fall leaves brighten the ground as Aaron places a ewe in the ‘barber’s chair’. The animal sits calmly in this position until he is finished trimming her feet. Obviously, when working with 150 lb animals, a little strength and finesse is involved!
- As soon as we’re done, we load the sheep onto the trailer, and release them into the pasture. They’re now ready for a new season, with freshly trimmed hooves and stylish hairdos :^)
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Forrest Pritchard is a full-time sustainable farmer and New York Times bestselling author, holding a BA in English and a BS in Geology from William & Mary. Smith Meadows, his farm, was one of the first “grass finished” operations in the country, and has sold at leading farmers’ markets in the Washington DC area for two decades. Pritchard's books have received starred reviews from The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, NPR, and more.
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