Saturday 13th August 2016
Our first Sheep Race and Pens!!
Well, our first attempt at building a sheep race and pens went pretty well on the whole. In picture one are all the Shetlands, the Whiteface Dartmoors, plus Mrs White and her lambs (Mrs Brown plus her two were there as well, just out of shot) all calmly penned up in the holding pen. And when the deed was done (in this case washing mucky back ends), everyone calmly walked back out through the race, into the collecting pen and then out in to 6-acre again!
We learnt a lot and tomorrow will refine things a little: firstly, the collecting pen was a little too large as we had to ‘herd’ them a bit to get them to walk through the race. The race itself was probably just about right but the handling pen could also have done with being a tad smaller as there was a little bit too much room for the sheep to move around. Ideally in a holding or handling pen, they need just enough space so they stand still.
What was totally amazing was how we got the sheep in the collecting pen in the first place. We built the race in the morning and then when we went back in the afternoon, we could see that all of them were hanging around it as a group, sniffing and generally being nosey. We simply walked up to them all, slightly ushered them forwards and then closed the hurdles behind them. The next stage was to throw a bit of food on the ground so that they associate the pen with something good and NOT something to be fearful of. Whilst only needing to wash the Dartmoors, we felt that getting ALL the sheep together would encourage more flocking (and therefore better movement as a group) and also help the three groups to bond. If you have less than three or four sheep they don’t tend to flock anyway, but act more as individuals, making moving and handling them much harder. As with all livestock, taking advantage of the animals’ natural behaviour is the best approach!
The three mucky back ends were quickly washed with a hibiscub solution although we neglected to bring the dagging shears with us - we had thought that as their tails are docked, there would be no need to dag: i.e. snip off any poo covered bits of fleece. Unfortunately Fern’s tail did need some dagging and so tomorrow we will probably collect them all again, hopefully as successfully and calmly as today!!