Last week I volunteered to help Sonya trim her sheep’s hooves and vaccinate the lambs against a cold sore-like virus.
It was a sunny but chilly spring day when we arrived at about 5:30 pm. Sonya had me send Rodeo into the main area of the barn and drive the sheep into a holding pen near the front of the barn. Rodeo didn’t want to take a come by flank that would have put him behind them. He knew the sheep would rush past me and into the corridor leading to the barn door. But that’s where the holding pen was, so it had to be. After a couple of corrections, he took the flank and flushed the sheep out.
Once the sheep were in the holding pen, Sonya instructed me on how to flip a ewe on to her back: Wrap your around her neck and use your shoulder to pin her head to her side so that it was facing her rear end. Then grasp the flap of the skin between the hind leg and her haunch, and use it as leverage to flip her over. I managed it once but never quite got the hang of it.
Sonya did most of the hoof trimming because I was pretty incompetent, despite my best efforts. I was too tentative in trimming away the frayed, flaking parts of the hoof to expose the slate gray growth below. Sonya made it look simple but there is definitely an art that I failed to master. After each ewe was finished, Sonya guided her to the gate of the enclosure and let her out into the main area of the barn.
I was nervous about trimming too much and hurting the sheep, but it was evident from watching Sonya that there was more leeway than I realized.
I watched Sonya do it and I thought I could see the pattern of prying up the overgrown edges of the hooves before trimming them away, and then working the trimmer around until all the edges were cut away. After each ewe was finished, Sonya guided her to the gate of the enclosure and let her out into the main area of the barn. But when it was my turn, I found it remarkably difficult to see what I was doing while hunched over a sheep on its back, wedging its neck between my knees.
After 2 or 3 attempts, I was sure my lower back would never straighten again. Sonya took over and I gratefully handed the trimmers over to her.
When she was finished with the ewes, we started in on the vaccinations. Sonya mixed a syringe full of the live vaccine, but we didn’t inject it. Instead one of us held the lamb down while the other scraped the skin in its armpit, just enough to cause an abrasion, then applied a few drops of vaccine and rubbed in with a stiff bristle brush on the other end of the scraper tool. Sonya also docked the tails of a couple of the female lambs.
I nearly made it through unscathed, but the last lamb we vaccinated decided it had had enough and kicked while I was scraping its skin. It caught me in the mouth, giving me a fat lip and sending the syringe flying. I retrieved it and we finished the job, sending the rest of the lambs out into the barn to join the ewes.
The whole procedure took about an hour and a half, and I was thoroughly exhausted when it was over. Predictably, the next morning I was sore in parts of my body whose existence I hadn’t previously suspected.