We had been thinking of getting sheep for a few years, and when the time and funds became available, my husband and I decided to pursue this endeavour. On Aug 11, 2013 we brought home our first sheep. We bought three. The largest and oldest was Bob. (He came with that name.)
He was unusually large for a sheep. And he had the biggest set of testicles ever. (Seriously, we could’ve charged admission just for that!)
Bob was friendly and really liked his face and head rubbed. He’d walk over to me for that purpose, which could however be a little intimidating because he came up to the height of my rib cage, and he did head butt me twice. (To be fair though, I was holding a bucket of feed, and he thought I should be giving it to him. Thankfully he didn’t hurt me, but it did startle me and push me back. The second time, I instinctively began to react to push him back, but we had the kids from my daughter’s daycare here on a field trip and I thought a sheep fight might traumatize them a little.)
Bob was the dad to the other two, who did not come named. We named them Baxter and Arthur. Baxter was a year at the time and Arthur four months. Bob was two. Apparently you can tell their age by their teeth. (Interesting trivia, sheep only have teeth on the bottom gum and not the top. They just have a hard pad on the top, so they aren’t going to bite you, although they may nibble.)
They also aren’t kickers, but as I mentioned above, they can head butt you, and I discovered that Arthur, with his little horns, discovered he could do that quite effectively! Unfortunately for him, it would be his undoing.
Our original plan was to get some ewes, and keep Bob for breeding. Baxter was a wether, (a castrated male), and so wouldn’t be able to serve as a stud. His fate was to end up in our freezer. Arthur’s fate was up in the air until his head butting proclivity manifested. He obviously knew his horns were a weapon, because he wouldn’t just butt you straight on, but would angle his head and catch you with his horn. When he did this very deliberately to Lilly, our dog, his fate was sealed!
I really knew nothing about sheep when we brought these guys home. The first thing that clued me in that maybe I ought to do a bit of research about them, was the appearance of Bob’s hooves. He had one that looked oddly larger than the others. Almost like a horse hoof. I had asked the man we purchased him from about his odd looking hooves, but he had assured me they had been trimmed and were fine. He said he’d asked the vet about them, and about Bob’s tendency to eat while kneeling. The answer; “Wasn’t a problem, sometimes sheep just get lazy”.
Now if you’re reading this and you know anything about sheep, you know already that this information is not correct. You may be thinking this guy was possibly giving me a line to sell me his substandard sheep, but I still tend to think he was just a hobbyist who, being relatively new to shepherding, didn’t have all the information yet. Needless to say, I discovered that footrot is a very serious disease that can cause lameness in sheep and actually lead to their death; so their hooves need to be trimmed regularly. (As the hooves grow, the edges tend to fold under the foot, creating crevices where a specific type of bacteria can grow attacking the soft tissue becoming very painful, to the point where a sheep finds it hard to walk, and thus becomes unable to eat. And it is contagious and can be transmitted through the flock.)
I was fairly alarmed at this information, but managed to find a guy who would come and trim the hooves for me. I had been doing some reading on it, and it required flipping the sheep, which was feeling fairly daunting with a sheep as large as Bob. Not to mention the skill required to then properly trim the hooves without drawing blood.
I knew I’d made the right decision to hire him when a couple of Bob’s hooves did start bleeding quite a bit, and not from cutting them wrong, but probably because of the rot in them. We put some green goop called Copper Cure on them afterwards, and he seemed fine. For a while. But it wasn’t too long before he was on his knees again.
As fall was approaching, it was becoming more and more apparent that it wouldn’t do to have a lame sheep through the winter, to risk him going down and having to deal with him in the cold and snow. So we now had to book the butcher to come and slaughter two sheep.
And unfortunately Arthur’s problems were bigger than the horned head butts. He too had some serious foot problems. His however, was not footrot, but an ankle that had been stepped on when just a wee lamb, and had then healed wrong.
This meant that Arthur wasn’t walking on his hoof, rather his ankle had set in such a way that a “pad” had been created behind his hoof that he was walking on. The skin broke, and infection set in, swelling the foot substantially. I decided to treat him with antibiotics, and learned how to flip him, and give those injections. The infection did clear up, but the underlying problem was always going to be there, and wouldn’t bode well in the long run.
At first I was quite devastated at the idea of putting down all three of our sheep. It seemed like all our efforts had been pointless. But my husband wisely pointed out that there were more fish in the sea, or at least more sheep in the fields, and we had wanted sheep for meat, so all was not lost. Anyhow, they had been inexpensive sheep and in the process, I had learnt a whole lot of things I’d had no prior knowledge of .
So we scheduled the butcher to come, and planned on buying some new sheep. These three guys had given me an opportunity to figure out what I did and didn’t want in sheep. Like horned sheep. And I did determine that I really did want wool sheep, as oppose to hair sheep who shed their heavy coats come spring; so although you don’t have the work of shearing to do, you also don’t have wool to do wonderful things with. And one of the most important things I learnt from them was that I would be ok with slaughtering them. That was most evident through Baxter. He was a very gentle guy, but not at all responsive to me; like a dog might be in showing interest or affection. He had a tendency to sit with his face right in the corner of the shed and to just not respond to anything around him. Just didn’t impress me that I needed to feel too bad about eating him! (Poor guy, not all sheep are like that. Many are much more personable.)
I will save the story of their slaughter for another time, (yes there’s a story there). Suffice to say, it was another learning experience, and we got a lot of meat out of the deal. Arthur gave us 35 lbs of meat, Baxter 85 lbs, while Bob gave us a whopping 110 lbs. And we’ve learnt to cook some delicious lamb dinners, even out of tough mutton. And we now have some beautiful sheep skin hides gracing our leather sofas… You will not be forgotten boys!