Thursday, February 11, 2010

Vaccinating Ewes - Again

Last Sunday John and I headed down to Ronnie Smith's farm in Yelm where we helped our friend Cindy vaccinate over 500 pregnant ewes.

Ronnie was born on the 320 acre farm and has been farming sheep for many years. 

Gestating ewes must be vaccinated several weeks prior to lambing so they can pass the antibodies on to their lambs in first milk from the udder, the colostrum.

 The vaccine used Sunday is commonly used to guard against tetanus infection and a painful gastric condition known as 'overeaters disease' which causes a lamb's death within 24 hours from the onset of symptoms, unless treated immediately.  This vaccination is essential for lamb survival as the lamb's immune system doesn't begin to develop until approx 6 weeks of age.

In the process of learning it is important to have a moment when all the pieces come together.  Over the past couple of years I have been learning right along with my dogs about stock movement and the absolute importance that is placed on the ability for a dog to move stock calmly, orderly and effectively.

If your dog hits the sheep bubble (flight-zone)  like a freight train sending the sheep running in the opposite direction you lose points in a trial.  If that happens in a real life working situation then it may cause injury, which translates to vet costs and potential loss of income for the farmer.

The objective of the day was to move the sheep in a calm and orderly fashion from the pasture,  into the holding pen, then separating them into groups of 100 approx, move them into the barn where they are funneled up a ramp into a holding chute where they are vaccinated.  Since all the ewes are very pregnant it is essential they are moved calmly, orderly and with as little stress as possible.

Ronnie raises Romney Sheep.  

Romneys are not 'flockers'. While they do tend to stay in groups - most Romneys are in it for themselves - rather than stay together and move in a bunch,  Romneys will split apart.  If a dog puts too much pressure on them,  the dog could suddenly find themselves in the middle of a bunch of sheep that are not shy about turfing them.

Turfing:  Dog meets grass against their will, usually a the behest of a unruly rebellious sheepThese sheep are often referred to as 'dog food'.   In the  case of turfing  'gripping' (biting) is allowed so the dog can protect themselves or command respect for their authority over the stupid sheep.

Sheep are stupid.  Yes.  But some are also evil.  Bad combination.  Evil Stupid Sheep.  Sounds like my ex-husband actually. 

Romney sheep are bully's to dogs.   Big fat wooly terrors.  They will turf a dog if they think they can get away with it.  They rate (evaluate) the dog then challenge it...constantly. 

The last time I helped with vaccinations I made a grave mistake of correcting Beth each time she faced off a ewe and tried to grip.  I put her in a horrible position and laying her down just feet from these sheep.  I did that thinking that she was putting too much pressure on them which was causing them to want to deck her.  I also had it stuck in my head that I was not to allow 'gripping' EVER because it was cause for disqualification on the trial field - I was misguided. 
I was so so so very wrong.  Beth thought I was an idiot but she listened and I could have ruined her. 

Sunday I corrected that  mistake and gave Beth back her teeth.   She was a happy dog. 

She has teeth and attitude, she isn't afraid to use them. I was SO happy to see it come back in force.  (Amazing the things that happen when you get your dumb arse out of your dogs way). 

While Cindy, Ronnie and Armando stayed up top and wielded the vaccination guns, John and I were responsible to keep the lower barn filled with sheep.

We would push the sheep up the chute for vaccinations, then wait for that batch to be released, the door would open and we would push more up.

When the barn emptied it was our job to go out in the holding pasture and get more to refill the barn until we worked our way through 535 ewes (rough count).   I do not have any pictures of the holding pasture but I did shoot this photo through the barn window

Due to the size of the barn we would stagger our positions. 

One would go to the middle - to provide the pressure to encourage the sheep to see the chute as a means of escape, and to keep them from bunching up in the corner.  It also lowered the stress on the sheep - it is easier to work a smaller group than one huge one. 

 Beth was typically in the middle.

She had to keep an eye on the sheep in front of her

And checked on Bonnie with the sheep behind her. 

Since this was a new experience for Bonnie she stayed on leash the entire time & usually stayed in the back with John.

 We switched back and forth a bit to give the dogs a break.

I was able to let Beth off leash much of the time because she knew the drill and stayed by my side.  When Bonnie gets stressed she yips, barks and whines.  Needless to say she was quite vocal and anxious, but settled down after a bit.  She may have been anxious, but she wasn't afraid to "hit" on command.  She liked being able to correct the sheep when she felt it was necessary.  Bonnie did very good, and held her own once she got the hang of it. 

The sheep stamp their feet, stare then ...WHAMMO they hit (sorry the picture is so blurry).  When this happens your dog needs to be able to strike out at the sheep (grip), and not be afraid to let them know that this won't be tolerated.  That is where training a "HIT" command into your dog - allowing them to grip is necessary.  This type of work provides the perfect opportunity to train this. 

Usually the dog has the instinct built in, it is just a manner of associating it with the command.  What I was not able to capture in the pictures was Bonnie's reaction.  She jumped up, struck the ewe in the nose a couple of times - SNAP SNAP - and the ewe stopped.   Good girl. 


The sheep eventually turned and headed up the chute.  By the end of the day Bonnie grew oodles of confidence and knew if she needed to she could 'hit'.  

The trick is to not allow the dog to abuse the sheep.  Only allow hitting when it is necessary.  This is where trusting your dog comes into play...there is a very fine line between unecessary roughness and strength needed to command respect from the sheep.  

Beth knows this line and walks it well.  She is kind to her sheep, but won't take any nonsense either.  

The biggest challenge we had were the rams.  Many rams were mixed in with the ewes.  If you thought the ewes were dog aggressive - they were NOTHING compared to the rams.   Miserable bastards. 

This is where it was my job to protect my dog & not let her get slammed by these rams.  When we got a couple of them together - we joined forces and brought the dogs near each other.  Bonnie and Beth may not get along well at home, working together they were wonderful.  Bonnie watched Beth for her cues.   

Remember the idea is to move the sheep calmly with as little stress as possible.  They are all very heavy with lambs.  We did not allow the dogs to harass them.  We only moved in closely when it was required to apply pressure for movement.  The rest of the time we kept the dogs back and allowed the sheep to eat and relax.  A eating sheep, is a relaxed sheep. 

Working together with your dog, using the dog's pressure along with your body language to persuade the sheep to go the direction you want them too.  Much like penning in a trial - but on a much grander scale.

Most of the time, once they started up the chute the rest would follow.

But there were always the dissenters, the sheep who wanted to go their own way.  Saw a means of escape and took it.


Beth lived for these moments.  She was in heaven and has freshly flossed teeth to prove it.  

Bonnie was very proud of herself. 


 Finally we were done, the last group went up the chute.  

They were vaccinated and released back into the field. 

To join the rest of their flock

The last time we helped with vaccinations I came home with bruises all over my legs where the sheep hit me, slammed and bashed into me - all because I wouldn't let my dog do her job.  This time...I don't have a bruise or even a hangnail.  Beth is happy, Bonnie is happy.  *whew*  and John made it home in time to watch the Superbowl.  

It was a good day.


Pat A said...

Great post. Those girls are doing good.

susan said...

Nice entry.
Love the sheep photos.

(I visited with Brynn today. She is very well.)

Lynn said...

Wonderful post. You did a very good job of making me understand a little bit of something I previously knew nothing about! Glad your hubby got to watch the Saints win the Super Bowl!

Emma Rose said...

Excellent lesson. Thank you! The dogs look so happy :)

WannabeVirginia W. said...

Beautiful photos of the sheep. They are so cute. The dogs are also always beautiful. Did any of the sheep or dogs get hurt during the filming? (lol)

Ann said...


Monique said...

Nice. Let me know the next time you go down :)

Anonymous said...

Wow. I knew (know) nothing. Very interesting. And of course, your dogs are AMAZING. SIMPLY AMAZING. Who doesn't love a dog???