Flock Talk

Flock Talk

June 2024 vol. 1

Few things are as lovely as watching a herd of sheep grazing in an open field, particularly when there are spring lambs bouncing about. We love our sheep, but truth is, they require more maintenance than any of the critters we have on the farm.

Sheep were some of the first domesticated animals, likely originating in the mountains of Persia. As such, their innate characteristics are more favorable to the cold, dry, mountainous climate of the Middle East. Through generations of selective breeding, sheep have adapted quite well to just about every climate across the globe. For instance, we raise hair sheep. Unlike European sheep with their thick wool coats, our sheep have very little wool and shed their coat in the spring. This adaptation spares us the task of trimming their wool and helps the sheep endure the hot Texas summers.

Texas offers many other environmental challenges that sheep have to contend with. As I’ve written about previously, sheep are very susceptible to internal parasites. Though all animals have some degree of parasitic load, sheep are particularly mal-adapted to the moist, humid weather we have here in Central Texas.
Another genetic carryover is the sheep’s feet. Like goats, sheep are quite nimble and highly adapted to traversing rocky, arid, high plains deserts. Consequently, their hooves grow quickly to offset the wear and tear of mountain climbing. Since we don’t have anything resembling rocky mountains here at the ranch, I have to intervene.

Trimming sheep hooves is a necessary chore, much like with horses. If the hoof grows too long, it can cause undue stress on the feet and lead to irreparable damage. Another threat is foot rot. As the hoof curls under, it can trap mud and manure, leading to infection. So, this past weekend, I spent a few hours giving sheep pedicures. Fortunately, I only have to do this once a year, and we only have about two dozen sheep to manage. I can’t imagine wrestling with a flock of 200 – my back could not endure it. Sheep may not look it, but they are strong animals with powerful legs. It takes considerable strength to hold them steady and flip them on their backs. When you’re trimming one hoof, they still have three others trying to find purchase wherever they can – often on your bare flesh.

Though they’re fairly high maintenance, we love our little flock of sheep, and I am more than happy to endure a few bruises and scratches to ensure they are healthy and thriving. But next time you’re off getting your nails done, just remember that there is some shepherd out there struggling on the other end of those clippers to keep their sheep fit and trim.

See you at the market!

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