Those of you who enjoy rambling in the Oxfordshire countryside will no doubt have noticed that when you encounter a flock of sheep there is always a lame animal limping around as if it has a broken leg.
But approach it to see what’s what and it will race away from you like Mo Farrah from an Olympic starting block. If you want to have your speed, fitness – and possibly your sanity – called into question listen to the laughter of passers-by as you chase a three-legged sheep around a field in a fruitless bid to catch it.
This subject is currently close to my heart as today I spotted one of my Ryeland ewes hobbling around and collapsing to its knees when it wanted to snack on fresh grass.
Lameness can be a big problem in large flocks and its treatment is a vital part of good management. In fact there is currently a big nationwide campaign to reduce the amount of lameness among sheep.
In most cases however it can be dealt with quite straightforwardly as the animal may simply have something stuck between the ‘claws’ of its hoof. Dried mud is the number one culprit – especially if it contains small stones which irritate the tender areas of the hoof. Imagine having a stone in your shoe which you just can’t get rid of.
Sometimes it is a bit more complicated. For instance, sheep have scent glands between their ‘toes’ – just above the hoof. This can become infected and the animal won’t want to put any weight on the affected foot. Then there’s foot rot – which isn’t really something you want to chat about in polite company.
Anyway, I have a secret weapon in the battle against bad feet – Epsom Salts, otherwise known as magnesium sulphate.
This is a tip I picked up some time ago from a wise old vet. First catch your sheep (see above) and then plunge the appropriate foot in a diluted solution of this wonder stuff for a few minutes. It may sound daft, but Epsom Salts is an anti-inflammatory – and in my experience it works pretty quickly. A couple of days of this sort of treatment and, in my experience, the limp will have vanished.
And if you are feeling a bit footsore after chasing sheep around – it works just as well on humans too. Told you it was wonderful stuff.
If you are a country lover, I would like to point you in the direction of a wonderfully readable book called Meadowland – the private life of an English Field by John Lewis-Stempel (Transworld). It records the changing seasons in an ancient meadow on his farm near the border between Herefordshire and Wales. The prose is both lyrical and compelling – and takes the reader on a journey through a year in the life of one man and his meadow. Lewis-Stempel writes about his own flock of Ryeland sheep, including the story about Elizabeth I having her stockings made from the wool of my preferred breed. I have used this line more than once as part of the marketing spiel for my own wool products, so it was great to have it confirmed as more than just an apocryphal tale!
- Tim Metcalfe
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