We manhandle the sheep several times a year. It can be an exhausting job. Over the years we have modified our technique many times.
We began thirty years ago by penning the sheep and then grabbing each one by the hind leg, and then being dragged around the barn by the sheep until we subdued it or it escaped. Next one of us would lie on the sheep to control it while the other gave a shot or trimmed hooves or tried on a coat.
Our friend Glen used a shepherd’s crook to pull the sheep in to himself. Glen is a very gentle, calm man and his sheep never seemed to run around the barn dragging him.
When Dave worked full time away from home, I asked clueless volunteers for help (following the Tom Sawyer method). I don’t have the strength or the sports training to grab a sheep by the hind leg and wrestle it to the ground. So I developed another control technique. Several summers ago, Hillis, our summer worker, and I became very good at rushing a sheep together from the side and pinning her (the ewe, not Hillis) against the barn wall or pen fence. One of us held the ewe in place while the other gave the shot. By evening, Hillis and I were on our knees, but we had successfully vaccinated half the flock.
When we were young and not so clever, we kept track of which animals had been vaccinated by lifting them over the fence when we were done, separating them physically from the unvaccinated animals. Being older and more experienced, we now mark the forehead of each vaccinated ewe with a squirt of stock paint – no lifting involved.
This year, Dave and I were not rushed for time when we vaccinated and coated the ewes. We penned the sheep, then Dave walked casually up to a ewe standing next to the fence and pressed her body against the fence. He held her in place with his weight and his grip on the fence wires. I vaccinated her and then slid a sheep coat over her head. The sheep was still calm enough that I could hold her head still as Dave released her and then maneuvered her hind legs through the straps on her coat. I talked to most of the ewes as Dave worked, thanked them for their cooperation, told them that lambing would come soon.
The entire day felt different. Dave and I never lost our tempers. Even the skitzy lambs that had never been coated before didn’t ruffle the calm much. Our new technique worked well, but I really think that it was the friendly blue dots on the forehead of every animal that colored the whole experience.