This summer’s been a bit funny weatherwise, after a hot and dry May and June (so dry that we ran out of water at one point), the heavens opened and it’s been dreich ever since. One thing is certain though, rain or shine there are always plenty of flies buzzing around.
This part of Galloway is mostly grazed by livestock and there’s very little crop spraying going on. As a result the insects are thriving and the swallows who come here to nest every summer have plenty to feed on. So a healthy population of flies isn’t a bad thing. However, having sheep, we do have to be on the lookout for flystrike.
Flystrike is a potentially fatal condition which can occur when a female blowfly (green bottle) decides to lay her eggs on a sheep. The eggs result in maggots which on hatching, wriggle around and start to feed on the sheep. Death occurs within a few days unless the condition is spotted. The blowfly is usually attracted to soiled areas around the bottom, but she’s not particularly fussy and often lays her eggs between the shoulder blades or in any convenient nook or cranny.
Most sheep are protected from blowfly attacks through the use of sprays which work as a deterrent. Our little flock however is organic so this means we don’t spray them, instead we bring them in to check regularly and are always on the lookout for ‘the signs’. ‘The signs’ meaning how the sheep behaves when she’s been struck by a blowfly. These start off very subtle and can be easily missed, it’s usually a slight change in demeanour, a look in the eye, an odd sitting position. It then progresses as the irritation builds and the sheep will try to scratch the affected area. She’ll not usually be able to reach and this will cause her distress. As the days pass she’ll show signs of depression, hang her head, stand in a corner, lie down and eventually give up.
We’re continually on the lookout for the signs, and three of our little lot are particularly prone so they get more checks than usual. Today the three musketeers were due their fortnightly check ups.
I set off after breakfast with my bucket containing: shears, maggot oil, cotton wool pads, Protego powder spray, nitrile gloves, halter and sheep nuts. The dogs came with me as they like to hang around with the flock whilst clicking into guard mode. George and Elliot are both Sheep Guardian dogs, George is a Hellenic Shepherd and Elliot is a Turkish Anatolian and they love nothing better than to mooch around with the flock whilst keeping a watchful eye out for bears and wolves, (the Scottish equivalent of).
I found the sheep half way up a hill so I parked up and set up ‘camp’. I dragged some hurdles over and built my treatment pen, I laid out my equipment on the back of the quadbike. Then off I went to get my first sheep.
Something I’ve learned to do since having sheep is teach them their names and have them come over to me when called, individually. This isn’t just a fancy party trick, it means I can do sheep work quickly and with minimum running around. Unfortunately this convenient little trick is only possible when I’m on my own with the gang with no one else is present, especially not the vet.
So I brought in Ynca, then Yssi, then Yogi. All three have a funny condition on their bottoms where the wool stays damp in the area just below the tail. This can cause little patches of bacteria to form under the wool which unless I trim regularly, can lead to small infections occurring. This can then create puss, which would be a magnet to the blowfly so it’s important to keep them clean and trimmed.
Ynca, Yssi and Yogi are very tame, but they draw the line at having their bottoms trimmed so I halter them up and tether them so they can’t run around. I then straddle them so I’m looking down at their bottoms, and off I go with my trimming shears. Once I’ve trimmed the wool down to a ‘number 1’, I spray it with a powder spray which dries everything out and smells lovely too. (Protego powder spray is totally brilliant!)
After and hour or so, I finished bottom trimming and was ready for a cup of tea, scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam. The three girls went back to join their pals while I whizzed down the hill followed by the dogs. Adrian was conveniently between meetings at work and had already put the kettle on ready for a welcome brew.