For the last three summers, between the months of June and September, one of Vi’s good friends, Vera, has been suffering from an allergic reaction to the sun.
Vera’s “summer itches” usually start just after shearing time. This is understandable since her woolly coat would protect her from the sun’s rays. The wool has to come off though otherwise there would be other issues. With her shorter wool and the warmer weather, Vera’s skin becomes red and inflamed which makes Vera feel itchy and irritable. All she wants to do is scratch, scratch, scratch and sit in the shade of the field shelter. Un-woolled parts are particularly affected such as her ears, eye area, “armpits” and the backs of her legs.
As there’s no cure for Vera’s allergy, all we can do is help her feel better until autumn when her symptoms naturally subside. So we give her a long acting steroid injection, and daily doses of udder cream which is very soothing. She’s not too keen on the injections – thankfully we only have to give her one or two throughout the summer, but she absolutely loves the cream.
Every morning at around 7am as I do “the morning sheep check” (making sure our woolly friends are all present and haven’t got into pickles overnight), Vera trots over for “the cream ceremony”. She obligingly lifts each leg in turn so I can apply cream into her “armpits”, and then stands there staring into space as I smooth cream onto her ears and legs. It’s a pleasant addition to my morning routine and knowing Vera enjoys the experience and feels better afterwards makes it all the more enjoyable.
This year, Vera’s pal Vi has shown a keen interest in the cream ritual. So much so that she has started coming over and standing next to Vera waiting for her turn. She shows particular interest when I put cream on Vera’s ankles. This is no doubt due to Vera’s happy reaction when I apply cream to the area just above her hooves on her hind legs – she stretches her neck out as far as she can and starts licking the air as if it were raining sheep nuts (her favourite snack). Then, she turns her head towards me and starts nibbling my arm for all she is worth. If you’ve ever been nibbled by a sheep you’ll know this is a funny experience, sort of pleasant but also borderline painful!
So back to Vi, the other day I wondered idly whether all sheep enjoyed hoof / ankle scratches. I know they like a good back scratch, (so do cows by the way, they even have “cow back scratchers” you can buy and install in your barn!) But I didn’t know about ankles. Perhaps this was “a thing” in the world of sheep? As I pondered this the other morning whilst sandwiched between Vi, Vera and a pot of udder cream, I remembered that over the years I’ve seen some of our flock rubbing their feet on fences and the like. Hmmm I thought, I wonder …
Now normally (unless you are Vera), sheep stamp their feet and twitch when you touch their hooves and legs because their instinct tells them that you might be a fly. But I decided to see if Vi would like a wee scratch anyway.
I gently reached over and touched her left hind leg, and to my surprise, she let me do this with no hint of a stamp. So I went for it and gave her a full on scratch all round her hoof. She turned her head to look at me with an expression of what I think was mild surprise, and then stretched out her neck and proceeded to do the “happy sheep thing” (stretchy neck followed by hoovering up of imaginary rain shower of sheep nuts). As an additional after flourish, she nibbled my wellies.
So now I have created a wee rod for my back because as well as putting cream on Vera, I have to give Vi an ankle rub, all the while being watched with interest by the rest of the flock. Form an orderly queue please!