They sure are. Spend some time with enough of them and you’ll soon see they aren’t the sharpest tool in the shed.
I often feel like we bred the world’s best fine wool into our merino sheep but in the process, bred the brains out. For example, if a lambing merino ewe is not in good condition or doesn’t feel up to it, she will walk away from the newborn lamb and leave it to die or have a second (twin) and leave the first one for the foxes.
As a youngster, I remember we often brought in abandoned lambs, tucked them up in a box near the fire, fed them some of granny’s ‘secret mixture’ (colostrum) and reared them on the bottle.
Then there’s the situation of a sheep found out on its own – without other sheep as company, they will often walk in circles, going nowhere and not eating, until they die.
Yes, I’ve seen it happen. Sheep have a way of dying for no reason – well, it seems like it. I found one of my cross-bred ewes only last week, lying up against the fence of the yards, dead.
No apparent cause, no external injuries and only four weeks after having been drenched for parasites with the best drench on the market.
The remainder of the 50-sheep flock were within a hundred yards and all are still doing well.
The next day, I found a big lamb, almost ready for sale, dead under a log in the paddock. It had pushed into a stack of timber to reach some morsel of food, found it was stuck but instead of backing out, it kept pushing forward and died there.
The other side of the fence
Just this week I saw one of my ewes struggle through a fence. Why? I can only think the grass was greener on the other side.
She needed to be returned to her own paddock and while the other sheep were close, I opened a gate and walked around her. Now I should have known better because I’ve seen this happen numerous times – she ran in the opposite direction, away from her mates, so I let her go, knowing she would return to the rest of the mob.
Sure enough, she was back an hour later. I opened the gate and took a working dog with me but again, I should have known better. Yes, she cleared out in the wrong direction, even beating the dog.
It took me a full two days to coax her back into her own paddock.
A lone sheep is one of the most difficult animals to handle, with or without a dog, and I can never understand why.
One of my biggest worries in summer is a rainy morning and a hot afternoon, especially with lambs.
Wet wool, when heated by the sun, gives off a smell which attracts blowflies. They lay their (maggot) eggs anywhere they can find a suitable moist place on the sheep but mainly around the tail. Ewes suffer the most from flystrike because their urine flows from under the tail and especially in young animals with their tail still attached; it will often mix with manure caught in the wool and makes a perfect site for a blowfly to lay its eggs.
I’ve seen sheep so badly struck with maggots I’ve had to dispatch them immediately and then burn the carcass.
More often we catch them in time and treat them.
There’s another thing. Why are sheep born with a tail which catches manure in the wool and when wet, attracts blowflies?
Animal husbandry practices probably the world over has us remove the tail of lambs at a young age, usually about four weeks.
Working dogs have been part of my life since I was old enough to have one and I’ve had some which could (almost) read my mind. It’s amazing what a good sheep dog (or any good working dog) can do.
One reason dogs and sheep work so well together is because sheep like to stay close together, mainly for safety reasons. While in a mob, they are better protected from predators than out on their own so when a working dogs approaches, they gather into a mob and are much easier to work, be it into the yards, a new paddock or just to mill around while they are checked for things like flystrike.
Even out in the paddock with no danger in sight, sheep will always graze in close proximity to each other for safety and so they might not be so dumb after all.
I sometimes feel it’s like when the Bible encourages us to fellowship together.
It’s a hard life for anyone out there on their own and we can often walk in circles trying to work out life’s worries and we expose ourselves to ‘dangers’ without another follower of Jesus to talk to. Those dangers are often the ‘Lord of the Flies’ entering our thoughts to discourage.
Read Psalm 133 (all three verses).
John Skinner served as an infantry soldier in Vietnam then the Tasmanian Police before taking up the position of CEO of the Australian Rough Riders Association (professional rodeo based in Warwick Qld). Before retirement to his small farm, he was a photo-journalist for 25 years. He is married with 3 children and 6 grandchildren.
John Skinner's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-skinner.html