Shearing went well today. I am a little tired from counting sheep. Brian, our shearer, sleeps very well. It’s a perk of the profession. My buddy Duane called and wanted to know why sheep don’t shrink when they get wet. I told him they do, dry sheep are as big as cows. That’s why the cattle and sheep ranchers never got along. The sheep herders blamed the cattlemen for shrinking their livestock whenever it rained. The cattlemen blamed the sheep men for their sheep eating as much as a cow. He said he thought it was because wool on sheep is live. Only dead wool shrinks. I said there are times when it is OK to say, “I don’t know”. Duane feels people deserve answers and if you don’t have one, it is your duty to provide something. I feel truth is what you make it to be. I guess it’s figuring out what it is people want to hear and providing it. It’s all about the fine line of plausibility. Done correctly, everyone is happy.
Something happened today that reminded me of a story. A true story, honest. After reading all the How-To books on sheep raising I became a paranoid shepherd. The books are filled with chapter after chapter of sheep diseases, things you must vaccinate for, put your veterinarian on speed dial stuff. I was so bad I once had the vet do an autopsy on a dead sheep. $87.00 bucks later, I learned the most important lesson a sheep farmer can learn. A sheep is just an animal looking for an excuse to die. The secret is to sell them before they find a reason. If not, be sure to remove the body before the rest of the sheep decide to follow.
This story is about the time I discovered my flock was infected with The dreaded SHEEP TICK! Here is my advice. When buying sheep there are two questions you should ask. If the seller hesitates for even an instance, walk away. If you are tempted to buy some cheap sheep at a sales barn and the owner is nowhere to be found, don’t raise your hand unless you are very cheap and 100 percent lucky.
The first question is: Do you have foot root in your flock? I have never experienced this on my farm but I do remember it on the dairy farm. All I know is it’s not good, it stinks, and once you get it in your soil, you will have a problem for years.
The second is, “Do your sheep have ticks”? Maybe this isn’t important to most people. It is to me because I hate eight legged insects I.e., spiders and wood ticks. I know sheep ticks don’t suck human blood but they still look like wood ticks and give me the willies. Getting the sheep tick willies is like getting slapped in the face with an eelpout. I know, I got slapped!
It happened on a very cold winter day. The shearer came at the crack of dawn. I had sixty seven ewes on high alert. The first ewe had hardly been tipped when the shearer slapped me with devastating news. “Ed, do you know your sheep have ticks?” “Ahhhh ” I screamed, “how could that be possible? ” “Did you buy any sheep this year? Yes I bought a couple ewes from a guy… “Did you ask him if he had ticks”? “No”. He shook his head and muttered what I thought sounded like “amateurs”.
The next few hours were excruciating. Each sheep revealed more ticks. I was so embarrassed. To add insult to injury I had to retrieve each fleece and carry it to the sack. I had ticks next to my coveralls. Hungry blood sucking insects that look just like wood ticks. Sensing my horror, the shearer tried to calm my nerves. “It’s OK,”He said, “sheep ticks only live on sheep”.
“Then they are OK” I asked. He didn’t need to say it. No respectable sheep farmer would have sheep ticks.
I swallowed my pride. “What should I do”? “Well most people use WARBEX. It’s nasty stuff, you need to dip the sheep in it or use the concentrate and pour it on their backs”. I remembered my dad talking about “sheep dip”. I vaguely remembered it from my youth. The smell came back to me like a chicken coop in August. The shearer continued.”WARBEX will kill them for sure. It’s nasty stuff. Make sure you wear gloves, maybe a mask”.
The thought of pouring caustic chemicals on my poor sheep and risking horrific side effects on myself just to get rid of some little insects that I might be able to get used to, ravaged my brain. That’s when fate intervened.
As the shearer relieved sheep after sheep from its wool and returned it to the flock, I noticed something interesting (besides that the sheep were shivering in the sub zero temperatures). I had a flock of wild bantam chickens that roamed the farm and roosted in the rafters at night. This band of feathered marauders fluttered down from their rafter sanctuary and landed amongst the naked beasts. Heads cocked, they moved in and began attacking the sheep with their beaks. At first the sheep recoiled, perhaps from the close proximity of the fowl, perhaps from the sharp pokes to their sides. Then a strange thing happened.
The sheep, newly liberated from their itchy tick invested coats realized they could now scratch those itches. “I imagined them thinking “Oh that feels so good”. The chickens, seeing the tasty looking ticks exposed to the light of day, seized the moment. They moved in with the cunning of a hungry wolf pack. I swear the chickens and the sheep were one that day as they waged war on the sheep ticks. Exposed and separated from their warm and secure environment, these nasty little buggers were annihilated in a matter of minutes.
Needless to say, because of my unwillingness to use dangerous, smelly and did I mention expensive chemicals, I didn’t get around to dip the sheep. Shearing day came sooner than latter as always. I held my breath as the shearer peeled back the first strips of wool. I waited. And waited. Finally I asked the question. “Do I have ticks?” “No, I don’t see any.”
Inside, I leapt for joy! My management strategy of letting nature do the work actually worked. My reluctance to charge off down the slippery slope of chemical application and expensive treatments were not necessary after all. I was vindicated. Procrastination can pay!
That was the day “Mr Ed’s Chicken Tick Picken natural pest control process” was born.
Due to my continued subscription to the basic belief in the benefits of procrastination, I never got around to patent this process.
I am happy to report there were no ticks discovered today. However, as you can see from this picture, the chicken tick Picken squad was ready for action.