This time of year I spend more time than usual with the sheep, mostly checking to see if anyone is thinking about going into labor. It’s the last thing I do before I go to bed. Last night was magical, so cold that the air was crisp, the moon so bright that I didn’t need my flashlight. There was dew on the grass, and it had frozen. In the moonlight it sparkled like diamonds, and made me think of fairies. It was a scene from a children’s book that I may have to try to write. I wish I could have taken pictures so that I could share them with you.
This afternoon when I checked on the girls I got to thinking about ear tags, and I took some pictures to illustrate my points. Ear tags are a necessary evil in many cases. If you want to show your sheep, they must have ear tags. If you want to sell your animals, they must have ear tags. Some farmers use tags to identify animals at a quick glance, tagging specifically to tell the males from the females, or multiple birth lambs, or what year they were born. If you’ve got hundreds of sheep that all look the same I can see where that would be useful. Knowing that the sheep you’re holding is a twin ewe born three years ago simply because of the tag color could be very handy. I used to tag my lambs as soon as possible, but over the years I’ve become more resistant to the idea. I have a small flock, and I know all of my animals by name. Even when I had more than 50 in the flock that was true. Plus, I have had animals that are very adept at removing tags (I had one ewe that could do it in less than 5 minutes). Some do it very easily, like Faith. This is a close up of her ear. If you look carefully, you will see a small hole in the middle of her ear. There used to be a tag in that hole (actually, on both sides of her ear through that hole). No idea where the tag went, or how she got it out. The tags are big enough that they don’t fit through that hole.
Other sheep aren’t as graceful about removing their tags. They get them caught on something, freak out and pull back, ripping themselves free. Bridget (left picture) and Midge (right picture) both sport split ears as a result of such behavior. Midge’s healed decently, closing back up for the most part. Bridget was not so lucky, and now has an ear that is split along most of its length.
Getting tagged is one of the many minor indignities that lambs are put through, usually in quick succession. For a lot of farmers it is all in one day. Shots are given, tails (and possibly testicles) are banded, ears are tagged. Some lambs don’t even seem to notice all the indignities, but some thrash about, complaining loudly. In my experience, it is usually the boys that complain the loudest about the banding (even if they aren’t being wethered). Most of the ewe lambs run straight to mama for a quick suck, and within 5 minutes are behaving normally. The boys throw themselves down, roll around, complaining the whole time, and it can go on for an hour or more. Anyone who doesn’t know sheep might ask why we subject the lambs to something that apparently hurts so much. It’s simple – in the long run it is in their best interest. Most breeds of sheep are born with long tails. Long tails trap manure. Manure attracts flies. Fly strike is a horrible, nasty, painful way to die. Banding is a minor twinge compared to that. Enough said.
If I had lambs, my mind wouldn’t wander so. I’m just saying…