Sunday 5 October 2014

Tag, Dag and Weigh

It's not meant to hurt 'too much'.
The sharp end of the tag is pushed
through the ear with special pliers.
At long last, sheep man 'Kenny' arrives to ear-tag my lambs. We love him dearly but he is the most disorganised lad and the most unconcerned about time keeping and deadlines we know. Last year we got lambs with no paperwork (which is no longer allowed) and this year he passed us the lambs and the ear-tag fronts separately, promising to swing by in 'a week or so' and fit them for us. That was August 2nd. In both cases, I would also be in trouble of course for having accepted the lambs in this 'condition' but we muddle along and it all sorts itself out in the end. So far we have not been inspected by any Dept officials.

Contained in the cattle race. 
Kenny texted first to say he'd be with me in 40 minutes (and he was!) but did not bring his son Oisín (a useful and expert sheep-wrangler) and I do not currently have Liz on hand, so the job was down to the two of us. I was a bit concerned that we might have problems persuading the lambs across my yard and into the cattle race; they had never been there. They were as good as gold, following my rattled bucket of grub. Once in the race they were easy prey, with only a confined space and no place to run. We just needed to catch each one in turn, tag them and "weigh" them. There was also one I needed to 'dag'.

All legal now - yellow tags on the right ear.
Kenny let me tag one of them with the pliers. The two halves of the tag fit one into each 'mandible' of the pliers, then you crunch them together forcing the sharp point of the one half through the ear and into the socket of the back of the tag. You try to avoid any obvious blood vessels and the punch must sting them a bit (they jump!) but it is supposed to not hurt them much or for long. They certainly seemed OK and unconcerned very quickly after we did the damage.

The messy end, reasonably clean after
having been 'dagged'.
While we had them contained, Kenny gave me a quick master-class in assessing sheep 'condition' (as in fatness or readiness for slaughter). Push 4 fingers into the back of the lamb either side of the spine. If you can feel the spinal 'processes' sticking up like the knuckles of a tight-closed fist, then we are too thin - the spine needs to feel like the knuckles of an almost open hand. Probe with your fingers either side of the tail - you should not be able to feel any bone here. Push a hand into either side of the lamb just behind the ribs as if trying to make your fingers meet inside the lamb's abdomen. If you can't get in at all you are fat, of you can get a little way in you are 'middling' and, Kenny tells me, if the lamb is in very poor condition you can almost meet your fingers 'through' the lamb's body. All our lambs were declared 'mighty fine' and only days or a week or two away from being 'fit' (ready).

The young Buff-Orps out and about. They will hit 21 weeks
('point of lay' for many chickens) on about Christmas Day!
The official hi-tech way of weighing them today, though I will leave this to Kenny who is way younger, fitter and stronger than I am, was to lift them and declare "Ah... he's ready". Kenny grabs them around the chest from above and hefts them off the ground clutched to his own chest as a child might clumsily lift a younger brother or sister. They want to be about 8 stone he says. I'll take his word for it!

Mapp and Lucia at nearly 6 months.
The final job on the lambs was that I needed to 'dag' one. Dags, for the uninitiated, are the messy, poo-ey 'cling-ons' which dangle behind some sheep, where the poo has not cleared the wool and is all stuck in between the fibres, unable to fall to the ground. Dagging is a regular part of sheep husbandry but (I am told) applies much more to some breeds, such as Suffolk Downs, than others (Texel, Mules etc). They are not 'scouring' (having diarrhoea) in any unhealthy way, they just do loose 'stools'. This may only apply to lush Roscommon grazing, I do not wish to impugn the Suffolk Down breed in general, which may cope perfectly well on the Suffolk Downs.

I have 3 lambs this year who all produce, all the time, hard pellets of poo about the size of marbles which rain down harmlessly from bum to grass, leaving the lovely clean wool of the lamb's rear end pristine and clean. No 4 lamb however has a 'softer' approach to life and always has had, so his bum is always in a terrible state and while Kenny had him in a firm grip, I was able to get round him with a pair of scissors cutting away as much dag as I could. He must weigh a few kg less now but Kenny didn't re-weigh him, he just commented that it was me that had the shi**y hands because I was the 'rookie' sheep wrangler. Thanks, I think.

Bust 1.07 m. Nice one, Lucia!
Kenny then stayed around for a while chatting. He fancies a couple of our Buff Orpington 'hins' because one of the farm dogs has recently killed 2 of his own girls, so I'll do him a deal when we can sex them with any reliability. We were also talking about our sheep for next year, when we rather fancy getting into year-round sheep, so we might buy a couple of in-lamb mothers. That way we can be there for the lambing and then have the lambs right round to this time of year. The only issue with this is that breeding-age ewes as a going concern are way more expensive than store lambs for fattening, more like €180 than €85. Hmmmm.

Meanwhile, the pigs are fast approaching their 6 month birthday (10th Sept) and are looking a lot like they, too, are "fit". I measured them today and they have now both aligned their weights - they are both 1.22 m from between the ears to the base of the tail, and they have bust 1.07 m, so by the 'bust squared' method of estimating weights, we have reached 90.8 kg live weight. They also, to our rather novice eyes, look big enough; we just try to imagine what that shoulder joint would look like separated from the glossy, ginger-haired lively young porker who currently owns it. I will soon need to be a-visiting that butcher-man.


Anne Wilson said...

You're being very optimistic there Matt with the Buffs, being a heavy breed you are looking at 25 weeks onwards before they start to lay, 30 weeks + would not be unusual. Sudden though, you're not giving them layer feed are you? much to high in calcium, keep them on growers until at least 22 weeks. As the days are getting shorter you will probably get your first egg from them in February providing we don't have a bad winter.

Matt Care said...

Sorry there Anne. I was being very loose in my chicken-language. I was just happy with the coincidence that 21 weeks for these babies was Christmas Day. I was assuming that with that being the middle of winter we'd not actually get any eggs till spring time. And, no, these are still on the growers ration. I was going to move them on to my normal chicken mix of milled barley, whole wheat and layers (roughly 33/33/33%) once this big bag of growers is used up. Our fully grown Buff (and everyone else) seems to do OK on that and we get good eggs. Thanks, as ever, for your advice.