We had scheduled the hoof-trimming extravaganza for our ewes on either Friday or Saturday, depending on weather. We had help lined up for either day, so we kept watching the weather forecast to see which would be our best bet. On Sunday, the forecast called for a small chance of rain on Friday and again on Saturday; but by Monday, the rain had moved to the weekend, leaving Friday partly cloudy.
All week long, the forecast stayed the same — somewhat unusual for Eastern Iowa — with rain on Saturday and Sunday, but only partly cloudy on Friday. By Wednesday, we made the decision and contacted all of our help: it would be Friday, which looked cool (in the 70’s) and cloudy but dry.
We usually like to have three teams of three workers for a total of nine, but this year we decided to go ahead with only six: three teams of two, with one person to catch and hold while the other trimmed. With a total of forty-five ewes and four hooves per girl, we had a total of 180 hooves that needed attention. Each of the three teams would trim the hooves of about fifteen ewes — and that’s about my limit before I find myself with a hand full of blisters!
The crew was here just about right on time. We loaded up the truck and headed out to the ewes grazing in the Timber. Although the ewes were ready to be moved, the Timber provided us with lots of space in which to drop them, so we decided not to move them until after we finished. We started at about 10:30 with the girls easiest to catch. My dog, Coda, brought the girls to the corner of the pasture and held them there. Each team then caught a ewe, flipped her down onto the ground, and the “holder” held her in place while the “trimmer” trimmed.
Holding sounds like an easy task, but I think trimming is probably easier — although more dangerous! The holder must hold the ewe in a specific way to keep her from struggling. If that person holds one of her bottom legs up off the ground and her neck tightly to the ground, the ewe will generally not try to squirm or get free. She usually just gives up and lets us provide the needed pedicure. If, however, the holder eases the pressure on the side of the neck or lets go of that leg, all four hooves generally begin to thrash, and the trimmer sitting in the midst of those hooves gets a kicking they won’t soon forget! It has taken Rick years to get the hang of holding, but this year he had it down pat! We had only one girl who tried her luck, and that was simply because we weren’t in position yet!
While the holder holds, the trimmer moves from one hoof to the next, trimming all of the edges that are obviously too long. The white sheep generally have much longer hooves than the colored sheep, but they all usually need a bit of a trim at least once per year. Sometimes the sidewall of the hoof folds over, so you need to trim that back. Other times the tip gets so long that it begins to curl up and look like elf-shoes — those get cut back too, so the hoof stands straight down onto the ground. It is much easier to learn by doing than by telling, so we usually have at least one first-time shepherd among our group of helpers each year.
Our helpers this year came from far and wide. I had one mother/daughter team from nearby who had bought a starter flock this year and wanted experience in trimming hooves. Since I had told them some time ago that the best experience comes from actually doing it, they had volunteered to come and help out. They learned quickly and were a BIG help! They should have no problems trimming their own flock’s hooves next year when they will need it!
My friend, Melissa of Oak Creek Farm in Norwalk, IA, also came to help us trim. I paired her up with our regular helper, Jacob, and the two were amazing! Since both of them are experienced in catching sheep and trimming hooves, they were a force to be reckoned with! Jacob was catching sheep as they bounded by, and Melissa was trimming at record speed! Our biggest issue was catching sheep fast enough to keep everybody busy!
Of course as soon as we finished the first three ewes, the gray clouds began to sprinkle on us. I figured that it wouldn’t last long because there was no rain predicted for the day. The sprinkle soon turned into a steady rain, but everyone agreed that they would rather work in cooler rainy weather than in hot, humid summer weather, so we pushed on. I was a bit concerned when the steady rain turned into a full-blown thunderstorm, but when I turned to the teams, they voted to finish up! We continued to work as we became fully soaked with rain.
We finished in record time: just over two hours for forty-five ewes. When we finished, we were all soaked to the skin, and it was still pouring! So much for the weather forecast of no rain until Saturday! As we left, we moved the ewes into new pasture and headed for home, thankful to have this very big job finished for another year! A HUGE thanks to all who helped us out. Without you, we would have been trimming hooves during all of our “spare” time for a full week! Thank you, thank you!