So, continuing on Friday’s post, I still have two ewes here who need to go to northern California, and my friend Melissa and I have three ram lambs who need to be brought from California to Iowa. Our transport plans for this past weekend fell through because a couple of the ram lambs had come down with summer pneumonia, so Melissa (who had taken vacation time from her day job to make the trip) and I found ourselves with about a week’s worth of extra time on our hands — and no transportation for our sheep!
Since I want to put the California Romney ram lamb (named O’Connor) into a breeding group this fall, he needs to arrive here a few weeks prior to breeding in order to settle in. That leaves us with little time to make alternate plans! After quickly conferring with Rick, we decided that the best alternative was to provide our own transportation for the sheep. Since I had never been on a cross-country drive to California, we decided that we would take our time and see some of the sights, combining vacation with business.
This entire situation proves that when working to transport sheep, one must be flexible. You never know until a sheep is actually loaded that it will be part of the planned trip. Illnesses and deaths happen in the best of flocks. Plans change. Yet animals need to be moved. The entire process of setting up a transport is much more involved than most people realize, until they have to do it for themselves.
First of all, a person usually runs a transport between two points because they, themselves, either need to pick up or drop off one or more sheep — or both, as in our case. The willingness to open the transport to carry other sheep is usually made to recoup some of the costs of the trip. If you are already moving one or two sheep, it costs less per animal if you add at least a few more to the load. The problem is that most people rightfully want to know how much transport will cost before they commit — if it is too costly, they will choose not to participate On the other hand, if the quoted price is too low (as happens when some of the planned sheep are pulled from the transport plan at the last minute), the transporter ends up paying a bulk of the expenses, even though they are also doing all of the work.
Once you set a price as the transporter, you still don’t know for sure how many animals will eventually be part of the transport. If one of the sheep being moved dies before you load it, you can’t very well charge the person for that sheep — yet your per-animal price has gone up on the remaining sheep. If you spread those additional expenses across the remaining animals by raising everyone’s transport cost, other people may then drop out, creating even more complications.
Another consideration in transporting sheep is that they can be carriers of disease without displaying any symptoms. Although all sheep must be inspected for health before they can cross state lines, the inspections can sometimes be fairly cursory, depending on the veterinarian. There are several sheep diseases that are spread in close confinement, and the last thing you want as a transporter is to deliver sheep that are no longer healthy! For us, that means limiting the sheep we move in our truck or trailer to flocks that we know are free of these diseases, either because they test for them or because I have experience with those flocks and have tested or monitored animals I’ve purchased from them in the past.
Keep in mind that animals in transport are already stressed by being in an unusual environment with strange noises and scents. This can weaken them and make them more susceptible to illness. We try to minimize this by setting up the truck or trailer as a home-away-from-home to simulate a more normal situation. We provide water and hay 24/7 and our usual straw bedding underfoot. Moving a solitary sheep can be stressful for the animal, so we’ll often bring along a couple of “friends” (often a couple of our meat lambs who make the round trip and keep the delivery sheep company). Or we may plan our route so that we don’t end up with a solitary sheep as the last delivery. So far, we’ve been able to avoid having to move a lone sheep for more than a short trip of 20 minutes or less.
A road trip to California was not in the plan for us this year, yet our flexibility in being able to take some vacation time later this month will allow us to move five sheep where they need to go — and to bring home O’Connor so he can have a breeding group this fall! It isn’t the way we had planned this transport, but as the days pass since the alternative decision was made, I admit that I’m beginning to look forward to the new sights and experiences that will surely be part of this transport. I’m sure you will hear more about it in the weeks to come!