Most of you have likely heard the urban legend about cow tipping — knocking over cows who are asleep on their feet. My sheep tipping is something else entirely. We tip our sheep for a variety of reasons, but the most common is when we trim their hooves, as we did this past weekend in our ewe flock. Others may use a special table constructed for just this purpose (the sheep walk into the contraption, and by closing a gate and pulling a lever, the shepherd has the sheep on its side at table height with four legs sticking out), but the “tilt table” costs hundreds, and we only trim hooves once each year. It hardly seems worth the cost. There are a number of ways to get to our sheep’s feet, but the easiest for us is to tip them.
The process for tipping a sheep is fairly straightforward:
1.The ‘holder’ holds the sheep in place with one hand under the chin and the second hand firmly behind the head.
2. The ‘tipper’ sits on the ground at one side of the sheep. If you are working on a slope, the tipper should be downhill from the sheep to make the sheep more comfortable once tipped.
3. The tipper places both hands underneath the sheep’s belly and firmly grips the far legs.
4. In one smooth motion, the sheep tipper pushes against the body of the sheep with their head or shoulders while pulling both far legs forward. This will cause the sheep to tip onto its side with all four legs toward the tipper. The sheep has been tipped!
The person trimming the hooves is usually the person who tips the sheep. The person holding the sheep generally follows the sheep to the ground and then holds the head and neck firmly against the ground while lifting up on one of the bottom legs to keep the sheep from struggling. If this is done properly, the sheep will relax and allow the tipper to trim the hooves. This past weekend, we trimmed the hooves of 40 ewes — 160 hooves, in all — in about two hours! We had six people working in teams of two, and by lunchtime, all of the ewes were sporting new pedicures! Another big job completed.