Friday, 1 July 2011

Ear tags for maggots

One evening this week I was shearing until midnight by the headlights of a Land Rover.  It’s a case of trying to catch up after all the wet weather.  Shearing by headlights is an interesting experience.  Depending on which position I was in, I was either being dazzled or I was in shadow and couldn’t see much.  I wonder if it is possible to shear a sheep blindfolded?  So much of the job is about touch and the feel of the sheep.  Much of the time you are pushing the handpiece in blind because all the wool is in the way and you have to trust the pattern and shove the handpiece in.  When I first started I was afraid to push the handpiece into the wool in case I ran into a bit of sheep and cut the animal but the shearing pattern is designed to mould around the body of the sheep while avoiding the danger zones.  Anyway, I don’t think I’ll be attempting any blindfolded shearing just yet.  

The main advantage of shearing in the dark is not having a clear view of the maggots on the sheep with flystrike.  I have seen flystrike many times but never sheared a sheep myself which had fly.  This week I sheared two in a row.  As soon as I pulled the sheep out of the pen I knew she had fly by the smell, I could also see, despite the lack of light, dark stains in her fleece.  I called out to alert the owner then started shearing cautiously.  Flystrike is a terrible thing.  Flies lay their eggs in the fleece of the sheep, the eggs hatch into maggots and the maggots eat the sheep alive.  If not treated, flystrike will kill an adult sheep in a few days.  This poor girl had staining running down from her flank to her hind leg and belly.  I got the belly wool off, the belly was clear.  I started up the hind leg and discovered the first wound.  Part of me wanted to get someone else to shear the sheep but I knew if I am serious about learning to shear this was one unpleasant experience I had to go through.  

Shearing must be painful for a sheep with flystrike but removing the fleece destroys the maggots’ habitat and is an essential part of treating the affliction.  I knew I needed to get the wool off as close to the skin as possible to leave the maggots no where to hide but this meant running the handpiece right over the wounds, I was as gentle as possible.  Once the fleece was off I could see the sheep had fairly extensive but shallow damage.  If it’s not caught in time the maggots will bore deep holes in the animal.  I held the sheep and the owner applied Crovect.  Crovect is a wonderful blue liquid you pour or spray onto the sheep, it has an instant affect, killing the maggots immediately.  Fortunately I couldn’t see too much in the dark, just a general wriggling.  I’m confident the two sheep I sheared which had flystrike will recover, they were treated in time.

When we finished the job and were packing up, I saw my shearing board had a generous scattering of confused maggots wandering round wondering where their meal had gone.  The shearing board was coming with us and I really didn’t like the idea of any lingerers ending up in the trailer.  But black humour helps in these situations.  In this country the movement of livestock is strictly controlled, sheep have to wear ear tags showing both their flock number and an individual number so the animal is traceable wherever it goes, sheep also cannot be moved off the farm without accompanying paperwork.  Pointing to the maggots on my board I asked, ‘What about these?  Are they coming with us?  Shall I ear tag them?’      


  1. Really, I had no idea.
    Having just had maggots around the rim of the garbage can, how did you keep yourself from jumping back?

  2. I can't say it's something I've got used to, I still find the maggots repulsive but once you've seen quite a few cases of flystrike it's not a surprise any more. Still makes me feel queasy sometimes. My main concern was for the sheep.