A clip in time

Sheep being brought into the pen for foot trimming and dagging

"A little off the back and a pedicure, please."

I wish I thought that The Girls enjoy dagging and trimming. It would be lovely to think that when they skipped into the pen on Saturday afternoon they were fuelled by happy anticipation, rather than pursued by a wolf (well, Carew).

Dagging or trimming dirty wool from a sheep using Jakoti shears
Dagging sheep can be a mucky task, but like everything else, it's not so daunting if you keep on top of it

With the new spring grass coming through I'm afraid our merry band of ewes are over-indulging, and who can blame them after the long, lean winter months.

Of course, compared with sheep who winter out on the hills and mountains our sheep live in the lap of sheltered luxury, but I doubt they ever feel their advantage. However, they certainly earn their keep by participating (shall we call it?) in training days and in training our own dogs, so it's only fair that we do our bit to keep them healthy.

Sheep don't demand much management; other than annual shearing they need regular worming, foot trimming and dagging.

Away from sheep and sheep dogs, Andy and I have a sedate hobby that's better suited to people of A Certain Age - we collect postcards and photographs (all indoor work, with no heavy lifting). That's how I spotted this card, which I love partly as an image of unity and teamwork.

Sheep management - a Breton couple shearing a sheep in the street
This photo asks more questions that it answers, but you have to admire the finish!

This industrious Breton couple appear to be using nail scissors, and may be a trifle over-dressed, but they're making a very neat job of that sheep.

Before Andy's daughter, Ruth, and her partner volunteered to do our shearing this could have been Andy and me on a summer afternoon, but I don't think our sheep were so relaxed.

Although it seems that running the sheep regularly helps to prevent fly strike and maggots (ugh) the sheep still need dagging from time to time, and dagging doesn't come into Ruth's remit.

For the blissfully uninitiated dagging involves removing soiled (usually green) fleece from the back legs and tail, where it provides just the sort of warm, damp and protected environment that flies and maggots love. It's usually necessary when the sheep take advantage of the spring grass, and the spring grass takes effect.

It's not a particularly pleasant task, but Andy and I are a partnership so we divide the effort. I buy the shears and Andy does the dagging. It's an arrangement that works - especially for me.

With the interests of our discerning clientele in mind, and after a recommendation, I bought a pair of Jakoti shears to see if they'd make the job any easier. What a great investment! Designed more like a pair of scissors than the traditional dagging shears they made the procedure much quicker, more precise and much tidier.

Apparently the only downside is that they're a bit small for Andy's hands and they pinch him. They'd be ideally suited to my smaller hands but, never mind: I'm sure Andy will get used to it.

Sheep management - Foot trimming a sheep using clippers
"No foot - no sheep" and no training either, of course

Incidentally we're NOT sponsored by Jakoti (but if there's anyone out there reading this...)

If sheep can't get maggots then their next line of attack will be lameness, which means we can't use them for dog training.

This is usually easily remedied or, better still, avoided entirely by foot trimming.

Sheep's feet are very interesting; the horn grows down and turns under the foot so that soil and grit can get trapped against the sole. It's very satisfying to take a lame sheep, trim away the overgrown horn (despite her protestations) and then see her trot away afterwards knowing how much better she must feel. Or so I'm told.

If you're thinking of shearing, the British Wool Marketing Board organises shearing courses or, for an introduction, First Steps in Shearing DVD is available from the online DVD shop.

And for a detailed look at the "whys, whens and hows" of foot trimming, plus some uncomfortable (but fascinating) photographs to warn you of exactly what you're looking out for, NADIS has an excellent page Sheep foot trimming from the National Animal Disease Information Service.

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