Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Shepherd tools

ATVs and UTVs are widely used on the Premier farms. Aside from shepherds, what do they carry?

When we go out to the fields, there are 5 main items we carry—

1. A shepherd's crook

Why use a crook?

Because most sheep and goats are quicker than we are. They have 4 legs, hooves for traction, peripheral vision, speed and a keen sense of when “something’s up”. That’s why it’s so easy for them to avoid capture (or guidance) by humans.

A good crook improves the odds by suddenly making your arms much longer—even if the passing years may have reduced your agility a bit.

About crooks…

  1. Once you figure out how useful they are, it’s hard to herd sheep/goats without a crook in your hand. But if you have just one, it’s rarely where you need it. So we have several—in the barns, on the ATV and by our handling yard.
  2. Crooks don’t last. It’s the nature of their usage that, over time, they bend or break. That’s the bad news. The good news is that they are much less expensive from Premier than they were 5 years ago (except for the wooden ones), so they’re less painful to replace.

Premier crook tips… 

  1. To catch sheep and lambs with a neck crook—Once the neck is inside the loop, instantly rotate the crook with your wrist. This applies pressure to both sides of the neck and gives you an extra second or two to pull the animal into reach of your hands.
  2. To catch a ewe with newborn lambs on the pasture—First catch the lambs and hold onto them with one hand. Then lay a leg crook between the lambs and ewe with the leg head toward the ewe. The ewe will likely face her lambs. Encourage the ewe ever closer. When the ewe’s front foot is near, instantly raise the crook and snare her front leg.
  3. The best crook for hair sheep? Both neck and leg crooks work, as the neck and leg sizes are much the same as wooled breeds.
  4. Why leg crooks for goats? 

  • Because goats prefer to face you—so to catch them it works best to snag a front foot. 

  • A goat’s agility, slim neck and lack of wool mean that neck crooks usually fail to hold a goat.

2. Fence tester

The cup holders on Premier vehicles usually not used for their intended purpose. More often than not, they're holding a fence tester instead of a beverage. After all, a fence tester is much more useful than an empty coffee cup. 

If you have fence, you need a fence tester. There are many innovative ways to test a fence, but nothing beats a quality fence tester.

We're in the habit of constantly checking fence. If fence is moved/built, it's checked. If sheep are moved, it's checked. If we drive through a gate attached to a fence we check the voltage. If we see a fence, we check. Our motto is more or less "leave no fence unchecked." By monitoring the voltage we know what it should be. A sudden drop means there is a problem and we fix it.  

Common voltmeter mistakes

  1. Not buying a good one. I know we sell 5-light testers—but a true digital voltmeter is far more accurate and informative when searching for fence problems. 
  2. Not using it. Many folks wait for animals to tell them (by escaping) when the fence voltage is too low.
  3. Allowing your tester or voltmeter to shock you. Don’t grab the ground probe while the tester is still on the fence. When you’ve finished testing your fence, remove the tester from the “live” wire first. Then, and only then, pull the ground probe out of the soil. 

3. PowerLink

It was mentioned that the cup holders contain fence testers. In the cases of glove boxes, beneath seats and hidden storage areas, PowerLinks reign supreme. If you lifted the seat on our UTV, you would find a PowerLink colony.

Each time we put up fence we use a PowerLink. It connects the newly installed fence to the permanent (and energized) fence. The fences that need PowerLinks are temporary, thus a permanent connection is not needed. A very useful tool.

4. Hoof Trimmer

If a vehicle has two cup holders, the first holds a fence tester and the second holds a pair of hoof trimmers.

The difference between an animal with a limp and one without a limp is often an overgrown hoof. The remedy—catch the animal with your handy dandy crook and trim their hoof. Check for general hoof health and if further treatment is needed (for scald/rot) bring the animal in and treat. More often than not, once the hoof is trimmed, the animal's gait returns to normal.

They're also used to prune pesky branches/bushes that are growing a little too close to our electric fences. A quick snip reduces electrical drain on our fences and gives us peace of mind.

5. Snap Link(s)

If we totaled the quantity of snap links in use on our farm and compared it to the number of snap links in stock in the warehouse, the farm would win—handily. Often there is a string of 3-8 of them hanging off of a panel in one of our barns in case they need to be used. They populate the bottoms of the cup holders as well. Our shepherd Mike usually has one or two in his pocket. I'm pretty sure he uses them throughout the day then has to refill his pockets when he comes to work in the morning.

Their uses? Impromptu hinges for connecting panels to handling equipment with a linking stake, on big bale feeders, connecting panels for field entrances and for lambing jugs.

Honorable mentions—

Encouraging goats across a concrete creek crossing.