Monday, May 23, 2011

Seeing Eye Sheep and Seeing Eye Goats for a Blind Horse

Most people are well aware of seeing eye dogs, a dog that guides a blind person. A few people are aware of some seeing eye horses, these being horses that are trained to act as guides for a blind person.

You probably are not aware of seeing eye sheep and goats that act as guides for a blind horse. Apparently a quarter horse mare, named Sissy, has 10 companions who act as seeing eye animals. These consist of sheep and goats who act as guide animals for the 15 year old grey mare (horses can live into their early 20's, but are often sent to slaughter or euthanized in their teens).

The goats and sheep stand between Sissy and the fence to stop her from walking into it, they herd her (presumably with their vocalizations) towards hay, and water, allowing her to feed equally. They even direct her to shelter when it is needed. This all makes perfect sense when one understands that horses, goats, and sheep, are all herd animals. Having a large horse actually helps the smaller animals in coyotes are less likely to attack small animals when a larger (particularly taller) animal is with them.

Sissy and companion seeing eye Goat - photo from Reuters

Sissy and her farmyard pals are currently living in Deer Haven Ranch, a 300 acre rescue and retirement home for unwanted animals located in Montana.

Other Reading

Saturday, May 14, 2011

There's a Pig in the Yard

The other morning as my daughter was getting ready for school we noticed one of the cats looking keenly at something. I went to the window but couldn't see what it was so we figured it was just birds. Twenty minutes later and my daughter heads off to catch the school bus, but something is wrong, and I hear her calling me. I worry that something happened to one of the sheep, or perhaps there is a fox in the yard.

When I open the door to see what caused the commotion, my daughter calls to me “There is a Pig in the yard!”. I put on my boots and rush outside to see a male potbelly pig running up and down the fence line trying to get into the pasture with the sheep, who were well back from the fence.

The donkey, Aggie, and the llama, Crystal, were also standing well back, confused by this strange animal. I was a little disappointed that neither one of these “guard animals” was trying to chase the pig away.

My daughter said the pig has been running at the neighbors and they knew who owned it, so I called them. Apparently they had informed the owner, but the pig's owner had not come for it so they were very happy to keep it, as they have another pet pig too. So we proceeded to try to chase the boar (male pig) to the neighbor's home, about ¾ of a mile away.

All was going well until a car came down the road and the potbelly pig ran into the forest. I tried to find him but those things are fast and soon was too far into the forest to see or hear. Hopefully he found his own way out of the woods and back to the sow (female pig) at the other farm.

We have never kept pot bellied pigs, or any pigs in fact, as pets, but here is a link you can read to learn more about Pot Bellied Pigs as Pets.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Weaning Lambs

Weaning lambs can be difficult and stressful.  We just weaned our last lambs yesterday, and were kept awake most of the night by the ewes baaing.  If you own sheep and are approaching weaning time here are some tips to make it easier on you, the lambs, and the ewes.

The earliest you can wean lambs (the act of separating ewes and lambs) is 2 months old provided you give extra feed to the lambs and watch them closely.  Three months is preferred, and you should certainly wean the ram lambs before four months of age.  Ewes will wean the lambs on their own between three and five months of age, but ram lambs will be sexually mature at five months of age and may try to breed their mothers and other ewes.

The easiest way of lambing, is to sell (or remove) some lambs from the ewes that had multiples.  In other words, if a ewe had twins, or triplets, selling (or removing) one before the others is great.  This reduces the stress on her, in that she is not losing all lambs at the same time, and gives her some relief in that she is not feeding so many lambs.

When lambs are removed it is best if they are sold, or taken to where the ewe and lamb cannot hear each other, or they will try to reconnect and could get hurt running through fences.  If you cannot do this then you may need to put the lambs in the barn for a few days to allow the ewes to dry up.  They will be safer in the barn than running around crashing through fences.

If you have ram lambs with horns those should ideally be the first as their horns will be painful on the ewe's udder.

You can imagine how glad the mother of this little guy was to have him weaned.  Pictured here at three months, this is a Jacob sheep, ram lamb.

When removing the last lambs be sure to watch the ewe's closely to make sure their udder dries up.  If you were feeding the ewes grain, this should be reduced one day prior to weaning to help the ewe dry up.

Further Reading

Why Farmers Take Baby Animals Away from their Mothers

How to Care for Bottle Fed Lambs

*This information would also apply to weaning goat kids.