Yay! It actually worked for me. I’m not saying it’s a total breeze, but it is now actually feasible for me to trim hooves by myself with minimal stress!
Before, my “system” was to tie up the sheep in question and/or have someone hold them, and struggle to trim their hooves without cutting off my finger or putting out an eye while they bucked and kicked me. It was an exhausting, near-tears experience that left the sheep with poorly-trimmed hooves or left me calling the vet for a house call. It was really defeating, and I’d put off trimming way too long out of dread.
So my plan this year was to get a sheep deck chair from Premier, which promised one-man trimming, and that you could even leave the animal in it while you fetched stuff.
My animals vary dramatically in size, so I’m not confident about the last bit–I did leave Fudgy to clean the clippers and grab the camera, but she was way less squirmy than the boys. I think you’d be safe leaving an animal if you had the chair adjusted down for a nice, tight fit, but the design doesn’t make that overly easy, so I had to stay with them.
My plan leading up to the big day was to handle the sheep more and more, and to get them used to being tightly penned (I made a makeshift cattle panel gate I could close around the hay rack), so that the whole affair would be relatively stress-free for all of us. And it worked!
The chair works thusly: you catch an animal and back it into the chair, where it tumbles back and gets kind of stuck on its butt, much like when they’re being sheared. The upshot is that you don’t need skill or much strength to set them there. Well, you do need some strength–to get them in the chair, you really have to lift up their heads, or you can’t tump them in. And sheep have STRONG necks. They totally hunker down, lower their, heads, and dig in. But once you get their heads up, it’s not too hard. I suspect when I’m more experienced, I’ll do it so quick they won’t have time to hunker down.
Some of them just kind of gave up and drooped right away, making trimming easy. Others bucked and squirmed a bit. For the squirmy ones, I kind of stood in front of the chair with my back to them and brought the limb I was working on either between my arm and body (front legs) or between my legs (back legs), and leaned into them a bit to settle them down when they protested. It’s surprisingly hard on your lower back, though, especially with the bigger animals. Once they relax, you can just pull up a chair and you’re all set, but the feisty ones can be harsh. I don’t think I had the chair at the optimal angle, but the only thing I had to hook it over was my gate. The top bar was a bit too high, I thought, and the next one a bit too low, so I went for the lower one, and it seemed to work out.
The day before trimming day, I skipped their evening hay so their bellies would be empty the next day, just like on shearing day. Then when it was time to trim, I gave them a couple flakes to gather them up, penned them, and got to work. I wore tight kid gloves to protect my hands but not hinder my dexterity.
I realized pretty quickly that two animals a day would be my limit. It’s way easier than before, but I’m still slow and inexperienced, so halfway through sheep #3, I started to wear out and get frustrated and they started to get brattier, maybe because they’d had time to get a little food in their stomachs.
The first day, I trimmed Agnes and Ronnie, plus the wool around Ronnie’s eyes, and I started on Hokey Pokey. The next day, I breezed through Fudgy and Mr. Shivers, then stupidly forgot my own rule and tried to squeeze in Uncle Honebunch as well, which was a mistake.
For one, the chair really should be adjusted down for the smaller sheep. I got lucky with Mr. Shivers. I was very careful to keep his feet up out of the mesh, but it was a struggle. With Uncle Honeybunch, I was tired already from restraining Mr. Shivers, and Honeybunch kept getting his feet through the webbing–a couple of times he got so tangled so quickly that I almost freaked out. Ultimately, I gave up and tumped him out. Then, forgetting my 2-sheep daily limit yet again, I got Jayne into the chair and realized almost immediately I wasn’t up to it, and so I tumped him right back out, too.
The shortfall of the chair is that it’s not quickly adjustable. To make it narrower, you have to loosen a bunch of nuts, which means 1) tools; 2) time; and 3) the potential to loose a screw or a nut in the straw. A better design would be some kind of quick-release clamp. I assume these chairs are designed for large flocks of same-sized animals, but even in large flocks, there would be runts and lambs. They’ve made improvements to the design in the past, and hopefully they’ll continue in the future.
My solution was to slip a fleece bag over the webbing. While the chair was still too wide, the Shetlands are small enough to restrain without too much trouble. Holding them still was much less of an issue than avoiding crippling them from tangled limbs. Of course, my thin fleece bag got shredded in short order, but it lasted long enough to do the job. Next time, I’ll make a sturdy denim cover.
This morning, I zipped through Uncle Honeybunch then pulled the cover back off and finished Hokey Pokey (who also got a nice haircut–well, on one side, anyway) and then a very indignant Jayne.
I’m still a bit tentative, but I decided to trim to my comfort level, instead of being aggressive and risking drawing blood. It’s so soggy out right now, and I don’t want to open anyone to infection. I definitely waited too long on a few of them–I’ve got a few splits and breaks, but everything looks normal, and I think with the more frequent trimming the chair will facilitate, I’ll have their hooves in great shape again by spring.