As you enjoy the countryside this spring, if you see a sheep on its back, you might be able to save its life!
I learned something this weekend, when enjoying a spring walk around Rutland Water. As my wife and I walked back through a field of sheep and their newborn lambs we saw what we thought was a dead sheep lying on her back.
It was sad to see, but actually it was quite implausible too! We had already walked through the same field only an hour before and there was no dead sheep then. We thought, therefore, that it may have been recently attacked, so we approached it to see if it might still be alive despite it not moving.
(I did not photograph the poor sheep in its moment of need. This is an image from http://www.400smilesaday.co.uk/)
On seeing me approach, it began moving. It started to flail its legs, but it wasn't getting up and was struggling to breathe. With no idea of who we could call we decided to do a quick google search on our mobiles.
We googled "sheep lying on back" and the information we found allowed us to save the sheep's life.
Act Fast - the Sheep is in Trouble!
It turns out that pregnant sheep are quite susceptible to falling on their backs (or becoming "cast" as it is called) as the extra weight makes them top-heavy. When this happens they cannot get back up.
What's worse, it could be on a countdown to suffocation. Grass fermenting in its stomach produces gas, and if the sheep is on its back the gas can't escape.
As the gas builds up in the sheep's stomach it causes pressure on the lungs, eventually preventing it from breathing.
The Farmers' Union of Wales (FUW) advises members of the public not to approach sheep or other livestock as it might cause them stress, but to find a farmer instead.
If you cannot find a farmer, however, this is how to save a fallen sheep's life (at your own risk, of course)...
How to Save a Sheep's Life
- Move up to her from one side, crouch low and (if you're soppy like me) speak to her in a calming voice as you approach.
- When close, be careful of her legs. She'll likely be kicking out in a last attempt to right herself. I gave her a gentle stroke to reassure her that I wasn't a threat.
- Take hold of the nearest front and back leg, then simply roll the sheep away from yourself onto her side
- Hopefully, the sheep will, as if by magic, get up and walk away from you. Be careful not to get kicked or butted.
- Stick around for a short while to ensure the sheep doesn't fall over again. Depending on how long the sheep has been in this position she may be a little wobbly and risks falling again.
The result was amazing. Not only did the sheep instantly recover from what looked like certain doom, but she began calling out to her lamb, who came running back to her. It was a beautiful moment to part of!
(Our recently saved sheep back upright and reunited with her little lamb. That look in her eye is us sharing "a moment")
Needless to say that my story went down well when telling it to anyone who would listen the next day. A couple of friends, who also fancy themselves as nature lovers, told me they had no idea that this was a thing either, so I've been encouraged to share my knowledge. I hope this helps save even more sheep in need.
Special thanks has to go out to Andy Nickless from theworkingsheepdog.com/ who posted the original information in this helpful Youtube tutorial. Thanks Nick.