I have been meaning to figure out how to draw a blood sample for a while. It seems like a useful thing to be able to do. If I could do it myself, and not have to pay a vet farm call, it might be worth considering starting to test for OPPV. Originally I thought maybe when I had a vet farm call, I’d ask the vet to show me how to do it. But that hasn’t happened conveniently in recent history. So here I am, wanting to do a blood draw, with no other reason to call a vet, and no vet nearby who will take an in-clinic call.

This dark brown ewe (pictured as a lamb) has me fooled with her pregnancy status. I bred her to my 2010-born buck, Lefty, and he’s not too experienced. The older, knowledgeable rams definitely cover, and re-cover and re-cover the ewes, leaving a really, really good and unmistakable crayon mark behind. Winking smile But Lefty may not have been quite as persistent, or skilled, or both in his first year of learning the ropes of being a stud. That, combined with this ewe’s dark coat, may mean that she was bred, but just not marked. She has a good pedigree, so I hope she’s pregnant. And I bet she is.

On the other hand, if she never went into heat or didn’t conceive and isn’t pregnant by now (having been running with rams since November) she can’t stay. This is not a vacation home for unproductive ruminants. And there is plenty of room in the freezer. Winking smileI wanted to run a blood test on her to see, using Biotracking’s pregnancy check. So I endeavored to figure out how to draw blood myself.

I figured it can’t be that hard, right? We’ve all watched doctors and vets draw blood dozens of times. I found these great instructions, which make it seem pretty straightforward. The most confusing part was knowing what equipment to order for drawing blood. A lot of websites sell the stuff, but assume you know the terminology. I thought it might seem suspicious if I called and asked, hey, what kind of equipment do I need to take a blood sample off somebody or something? Winking smile

So I was glad that Biotracking just sends you a kit. Now that I see the setup, it’s obvious: there is a large-bore needle with a threaded plastic end, and a second needle pointing in the opposite direction past the threads. This screws onto a needle “holder.” Then a vacuum tube slides into the holder. When the needle is in the vein, you shove the blood vial all the way into the holder, the needle punches through the rubber top, and the vacuum helps the vial quickly fill with blood. The holder can be re-used, because only the needle and vial ever contact the blood. The equipment is inexpensive, here is a site with good pictures, now that I know what I’m looking for. Depending on what type of test  for which you’re drawing blood, they will tell you whether to use purple or red top tubes, the most commonly used ones.

So, I shaved the ewe’s neck with a cheap-o drugstore cordless beard trimmer, eyeballing down from the middle of her eye, as instructions said. Nappy winter Katahdin hair is hard to shave, so I only did a very small patch. I cleaned it with iodine.


This part is easy. Putting your thumb on the neck to watch the vein “pop” is easy. The vein is wide as a truck. But the hardest part is keeping the sheep still! Ok, poor girl, she was my lab rat, and I had to stick her multiple times. The first attempt, I shoved the blood vial on too quickly. I probably wiggled the needle, it probably hurt, she moved, the needle popped out, and the blood tube lost its vacuum. This entails starting with a new vial. I had only brought one down to the field. Darn. But there was definitely blood, so I know I had the vein. I was running out of daylight, so I postponed for another day.

Yesterday, it went much better. At first she was still wiggling too much and I wasted another blood tube. The needle hurts a bit, believe me I know, from having blood drawn many times myself. I realized that standing over her and trying to hold her head still with my left hand was just not going to work. So I laid her down like I do when I trim their hooves. I knelt down, twisted her head over my left knee, and this was a good position to keep her calm and still, and give me room to use my right hand to manipulate the needle and vial.

Success! The tube fills almost instantaneously from the vacuum and hitting the sweet spot in the vein. I remembered to pull the tube off before extracting the needle. And with that, I had my blood sample, in the fridge, next to the beer and beef soup! Open-mouthed smileThe ewe got her own private bucket of grain as a reward for being such a patient Guinea pig.


I sent it off today via Priority Mail. Apparently for this test, the blood can be quite old and still viable for the test- I think the person I talked to said they can still work with it even if it gets “lost in the mail” for several weeks. So no need to enclose ice packs or send it overnight.

So, that was my first blood draw- it’s not too bad! Now here’s hoping she’s pregnant!