I don’t know why it took me this long to start using marking sticks on my sheep. I’ve always known they existed, but before didn’t see an application for me. This year, for some reason, it dawned on me how useful they are. You see, whenever I do any kind of of operation on the sheep, like hoof trimming, blood sampling, de-worming vaccinating, I do a gate-sort to keep track of which sheep are done. Simple enough: use the dogs to pack the sheep into a corner. Vaccinate a ewe, kick her out the gate, into the “done” side, move onto the next sheep.

imageWith ten or twenty sheep, this works great. But, I’m starting to pass the threshold in numbers where his is hard to do. The sheep sometimes pack too tightly against the gate, making it a struggle to open and get a sheep through it. If I’m hoof trimming, I need to work on the sheep that are on the outside of the group, where there is room. That means struggling to get that sheep to the gate when I’m done. And, the sheep are wise to this routine, and highly motivated to get through that gate into the “done” side, away from dogs and vaccine needles. So, sometimes a not-done sheep will slip through. Then I have to try to rapidly spot which sheep it is, as she’s on the run, then send the dog to retrieve that group, and recover from the error. This takes time, and is undesirable extra running for he sheep and the dogs.

Enter the marking crayon. Vaccinate a ewe, make a mark on her, move on. I just work through the mob as they’re standing there in the corner. When it looks like I’ve done them all, then I do a gate sort to double-check, and pick up any missed ones. If someone is helping me trim hooves, we can each mark the ones we’ve done. This small change in routine has made processing sheep go so much faster. Someday, I’ll build a cool handling chute system to help with some of this work. But in the meantime, the crayon works great!

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