Our friend Sally (Simon W’s sister, Mike) used to have a small flock of sheep. She had been brought up on a farm and it was her link to a life she’d enjoyed. We had a field going spare and, for a few summers, the two (flock and field) were put together.
Chester’s first surprise was the electric fence. He was so shocked – though not at all hurt – that, after a couple of attempts he kept well away. However, one day we went on to the field – I think it was to group the sheep into a smaller area ready for the shearers – and I took him with me so that he would have a chance to be with the sheep and get used to them.
He thought it was great fun when they ran away when he moved towards them and started to chase some lambs. Before I could call him back, one of the ewes moved in, stopped in front of him and looked at him. He halted. And, within a minute, that ewe had, by the power of her look, literally backed him into the corner of the field. He’d glanced at me for support, but saw it wasn’t forthcoming and he went into the corner and sat down. She looked again. He lay down. A few minutes later, I called him towards me and he got up – and the sheep shot a look and he lay right back down again. When I finally went over to fetch him he came with me, but kept close to me for protection.
They were feisty sheep, full of character. The most characterful of them all was called Longlegs, because – well, work it out. She was the only one there with a long tail, too. Usually, a rubber band is put on a lamb’s tail and, as it grows up, the blood supply is cut off and it withers and falls off. Yes, I know, sorry. But sheep are inclined to get any sort of ailment under the sun, including fly strike, and a tail hanging down is more likely to have crevices where the flies can lay … okay, that’s enough of that. Anyway, Longlegs, even as a lamb, had managed to avoid the rubber band. She was too independent to be a leader – egregious, you might call her (outside the flock, if the faint remains of my Latin don’t play me false). They were not afraid of dogs and Chester learned manners from that particular sheep (which didn’t have a name, only Longlegs did).
At the end of the summer, Sally took the sheep off to her own paddock and the electric fence was taken down, and Chester had the run of the field again. Unfortunately, sheep don’t only get footrot, black udder and fly strike. They also attract ticks, and there were thousands of them in the grass, all waiting to climb on to Chester.
I can dispel a few myths. There’s no point in using a burning cigarette or a hot match to kill them. Apart from it scaring the dog and leaving little holes in his fur, the tick is still there, clinging to the skin. It doesn’t let go. Meths doesn’t make it let go. I bought a spray of tickicide from the vet. The sudden puff of icy vapour from the aerosol scared Chester and I couldn’t make him stay still. The only thing that worked was picking them off individually with tweezers.
It takes quite some while – overnight, in fact – for a tick to latch on firmly enough that it breaks through the skin, and in that time you can simply pick it off, making sure you get the head so that the mouth isn’t left in the skin, risking infection, and kill it. But Chester had dozens of them on him and I had to run my fingers through his coat to find each one and then make him be still while I picked it off. And when I’d done, he went outside again and picked up another batch. Honestly, it was a bugger and it went on for – I don’t know, it seems in my memory to have been weeks, and I suppose it was at least two of them. Once, I remember he came in with tiny ticks fringing his ears. He got them between his toes, everywhere. The trickiest to get off, because he disliked the tweezers near his eyes, were on his face. The most disconcerting for both him and me to remove were, I’m sorry to say, on his scrotum.
It was a bonding experience, I will say that. He learned to stay still and stand or lie in the position I told him. But it was one of the more unusual situations of my dog-owning life.
The sheep came to us for two or three years, but the first year was the worst, as far as ticks were concerned. In due course, Sally got a job in Norwich and didn’t have time for all the care the sheep needed, so she sold most of them. Longlegs had a home with her for life, of course, and she kept a couple of others so that they would be company for her. Sheep are flock animals (the exception would be a bottle-fed lamb brought up by humans without other sheep) and she’d have been miserable on her own.