As soon as we could this week we got stuck into crutching the ewes (female sheep). They were quite a priority as they are due to start lambing in a few weeks, and so couldn't really be walked out of the paddocks to the shearing shed if we left it any longer.
This is a description of the crutching process, and I know that a picture is worth a thousand words, but as I was hard at it I couldn't really take any photos. So the process starts with tipping the sheep over and dragging them out of the catching pen backwards and position them next to the shearing equipment (the down-tube and hand piece). They are then given a dose of drench to kill any intestinal worms etc, and then the crutching itself begins. Crutching is similar the shearing in that wool is cut from the sheep using a handpiece. Starting with the head the wool around the face is first to go. The forehead (like the fringe) and on the sides of the face. This clears all wool from around the eyes so the sheep can see clearly, which will be important when they are mothering their new lambs in a few weeks time. They can become "wool blind" if the wool is left there and wouldn't be able to keep track of their lambs, and chances are the crows (which are evil animals by the way) would probably kill the lambs. Next I move down to the crutch area between the legs, and with the sheep still in the sitting position I take the wool off from the inside of one back leg, then a blow around under the udder to the inside of the other back leg. With the ewes getting close the lambing in a lot of them the udders are starting to enlarge so care needs to be taken not to nick of any skin around this delicate area. Quite often there is a small strip of wool that grows down between the teats (or nipples if you like) and that needs to be removed to give the young lambs the best access they can get to their precious food supply. Once the inside of both back legs are done I roll the sheep over to one side to do the backs of the legs and around the tail. I've got to be really careful around the backs of the legs because if the comb on the hand piece digs into the skin in that area there is a real risk of the hand piece catching the hamstring and cutting it. After doing one leg the area around the vulva, which is the external part of the reproductive system in female sheep, needs to be crutched, leaving no wool in the area at all - once again care needs to be taking in this delicate area of the animal. A blow over the top of the tail also clears this area up nicely. With the ewes so close to lambing it's important to have the area as clean as possible for the birthing process. I finish off the crutch with a blow down the back of the last leg, and one blow to tidy up the edge of the long wool that is left and then the sheep is let go out into the counting out pens.
We have four mobs of ewes, and we're working on the last one of them this afternoon.