When we were on Gotland island, one shepherd we visited with, kept saying, “Gotlands are smart sheep.” He told story after story of the many different ways his flock of Gotlands have shown him just how smart they are. In most of his stories, the sheep, and their intelligent inquisitive nature, usually got them in trouble with the shepherd as well as his neighbors. Since owning our own little flock of Gotlands, I can testify to their curious nature, and their ability to problem solve, which leads to quite the shenanigans at times.
This is why I ask, “Is your grain well protected?” In my early shepherding years, a wise, more experienced shepherd told me the “golden rule” of grain storage:
Always, always keeps two doors between your sheep and your bag of grain.
The other day, I went out to the barn for my afternoon snuggle with the lambs. When I opened the door, much to my surprise, the Gotland sheep had breeched the first gate, and were all staring at me as I opened the outer doorway!
All of our Romney sheep were on the proper side of the gate, but the Gotland ewes and their lambs were having a wonderful time of it. They had dug into 2 new bales of hay and had scattered about and investigated everything within reach. I was so thankful, that we had that second gate between the sheep and our grain room.
Though clever enough to figure out how to open doors, sheep are not clever enough to know when enough is enough. If they come upon a full bag of grain, chances are, they will finish off the entire sack before you discover them. This sets them up for bloat, which can be fatal in sheep. Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep defines bloat as:
A disorder characterized by an abnormal accumulation of gas in the rumen. Bloat is caused by the inability to adequately expel the gas….it is caused by sudden changes in diet…The left side of the sheep blows up like a balloon; the sheep goes off feed and acts very uncomfortable.
Though bloat is often associated with sheep introduced too quickly to lush pasture, it can also be caused by a sudden change in diet, like over eating grain. Sheep can also get what is referred to as “choke bloat”. This is when they literally choke themselves by eating too quickly and causing a blockage in their esophagus. The blockage prevents gas from escaping the rumen. If caught in time, sheep can be treated for bloat, with either a “bloat remedy” purchased at a livestock supply store, or a homemade remedy. Needless to say, prevention is the best policy. So go out to your barn and make sure you have two doors between your sheep and your sacks of grain!