Each week, we ask you to share your questions about farming, food or Sacrewell with us on Facebook. The person who writes the best question wins a free tractor ride for a child and accompanying adult, as well as having their question answered on our website. This question came from Aimee Butler.
Whilst farmers love and care for their sheep, they can find it difficult to tell them apart, especially on large farms which can have thousands of sheep. Various methods of marking the sheep allows the farmer to identify individuals in amongst the flock.
In some hilly parts of the UK the sheep graze on open, unfenced ground where the flocks from different farms can get mixed up. Farmers in these parts put a pattern called a smit mark onto their sheep so that they can tell at a distance which ones belong to them. Traditionally this smit mark would have been made using natural oils and pigments, such as iron ore or powdered stone, whilst modern farmers use specially produced chemical dyes in a variety of colours.
At Sacrewell our sheep don’t mix with any other flocks, but we still use marking crayons or paint brands to help us identify individual sheep at different times of the year.
In spring, we might use paint brands to help us identify which lambs belong to which ewes when we put them out into the paddocks. If they all have the same number or colour on them, it’s easy to spot who belongs to who. We also mark our cade lambs to help us keep track of which ones have been bottle fed and which are the next in line.
In autumn, when we run the rams with the ewes, we might also put tie a paint pad onto the ram’s stomach. This means that when he mates with a ewe, he leaves his mark and we can move the ewes around to ensure that each one gets his attention.
At other times of the year we might mark our sheep to show which ones have been given medication, which ones are the right weight to sell at market or which ones need to be moved to a different field.
So there are lots of different reasons why it might look like someone has drawn on a sheep. If you spot one on the farm, we suggest you have a look around and a think about the season to see if you can guess what that particular mark is for.