Soay Sheep RVs

It is common knowledge among Soay shepherds that finding equipment for our diminutive animals can be a challenge:  standard ID tags swamp our lambs’ ears; even our largest ewes get lost in full-sized sheep chairs; 4×4 mesh panels are a hazard, rather than a protection.  But there is one perfectly-sized category of equipment for Soay sheep – airline dog crates.Whether you ship a single ram across country to a breeder looking for new genetics for her flock, or tote a breeding ram from one end of your pastures to the other to service his ewes, a dog crate is just right.  A few examples should make the point.


Despite their legendary hardiness, Soay sheep occasionally need veterinary attention, and when they do, cost considerations mandate that if possible, we go to the vet’s office rather than having her come to the farm.  Steve and I can easily lift a single Soay sheep, in-crate, into the pickup and out again.  If I am not around, Steve heists the crate on the tractor forks.

Even better, the dog crate fits nicely into the garden cart, so if we have more than a few steps to go with the animal here on the farm, the cart becomes the taxi.  Here is Steve bringing Venus home in her cast after she broke her leg.


Among other advantages, crating the animal keeps it relatively immobile, whereas toting the sheep loose in the back end of the pickup in a drop-in stock rack allows the animal to be jostled around at a time when it is uncomfortable at best.  Hosing down a crate is also easier than cleaning the back end of a pickup.


Because our pastures are aligned more or less in a long single row, we sometimes need to move sheep through other animals’ areas to get to a pasture several paddocks away, or to move single rams into breeding pens.  We could, of course, try to set up enough panels and Electronet to make a corridor through the neighboring groups’ territories, but that feels too much like work and not very reliable in any case.  Accidental breedings are not allowed on our farm and general chaos is something we try to avoid.  Here again, dog crates are a good solution.

Last summer, our ranch hand Shawn came up with a dandy contraption for moving large numbers of to-be-weaned lambs out of their mothers’ pasture.  Here it is:


I know what you are thinking:  “that’s the sorriest excuse for a triple-wide I’ve ever seen.”  Scoff if you will, but by golly the Saltmarsh Winnebago gets the job done.  Its frame is a single 2×6 plank, slightly longer than the combined width of the three-crate chassis.  In place of bolts, and to facilitate disassembly when we need a single crate, Shawn used red cargo (i.e., ratcheting) straps to lash the crates side by side on the frame.  Voilá – the Soay motor home.

In the next pictures, Steve and Shawn transport fifteen lambs in three crates, crowded quarters to be sure, but only for a few minutes.  Our niece Allison, a city girl from Pittsburgh, looks on in disbelief at the sight of all those lambs being hoisted up and over the fence.


Once the RV arrived in the lambs’ new home


and the disembarkment began, faithful Llucy, our guardian llama, kept tabs as her charges emerged from the crates.


Adults can be moved in the triple-wide as well.  When it comes time to set up breeding groups in October, Molly gathers the ewes from their various summer pastures,  we sort them, and Molly then herds them one group at a time to their assigned breeding areas.


Once the ewes settle in, we use the crates to bring the lucky breeding rams up from the Bull Pen to their assigned ewes.  Compared to the days of dragging those rams one at a time through several pastures to get to the breeding areas, it’s a breeze.


Tales of shipping Soay sheep by air make the circuit of breeder legends from time to time.  We always thought it sounded way too complex to be feasible.  But last month we tried it and can report two things:  it does work, and it is a lot of work.  Logistics and cost considerations are for another post.  For now, simply enjoy watching Air Saltmarsh in action.

Here are two young rams loaded and ready to leave for the airport at 3:15 a.m.  I make no apologies for the funny “light” in the picture.


As you can imagine, the passengers behind us in line were none too pleased to have to wait for sheep to check in.  Their grumpiness, and the early hour, probably explain the look on Steve’s face.


After much fussing with labels and bills of lading, the rams joined the other luggage on the conveyor belt and were taken away, but not before a befuddled customer rushed up to us and said, “oh aren’t they cute; are they poodles?”


I do not want to leave you with the impression that life with crates is all work and no play.  One of these flights came about because an imaginative Soay shepherd in Pennsylvania wanted to surprise his wife with a new Soay ram for her birthday.  Talk about fun with logistics!  But that’s a story for another day and another post.

Bottom line:  there are as many ways to use your Soay RVs as your imagination can concoct.

For now …

2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. WigneyFarm says:

    Hi Pricilla….
    Llucy is Llovely!!!!
    The RV idea is great…we use the dog crates for many things here on our farm and we also use dog houses a lot too. They are wonderful for the small breed animals as shelters. We have used them for the Soay, Babydoll Southdown sheep and also the Nigerian dwarf goats. The goats love them the most because they can perch on the roofs and see what’s going on all over their domain.
    We’re eagerly awaiting the next installment of this story…lol….
    We’re dying to know what happens next….ha ha ha….
    Thank you for the information!!!
    The Wigney’s

  2. robson says:

    Love it. Thank you!