More about the Soay sheep lamb kit: Iodine

Dousing a newborn lamb’s umbilical cord in iodine as soon as possible after birth is an inexpensive way to guard against infection. After a few weeks when our lambs go back out into the pasture, they have to fend for themselves as far as scrapes and cuts go; it is not cost-effective to treat them for everything. But at the outset, when the raw cord and navel are exposed and the lamb is lying down all the time, it just makes sense to apply iodine.

We strongly recommend 7% iodine, much stronger than what you will find on display at grocery stores and pharmacies, but necessary for the dousing to be effective in the unavoidably unsanitary conditions of a lambing area. An aside: In Jackson County where we live, we have to sign for 7% iodine at the Grange (farm supply store), apparently because it can be used in meth production. They didn’t teach us that in the good old days, did they? 2013 update: it is no longer legal to sell 7% iodine, at least where we live; we get the strongest solution available

The applicator of choice is a contraption with the show-stopping name of “teat dipper.” Don’t believe me? Google the term and you will find pages and pages of hits for dairy cattle supply catalogs and stores. We just call it a “dipper.” Less to explain when someone drops by while we are working a lamb.

The dipper is a great invention, if sheep equipment gets your pulse going. It has a nifty hook on one side so you can hook it over the side of the Lamb Kit container and it will not tip over and spill (Big Lie #1). It also has a round cup-like opening you can press right against the lamb’s belly (or the cow’s teat if that is what you are using it for), again to prevent spills (BL #2). You can see the dipper in the Lamb Kit container in my earlier post introducing the Lamb Kit. Ours came from the Premier Sheep Supply catalog but I promise you can find them anywhere two or more dairy tools are gathered together.

Put some iodine in the dipper, no need to fill it full. Gather the umbilical cord into the opening of the dipper so the cord will get drenched with iodine. Place the round side opening of the dipper firmly against the lamb’s belly and then turn the lamb over so the iodine gets on the navel as well as the cord. Count to 3, turn the lamb right side up, and voila! All the iodine will drain back into the dipper (BL #3), where it stays put until time to disinfect the next lamb (BL #4). It is completely reusable.

Hmmm, how to say this discretely.  If you are working a ram lamb, be careful to capture only the cord in the dipper or you will have a seriously wriggling and even more seriously unhappy lamb on your hands. 

Should you have the misfortune of spilling iodine on your hands at any point in this process (go back and review Big Lies #1-4), through either innate clumsiness or a well-placed lamb kick or whatever, you will have a bright orange stain and it will sting like the devil.  You should have worn your blue gloves!  It will look dreadful. You will be convinced your days of balancing sheep chores with manicures in town are over. But trust me (BL #5?) the stain will come off if you apply rubbing alcohol promptly. The quicker you pour alcohol on it, the more comes off.  Note to self: probably not a bad idea to add a bottle of rubbing alcohol to the Lamb Kit.

As for your clothes, they too will look dreadful, but not all that different from the effect placental goo, lamb poop, adult sheep lanolin (aged), or a variety of other substances have on your coveralls.  After all, isn’t this why we wear them even though they are the single most unflattering garment ever invented?  Although I still find it hard to believe, every time one of us has spilled iodine on our clothes they came clean in the wash. And no, I am not going to write a post on recommended laundry products for shepherds. Life is too short already.

Perhaps, however, once lambing starts I will add a photo demonstrating the application of iodine for your amusement. Last year at this time I had no idea I would be doing a blog, so taking pictures of teat dippers was the farthest thing from my mind.

For now …