Pampering your lower back: the Sheep Chair in action

Let’s face it, all you shepherds and shepherdesses over the age of 40.  If we are not smart about how we handle our animals, we put our backs at risk  – never mind lifting hay bales, building fence, and breaking up ice in the water tanks in January.  The last thing we need is to use brute force to work our adult Soay when mechanical help is at hand.

Enter the Sheep Chair:


As its name implies, the Chair upends the sheep and can eliminate flailing, butting, and horn pokes, the other unpleasant surprises our animals occasionally throw at us.  It’s our own fault; we chose to raise primitive sheep, after all.  The Sheep Chair is just the right level of domestication, and you do not even need to dig out your grandmother’s antimacassars.  The first time you read through this description, you may scoff at the notion of using something that in words seems too complicated to bother with.  That’s okay, but tag this posting in your favorites list and come back to it after you have trimmed several adult rams’ hooves hunched over in the sheep poop and you have put your chiropractor’s phone number on speed dial.

We use the Chair for our Soay like this:  Steve gets a ram by the horns, quietly if possible, with both their backs aimed at the Chair, lifts just enough to take the weight off the ram’s front hooves, then gently pulls back until the lower bar of the Chair clips the ram’s back legs and plops him into the Chair.  Now I know where the phrase “with his butt in a sling” comes from.

Here is one of our biggest rams just after landing in the Chair:


I am authorized to report that, while the ram is rendered mostly immobile, his most useful body parts are neither squished nor compromised for future use.

As far as we know, none of the sheep equipment suppliers offer Soay-sized Chairs.  They are all sized for Suffolks and other sheep giants.  So we were not surprised the first time we used our Chair when the Soay’s rump sank way down and he was able to wallow and flail and create an unholy mess of his horns and legs all tangled up in the webbing.  I was laughing too hard to take a picture, sorry.  Think small rhino in a tropical hammock, or some such thing.

Time for a customized retrofit.  The easy first step was to narrow the width of the Chair until it was tight enough to prevent the animal from rolling side to side like the Titanic.  Next, we gradually made the “sling,” or webbed seat part of the Chair, less deep so the sheep would not slip down too far into the netting.  Whoever makes these Chairs does quite a lovely job of lacing the netting to the frame.  Steve chose not to mess with this workmanship and instead cinched up the netting a little at a time with zip ties. 

Once the ram had settled in with his reading material from among the old issues of Sports Illustrated and Business Week, Steve could get up close for the pedicure without either lying prone in sheep poop or putting his face at risk of a swift kick from a wayward hoof.

Our first year using the Chair, my job was to keep my hand on the ram’s chest to be sure he did not suddenly lunge forward out of the Chair if we did not have the seat cinched up shallow enough, but this year my desire to record for this posting how Steve uses the Chair led us to make two improvements.

First, the belt.  No, no, we are not engaging in corporal punishment, merely using a material at hand for an SPCA-approved restraint.  Looping a wide belt through the side of the frames and then around the ram’s chest (both loops of the belt in front, not behind the sheep) and putting the belt either above the front legs or right below them, keeps his body quiet (in the photo above, Steve has not yet latched the belt).  Either way is a big help, and you might try using two belts if you have a ram (or ewe, for that matter) with serious attitude. 

So far, so good, but even with the belt, the ram was free to flail his head, and his prodigious horns, again risking both Steve’s face and the aluminum chair tubing.  Enter the blindfold.  We had read somewhere that throwing a blanket over an animal’s face was a good all-species home remedy for butting, flailing, bolting (horses) or even spraying (skunks).  Out came the ever–present white Costco golf towel from the Kit.

Here is the mighty Atlas, one of the biggest Soay in North America, quietly at ease in the Chair with both his seat belt and his sleep mask on, waiting for his hoof trim.


One final note.  I did spell the long word in the second paragraph correctly and yes it does mean those little doily doodads strategically placed where the Mr.’s head rests on the back of the overstuffed recliner and his weary hands come in contact with the arms of the Chair.  I’m not sure you can use the word in a Scrabble game, but at least you know what to ask for in your local general store to to keep the essence of Soay in your hair from becoming embedded in the upholstery.   

For now …