Friday 30 July 2010


No...... not kissing but kessing, also known as cowped or cowp-ed. Cast on her back basically, the sheep that is, not the shepherd!
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Now you might think the above is lying on her side, whatever she is doing she is stuck. Sheep get itchy, especially as the temperature rises. They can sweat under all that wool and like to have a bit rub every now and again. They can sometimes be seen sitting up on their backsides with head turned back over either trying to dig the horn in or chew with the teeth at that annoying little itch just behind the shoulder, the harder they try to reach the spot the more likely they are to roll over. Nine times out of ten they roll over, wriggle and get back onto their feet, occasionally they are not so lucky and get cowped with the result they are kessing.
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Fit sheep, those being the ones with broad backs, are more liable than skinny sheep to get stuck on their backs. Cheviots like this particular ewe are notorious for getting cast, they are broad backed and their wool is dense. This ewe was kessing at lambing time and was not amused at me finding a higher vantage point to get a better photo, she wanted back on her feet. Being heavy in lamb was a greater disadvantage to her as she was weighted down more and obviously broader too.

When sheep are kessing they can very easily die. A lot depends on whether they are lying with their heads down the hill or not and also the climatic conditions. If all these conditions are stacked against them they can die with in a couple of hours. They tend to gas up, quite literally swell, and as a result will die. What is known as the rough time is basically the summer months prior to shearing and shepherds out herding the hills are always on the look out for a sheep on her back, once clipped the threat lessens, the wool is no longer there to make the sheep feel quite as itchy and sweaty as previously. With some breeds the possibility always remains that they may get cast due to the size they are - the width of their backs. Cheviots for one are still notorious for kessing once clipped although not quite to the same degree as when they are carrying their coats.

Read no further if you are faint hearted.

I've already explained that sheep are in a dangerous position whilst lounging around on their backs with all four feet in the air due to them gassing up. Should anyone happen upon a creature in this state feel free to roll her back onto her feet, they will stagger around once up on their feet and care is to be taken that they don't fall in a drain or cowp over again due to their haste in running away from you.

There are other dangers a sheep may face when found in this position. She is unable to get away from predators, her only line of defence is to wriggle and kick her feet around. Predators are aware of this and the most ruthless amongst them will take their opportunity of a feast if it should arise.
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Crows and Ravens go for the eyes, tongue and backside. The above is of a very dead sheep, which did not die from predator attack but as you can see she lost her eye, which was pecked out. It is not unheard of to come across a sheep on its back with its eye out but she is still alive. They can survive with only one eye and there are sheep to be found running around on the hills sporting one eye only, the other having been lost to a corbie (carrion crow) or a raven. However, if the anus has been pecked out or the tongue one can only put the beast out of her misery if she should still be alive. These attacks can happen quickly once the beast is in a prone position, she tires the more she tries to resist attack and the predator never lets up on its quest for a feed.
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Now a sheep may survive an encounter with a eye pecking crow but she'll not stand a chance against a badger. Badgers are harder on sheep than foxes. A badger will always go in for a feed in the lisk (groin) and around the udder, and they always skin the beast - a dead give away to a badger attack. They are opportunists and like the birds aren't bothered whether their prey is alive or dead. This particular photo is of a dead sheep which was then eaten by badger but they are more than willing to commence on a live animal.

In my early teens I came across a cheviot ewe on her back, half her udder was eaten off and she was still alive. The gun was sent for and she was put out of her misery. Lounging around isn't the wisest of ideas if you're a sheep. They do look comical when stuck on their backs but rather than laugh roll them over, it'll probably save their lives.


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