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Gressenhall Farm diary: Keeping sheep safe and shorn

PUBLISHED: 13:44 08 June 2020 | UPDATED: 13:46 08 June 2020

Treating the sheep for fly strike at Gressenhall. Picture: Norfolk Museums Service

Treating the sheep for fly strike at Gressenhall. Picture: Norfolk Museums Service

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As part of a weekly diary, curator MEGAN DENNIS from Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse talks about taking care of sheep - today and in times gone by.

John Aves sheep dip at Wreningham, around 1900. Picture: Norfolk Museums ServiceJohn Aves sheep dip at Wreningham, around 1900. Picture: Norfolk Museums Service

June is a pretty quiet time for the farm – the calm before the storm of harvest time.

This week we have been treating the ewes to prevent flystrike.

Flystrike in sheep is a condition where parasitic flies lay eggs on soiled wool or open wounds. After hatching, the maggots bury themselves in the sheep’s wool and eventually under the sheep’s skin, feeding off their flesh. In the good old days farmers used to cut the wool right back and dock tails to try and reduce fly strike.

Sheep were also dipped in chemicals. Sometimes there was a travelling sheep dip that went round every farm in the area treating the sheep. Each sheep would need to be completely immersed in the chemicals for it to be an effective treatment.

Boys taking a dip in the dip at Weasenham St Peter around 1912. Picture: Norfolk Museums Service.Boys taking a dip in the dip at Weasenham St Peter around 1912. Picture: Norfolk Museums Service.

A photograph from the museum collections shows just such a team of sheep dippers with portable dipping machine belonging to John Aves and Son, Wreningham, taken at Gowthorpe Farm about 1900.

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The solution that was used was 80% arsenic and care had to be taken to keep the animals’ eyes clear from it.

To measure out the right amount of chemical a dipping cup could be used – like this one made by Bigg’s. Alternatively the farmer could purchase soluble dip cakes – which would be mixed with the right amount of hot water to make the right chemical.

A beautiful riverside walk in the June sunshine at Gressenhall. Picture: Norfolk Museums ServiceA beautiful riverside walk in the June sunshine at Gressenhall. Picture: Norfolk Museums Service

Once the sheep had taken their dip it wasn’t unusual for the boys of the village to have a go – particularly if the weather was hot!

This photograph shows the boys of Weasenham St Peter having a cool down around 1913. Hopefully they put fresh water in!

Shearing also helps to reduce the damage done by flies. Normally we would be looking to shear our sheep around this time. As it was so hot in May we got it done earlier than normal.

On the rest of the farm we are thankful for the rain and hoping for more. We are looking forward to being able to cut and dry some hay perhaps later in June or July. The Suffolk Punches have been enjoying the sunshine as usual and the riverside walk is still beautiful. Our turkey chicks have graduated from the incubator and are enjoying their first outside adventures – just like us enjoying a little more freedom.

A beautiful riverside walk in the June sunshine at Gressenhall. Picture: Norfolk Museums ServiceA beautiful riverside walk in the June sunshine at Gressenhall. Picture: Norfolk Museums Service


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