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Published April 19, 2010, 12:31 PM

New options, technology have helped deal with pest problems

DONNELLY, S.D. — Ask Don Simonson for memorable experiences over 71 years in shearing sheep, and he has to take time to think.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

DONNELLY, S.D. — Ask Don Simonson for memorable experiences over 71 years in shearing sheep, and he has to take time to think.

“Let me get back to you,” he says.

About an hour later, Simonson stops mid-sheep, and suddenly turns to smile at you:

“Sheep ticks!” he says, fairly joyful at the recollection. “Quite often the sheep ticks were so thick there was hardly room for them on the sheep’s skin. I can’t imagine how miserable an animal would be with them biting them, taking blood.”

Simonson says when he was a newlywed in the early 1940s, farmers didn’t take a bath every night.

Still, his wife, Maureen, didn’t want those darn ticks in bed.

“I’d have to stand inspection before I could get into bed,” he says, without explaining how that went.

Solving the sheep tick problem called for solutions that would be considered crude by today’s standards.

There was some kind of yellow powder, made in England, Simonson recalls.

His father would soak sheep in “creosote and water.” That could make the ticks “dizzy” so they’d fall off.

At one point, after the shearing season, Simonson ran a portable dipping tank from farm to farm. Sheep walked into the tank, which was about four feet deep. At the end, the sheep would climb up a ladder and the excess dip solution would drain back into the tank.

Are there still sheep ticks?

Well, in recent years — especially the last 20 years or so — the insecticides have been good enough to get rid of the ticks.

Anything else?

“Stomach worms,” he says. “Sheep are very vulnerable to worms. We had something called ‘Black Leaf 40’ — a strong nicotine. We had a saying that all it really did was put that worm to sleep and when he woke up, the sheep was gone.”

Another medicine for the worms was a terrible stuff called “blue vitrol,” he recalled. Technically, this was copper sulfate, but it had to be used with care because of its poisonous nature. The stuff had to be kept in crockery jars because it would react to galvanized metal.

“You’d drench them, using a pop bottle, and then you’d grab the sheep and pour it down his throat,” he says. “That was a wrestling match, too.”

Happily, that’s a place for modern technology. Systemic insecticides, delivered with a syringe, have largely cleaned ticks and worms out of the countryside.

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