If you have been to Ireland, you most likely have seen many sheep grazing the countryside and walking in the middle of the road. Did you notice many of the sheep are painted? There are a few reasons for the different colors on the ship explained by our expert guide, Mickey.
The first color has to do with the area of Ireland that the sheep farmers lives. In the area, where we were of Dingle each farmer owns about 20 acres. These 20 acres would be enough room for say 200 sheep. The farmers that live on the 20 acres are entitled to graze their sheep on the state land, the hillside or bog land. This is called the Right of Commonage. Now the farmers can own more sheep with more land, but the problem is all of the farmers around the area have the same entitlement. This brings up the question, who own the sheep on the hillside? How it works is simple, Farmer Murphy that lives around here is always going to put the color blue on the back of his sheep and his neighbor Farmer O'Brien is always going to put the color yellow on the back of his sheep. Then his neighbor Farmer Nolan puts green on the back of his sheep. One color has to do only with ownership and is almost like the branding of the sheep.
The second color is because if the livestock are out all year long and they are since there are no barns, the sheep are susceptible to catching all types of diseases and infections. The sheep have to be inoculated, and this is done by running the sheep through a sheep dip, which is a trench of water and chemical solution that is very strong. The farmers need to wear a face mask, so they do not damage their lungs. It is strong enough that you only have to dip the sheep once and using it twice on a sheep can do more harm than good. So this is where the second color on the sheep comes in. If the farmer has 500 sheep and can only inoculate 100 in one day, after the sheep is done in the dip, the farmer smears the color red grease paint on the sheep's neck. The grease paint does not wash off in the rain, and it is boiled out of the wool. Now the farmer has a mark of inoculation on some of the sheep's neck which tells which sheep have been inoculated and which have not.
The third color is the most entertaining and the farmer does not put it on the sheep at all. The sheep farmer takes the color, say red, and has a special leather pouch, called a rattle and fills it up with the red grease paint. Then he takes the pouch and attaches it to the belly of the ram. The ram goes up the mountain to serve the sheep. When the ram mounts the sheep a bit of dye will be deposited on the sheep's upper back.This way, the farmer knows which sheep have been impregnated and moves them onto another field away from the ram. Then at the end of the week, the ram is brought back home, and the farmer takes away the red and replaces it with another color. Over the next five to six weeks the color is replaced each week with a new color. The reason for this is since the sheep farmer can use the state land to graze his sheep, he could have one thousand sheep. When it is lambing season, the farmer does not have enough room to lamb all of his sheep at one time on his land. The sheep farmer needs to be close to the sheep when they are lambing since they require help. The ram that went up with the red is first to service the sheep, and all of the sheep that have red on their upper back will be the first to lamb. So the farmer sends his sheepdogup the hillside to gather the sheep and then separates them by the colors on their back. When the first sheep lamb, the farmer sends those sheep back up the hillside with their lamb and then the next week's color is gathered, and once they lamb, they are sent back up the hillside with their lambs. They are color-coded as to when the sheep will lamb.
Now the next time you visit Ireland, you will know why the sheep have the different colors on their backs.
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