THE BLOG

Its Eye Sockets Were Empty and Blooded - And It Was Somebody's Fault

25/08/2015 11:38 BST | Updated 24/08/2016 10:59 BST

The sheep faced the back of the trailer, as if looking out. But its eye sockets were empty and blooded.

Was this wretched animal yet another casualty of the livestock fencing much used by sheep farmers? The wire mesh (with each hole six by nine and a half inches) is easy for a sheep to put its head through. But, if that head has horns, getting it out is an entirely different matter. Had this sheep been caught like this and a magpie or rook taken advantage of its predicament and scavenged its eyes? It is likely.

In the wild, life seems cruel. Scavengers clear up the dead and dying and it's all part of the natural cycle. The cycle of death and renewal.

But there was nothing natural about the plight of this sheep. A domesticated animal, fenced in by man-made material, utterly dependent on the farmer for its welfare. The farmer who dips it in chemicals to keep external parasites at bay. Who drenches (forces liquid medicine down its throat) to keep internal parasites in check. Who tail docks, castrates and attends to their animal's diet with suitable supplements to maximise health. Whose profits are hard won. And who is completely responsible for the animals in his or her care.

EU legislation requires that fencing should not contain hazards which could cause injury. The animal welfare guidelines advise that where mesh fencing is used, particularly for horned sheep, frequent checking is necessary. In other words, the regulations acknowledge that fencing - and mesh fencing in particular - is itself, a hazard. Mesh of a more suitable size for sheep exists, but, being more expensive, is rarely used.

No survey has been done, or could be done, on the number of sheep caught in wire. But I have many times, particularly when walking or cycling, stopped to unhook a sheep. Sometimes they jerk their head in panic and are released that way. Other times there has been a deep, muddy trough underneath the animal - evidence of its long struggle to escape. The greater the struggle, the more the fleece tangles in the wire and the more entrapped the animal becomes. Sometimes just a skeleton remains. Picked clean, it leaves no clues to the length of time the animal had been struggling before death.

Loose wire, carelessly and thoughtlessly left in fields or hillsides is another lethal hazard. Walkers might trip on it but it has deadly consequences for all types of livestock and wildlife: entanglement making for a lingering death. An unnatural death. A death for which someone was responsible.

The plight of the blinded sheep - that was, presumably, on its way to the slaughter house - will not have cost the farmer much more than an extra journey. His investment will not have been a complete loss.

This animal - like all farm animals and all household pets - are someone's responsibility. That its eye sockets were empty and blooded was somebody's fault.