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‘Sheep have an astonishing ability to hide pain and amazing healing powers’

In this week’s Farmer’s Diary, sheep farmer, Clodagh Hughes discusses dealing with a Blowfly outbreak.

You may realise by now that I try to be the best shepherd that I can and to give my animals the best care and attention within my powers.

Well, it seems no matter how hard I try, nature is always one step ahead!

Blowfly outbreak

Last week, I gathered all my ewes, lambs, and rams for tail dagging (clipping off dirty wool), feet checks and general maintenance.

I knew the weather conditions were ideal for the dreaded Blowfly to strike and had been checking regularly for tell-tale signs such as:

  • Biting at their hindquarters;
  • Twitching a lot;
  • lying down and getting up;
  • Watching for damp patches on their wool.

All the above plus a few more could be good indications that a sheep has been hit by the nasty Blowfly, also known as the bluebottle or greenbottle flies.

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They are attracted to wet and humid areas of the sheep’s wool, especially if it is contaminated with faeces.

It is here that a single female Blowfly can lay approximately 200 eggs; then, within an 8-24-hour time frame, the eggs hatch into tiny maggots that start to feed on the sheep’s flesh.

Here is an amazing bit about maggots. Although they can cause such horrific damage in very short spaces of time, I am constantly amazed by the capabilities of insects, especially parasites, as they have evolved to invade and survive off other living organisms.

Unfortunately, while causing a lot of harm to the host.


Pay attention, class! Here comes the science bit. With regards to our ’friend’ the maggot, because it does not have teeth or sharp mouth parts after it hatches, it releases a digestive enzyme/protein which breaks down the surface of the skin to enable it to ingest it.

As the outer layers get ‘eaten’ away by the maggots, they burrow further into the animal’s flesh and will eventually hit bone.

The damage they can cause in a very short space of time is unbelievable, and, unfortunately, I have had a couple of animals struck badly in the last few years.

Thankfully, each animal survived and fully recovered but only with a lot of nursing care.

One thing with sheep; although they have an astonishing ability to hide pain being a prey animal, they also have amazing healing powers.

You will witness a significant improvement overnight, even in the worst cases.

My treatment method is pretty simple:

  • Clip off more wool than you think you need to physically remove all the maggots;
  • Bathe in a very mild iodine solution or similar;
  • Allow to dry;
  • Douse the area in antibiotic spray or an emollient cream.

I only use injectable antibiotics in severe cases. I bought myself a pair of electric clippers last year. The actual vibration of the clippers shakes most of the maggots off.

In other farm news, I have an abundance of grass since we last spoke, all my lambs are thriving, and my wee chick is getting on famously; he has even started to bully the cat!

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