While the topic of accidental injuries is often mentioned, very little seems to be offered on how to minimize the occurrence. First off I should say that the occasional nick or cut is almost unavoidable, though it is almost always the shearer’s fault and usually due to a lack of control of the animal, the machine or blade position. Often times other factors like exhaustion, frustration or dull blades can play a role. One needs to remember the animal is scared and often exhausted itself and losing your temper can only contribute to a greater likelihood of more nicks and cuts, so attention should be given to your state of mind and the animal’s behavior.
The areas most prone to a problem are areas where wrinkles and creases or folds occur, this includes the neck, the area under and around the elbow, the tail and the softer underbelly where the skin is thin and the nipples are (you want to keep the full comb flat against skin, not go up narrow folds). None of these are especially troublesome if everything is going well and the animal is calm and well controlled, but things the shearer do can contribute to problems, – pulling or twisting the skin creating a fold or crease will allow skin into the space between the comb’s teeth. Abrasions and nicks are common and utterly unavoidable, even on flat areas where you have good control and keeping the skin flat, but cuts and serious abrasions can be minimized if enough patience is exhibited.
The idea is to keep the comb on as flat a surface as possible, watch your angles and avoid tilting the machine because at least half of all cuts occur because skin slips through the larger gaps in the comb at the sides, – where the teeth flare out. Although the cutter is recessed farther back at these points, it still tends to allow skin to contact the cutter.
Perhaps most important of all is that when a superficial nick or cut occurs that you stay conscious of the injury and do not make it worse, which is typically what occurs if you are not careful. These cuts can tear and become much larger, especially on the soft thin skin like at elbows or the belly, so try and be aware of cuts around the shoulder joints and take extra care not to pull the skin and create a tear.
The good news is that these superficial nicks and cuts, even where tears occur, rarely cause much of a problem or a health concern. Typically the animal will barely flinch or react and absent you seeing blood you might never notice the cut. These almost never become festering wounds or infected, but always keep some Blu-Kote handy and be generous with its application. Our sheep have always proven to be quite resilient when it comes to injuries, even on serious wounds caused by feral dogs, coyotes or barbwire never seem to get infected after we apply some antiseptic wound dressing like Blu-Kote. Typically the animal shows little to no discomfort once the wound dries and generally behaves as before, – though we have never caused a serious cut, most are superficial cuts and abrasions if you ever examine one closely. Generally, they stop bleeding in seconds or a few minutes.
So, in regards to the hazards of nicks and cuts, or even bites from animals or minor injuries from barbwire, they rarely cause the animal much long-term harm, and as far as nicks and cuts go, they are far down the list of things to worry about. Feral dogs and coyotes are a far more worrisome threat to your animals.