Crutching refers to the removal of wool from around the tail and between the rear legs of a sheep. It can also refer to removing wool from the heads of sheep (wigging, also called head crutching) or from the bellies of male sheep (ringing).
Urine and watery faeces from eating spring grass can also lead to Myiasis (fly-strike), which occurs when flies lay eggs in warm, damp wool and the fly larvae grow and eat into the sheep. Crutching is an effective way to help prevent this; in some areas, crutching is carried out at the start of the fly season (which depends on local climatic conditions) and may be needed at intervals of 6-8 weeks in high fly risk conditions.
Wigging (removal of wool from the head of sheep) is carried out to prevent the sheep from becoming "wool blind", in which the wool covers the sheep's eyes. It also prevents accumulation of grass seeds and burrs in wool around the head as a sheep grazes. Both these problems are more severe in breeds with heavy wool growth such as Merinos.
In addition, ewes are generally crutched prior to lambing if they are not recently "offshears", in order to provide the newborn lamb with a cleaner suckling area.
For small flocks, a grazier might do the work single-handedly. For large flocks and stud sheep, graziers will hire shearers, or use a contractor who provides professional shearing teams to do the required work. The grazier would decide on the extent of crutching: the rear of the sheep is almost always shorn, whereas wool around the face, ears, underside and pizzle may also be removed depending on the circumstances such as the weather, length of fleece, and amount of seed or other impurities present in the fleece and the underlying reason for crutching (preventative of fly-strike, or to reduce the liklihood of stain in the fleece wool). Super fine wool Merino flocks are often given a light crutch, known as a New England crutch that removes less of the valuable fleece.
When a single or small number of sheep need crutching, graziers will often work in the paddock using dagging (or blade) shears or portable powered shearing gear instead of driving the sheep into the shearing shed and back.
Crutching is different to mulesing where part of the wrinkled skin is removed, although they are closely related in that mulesed sheep require much less crutching. It is the excess wool which gets most soiled from urination and faeces, and which can be particularly dirty due to green feeding, rapid changes in feed, or from problems such as internal parasites.
Yes, That's Writer Nell McCafferty. Yes, She's Straddling the Neck of a Half-Shorn Sheep. No, Don't Ask. Just Read On
Jun 03, 2010; Byline: by Nell McCafferty I WAS savaged by a sheep on a farm near Graiguenamanagh last Monday morning. She tossed me up and off...