(excerpted from a speech given by Mr. Rupert Martin
to the International Congress of Black and Coloured Sheep Breeders
Printed here with permission by Mrs. Rupert Martin)
"I was the manager of the company farm in Nelson which took 5000 acres (2020 hectares) of waste
and scrub land to pasture. We went from no stock to running 6000 ewes and replacements, which
gave us a flock of 12,000 head to shear. We also farmed 2000 cattle.
With such large stock numbers we had stock health problems, often in a big way, which were
difficult to get on top of. The main problem was grass staggers.
I knew cider vinegar was used on horses, but no-one would tell me why. So in desperation one day
when I had two young lambs dehydrated and down with grass staggers, I decided to try the cider
vinegar on them.
When I told the makers of the vinegar what I had in mind they said to be careful, and to dilute the
vinegar a bit.
I gave the lambs a cupful each and the next day they were up and grazing. So I gave them a bit more
That was in February - our summer was very hot and we had drought conditions. Much to our
surprise in May these two lambs were in better condition than the rest, except that they had a break
in their wool.
This led us to do some trial work. In our first trial we drenched the sheep once a month from
weaning in November to shearing the following October.
We had four groups, and kept the wool of each group separate. The wool was all sold by auction,
and the wool from the sheep drenched with cider vinegar made NZ$1.43 a head more than the rest.
We were getting quite excited with our find but no one would believe us. Still, we carried on using
more and more of the vinegar.
At this time I was lambing 2600 two-tooth ewes and I believed they were deficient in iodine. I
mixed minerals in with the cider vinegar and drenched just before lambing.
During lambing in previous years I was going around the sheep three or four times a day, and
assisting up to 14 ewes per round.
The very first time after we had used the minerals mixed in with the cider vinegar, we reduced our
problems at lambing down to assisting only two ewes per day. The lamb death rate was reduced by
a massive 80 percent.
Well, this was good news for us, and for the next 15 years we drenched our sheep three weeks
before the rams went out, and then six weeks before lambing. We drenched the ewes again at three
weeks before lambing, and found the results were very good.
I was asked to speak at the local branch meeting of the Black and Coloured Sheep Breeders
Association on stock health. I joined the association, and felt I had something to offer.
Stock health problems and marketing of our coloured ewes were then the two main problems to deal
I had a few coloured sheep, and their wool was given to friends and staff. I started using a coloured
ram over the ewes, and found that the quality of the stock was a problem too. Although some good
fleeces were produced, there were many rejects. So I decided to drench every month with 20cc of
cider vinegar per sheep.
The results were amazing. We shore in May, and sold more wool in a day than we expected to sell
in a year from our wool shed operation.
That went on for two and a half days, and sales have been steady ever since.
We found that cider vinegar seemed to help disperse the grease in the wool right along the fibre,
making it softer and easier to shear.
I still couldn't convince people that what I was doing was good, so I bought vinegar and gave it to
friends to try. It took a long time to get going, but when the news media took an interest, it just took
This spurred me to do more research. We found grass staggers disappeared altogether in sheep;
sleepy sickness was easily cured. Scouring in calves was also easily cured. In fact, any disorder the
animals had, appeared to benefit from the cider vinegar.
When I first started out with the coloured wools, the natural coloured skins had no value. But the
first shipment of pelts I sent to be tanned were all stolen. That proved they were worth something,
so I kept going. The next shipment got through alright.
They were quite easy to sell so we bought in skins and sheep for slaughter. We found we could
produce the skin okay, but had up to 30 per cent of the skins grading out as seconds.
That was too high, with the quality only good to average.
After looking through the tannery and inspecting the skins we found that to produce variations in
colours, and to obtain large skins we had to use skins from older sheep.
Then I discovered the skins which I had bought in were not as good as my own. That led me to
believe cider vinegar was playing a part in giving us quality skins.
Now we prefer to condition the sheep on our own farm before slaughter, and rejects are down to
one percent or less. Our sheepskins just sell themselves.
With the number of skins we were producing, we had to market the meat.
For years friends had been telling us there was 'something' about Redwood Valley meat - it was
sweeter. No one knew why they liked it but they did, and our customers just grew and grew.
We were now at a stage where we could sell the meat faster than we could sell the skins....
I have found that marketing wool, skins and meat of coloured sheep very easy, especially with the
help of cider vinegar. We have to remember in our marketing that quality is the main criteria."
I am sorry to report that Mr. Martin is now deceased and I want to thank his wife for providing me
with the text of this speech.
Grass Staggers (hypomagnesaemia) or
"lactation tetany" is an acute disorder
characterised by sudden death and caused
by low levels of magnesium in the blood.
1) young, rapidly growing spring grass
can be low in magnesium
2) individual ewes vary in their ability to
3) nitrate fertilizers increase the protein
in the grass which in turn produces
excessive amounts of free ammonia in the
rumen, lowers rumen pH and depletes
carbohydrate. The imbalance of
carbohydrate to nitrogen may depress
appetite, making matters worse.
4) lush spring grasses pass thru the
intestines very quickly, which allows less
time for the magnesium to be absorbed
5) magnesium may be less available in
6) the level of sodium in fertilized fields
is low, which means that the ratio of
sodium to potassium in the rumen is
Clinical signs usually last for only a short
time, therefore the shepherd may only
find a dead ewe.
1) stiff, stilted walk - often with the head
2) nervous twitching of the face muscles
and frequent urination
3) exaggerated alarm to noise or to the
sucking of the lambs
4) being gathered and caught is
particularly stressful and may precipitate
convulsions and death, so ewes must be
approached with care
5) sheep will develop a "wild-eyed" look
and appear to be blind, grind their teeth
and eventually go down. They usually lie
on their side with the legs stretched out
straight, their head thrown back and the
For more information on this, please
consult Dr. David Henderson's book
"The Veterinary Book for Sheep
Farmers" from which this is excerpted.
|Another good resource for
information on using cider vinegar is
"Folk Medicine"written by D.C.
We have been using cider vinegar on our flock since 2002 and believe the improvement in overall health and wool quality can be
directly attributed to the cider vinegar. We add 1/4 gallon to a 30 gallon water trough at least once a week and more often during the hot weather.
Every time we handle an individual animal, we drench** them with 10-20 cc. of cider vinegar mixed 1:1 with water. I am now infusing garlic in
their drench vinegar in order to obtain the health benefits of garlic (put 4 heads of garlic, chopped into a quart of cider vinegar and let sit for two
weeks; mix 1:1 with water and save for drenching). We use non-pasteurized organic cider vinegar, which we purchase directly from an apple
orchard in a 15 gallon drum.We do believe there are more health benefits (worth the extra cost) to using this quality of cider vinegar than the
"store-bought" "watered down" versions.
**Drenching a sheep means to give them an oral (liquid) dose; it does not mean pouring on top of the animal!!
Another testimony to the value of cider vinegar comes from an email I received from Kathy Bennet of River
Bend Ranch. Kathy wrote:
"We are new to sheep raising and have a small flock of St. Croix. Our first experience with ewe lambs
giving birth presented some situations that no one could define or treat adequately. They had some classic
symptoms of pregnancy toxemia and/or milk fever but not all of them. Also, they failed to respond
significantly to either calcium or propylene glycol.
A friend had given me a box of old issues of sheep! magazine, and I was reading them nonstop every night. I
came across your article from Jan./Feb. 2003 re: cider vinegar and decided -- in desperation -- to try it on
my favorite ewe lamb, who had lambed two days previously and had stopped eating and would barely walk.
She responded within a very short time to the cider drench and was active and eating within hours. My
husband thinks it very like was "time" for her to begin feeling better, but I'm convinced that the cider
vinegar provided something essential at that critical time.
We will probably never know what brought about her dramatic turn around, but no matter what, I'm
grateful to you for your lovely writing and practical advice. Another of your articles touched our hearts --
one about how good it is for your heart to raise sheep. We couldn't agree more."
From Pat Coleby's book
Natural Sheep Care:
"Cider vinegar helps maintain
the correct pH in the body,
which is probably one of the
reasons it is so useful. Due to its
potassium content, it is
invaluable for all animals just
before breeding, because
potassium deficiencies cause
blood vessel constriction,
affecting the extremities and also
it seems the cervix and uterus in
the final stages of pregnancy;
dystokia is the result. I first used
cider vinegar on my milking goat
herd after a season of very
difficult births. The next year I
was amazed at the difference,
even the largest kids from
maiden does arrived relatively
easily and in good health. ...
Cider vinegar given regularly to
stud males will help prevent
urinary calculi (water belly),...
feed twice a week... A dessert
spoon twice a week would be
enough for sheep." (p128)