Sheep - Some Basic Notes On Care
Females are ewes, babies are lambs, males are rams, and castrated males are wethers (the latter are prized for their particularly lovely wool).
The normal body temperature for sheep is 103 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sheep eat alfalfa, grass hay, & whatever forage they can reach - including poison oak! Grass hay is recommended for wethers, who may be more prone to urinary calculi (can cause blockages) on a diet of alfalfa.
Sheep need free access to a vitamin/mineral/salt supplement. Use only those formulated for sheep/goats, as most other species use supplements that contain copper at levels toxic for sheep.
Basic vaccination is for CD/T (Cl. Perfringens, types C & D, plus tetanus toxoid) which protects against overeating disease (enterotoxemia) & tetanus. Lambs are vaccinated at around 10 weeks, then 2-3 weeks later, after which annual boosters are given. It is advisable to booster pregnant ewes a month before lambing. I give 2 cc’s IM, in the muscle of the hind leg. If wethering ram lambs before their 1st CD/T vaccination, I give a plain tetanus toxoid shot.
Deworming can be started as early as 3 months of age; key times are 3 weeks before breeding, & 3 weeks after lambing (or twice a year, at a minimum, more often if on pasture). Levimisol (Tramisol) or Ivomec are good products for sheep. With an Ivermection type horse paste dewormer, I give a dose based on the sheep’s weight times 2 (ie. an 80 lb. ewe gets a dose for 160 lbs. on the dial). Ewes go from 70 lbs for a small yearling, to 80-90 for adults, rams average 125 lbs. A well-grown 3 month old ram lamb weighs about 40 lbs.
Hooves can be trimmed with a small pair of pruning shears, such as Shear Magic™ or B&B EzeTrim™ brand. Rams or wethers under a year old have extra fine fleece, which may mat with urine & may need to be trimmed from around the prepuce of the penis (in the middle of his belly), or he may develop an ulcerative condition called pizzle rot.
Primitive breeds generally breed from Oct.-Dec.; heat cycles occur every 16-17 days, & last 1 ½ days. When rams are in rut, their foreheads become wrinkly & shed out fleece/hair, & the rams develop a sweetish, musky odor. To ensure fertility/multiple births, ewes are often fed extra (pellets or grain added) during the 2-3 weeks before being exposed to the ram - this is called flushing.
Gestation averages 147 days (5 months, minus 1 week). Lambs need to be dried off if needed, & their umbilicle cord treated with iodine or umbilicle spray. It may be beneficial to temporarily pen (24 hours to 3 days) the ewe in a small area (4' X 5') to allow her to rest & bond with her lamb(s). Make sure her water bucket is small & raised up a bit so the lamb(s) can’t drown. Once the lambs are dry & have nursed, they are pretty sturdy; however, do not use large water buckets around them - I use a shallow automatic dog water pan.
Shearing is done annually in the early spring. You can do it yourself with a good pair of spring style Fiskars™, or use an electric clipper designed for sheep, if you have more than a few. Be very careful around the flank, above the hind leg, around the nipples & prepuce. If nicks occur, I spray with Dr. Naylor's Blu-Kote wound dressing.
Recommended Reading: the basics - Your Sheep; A Kid’s Guide to Raising & Showing, by Paula Simmons & Darrell L. Salbury, DVM (1992, Storey Communications, Inc.)
In-depth - Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep, Paula Simmons & Carol Ekarius (2001, Storey Communications, Inc.)
Supplies- Premier, 2031 300th St., Washington, IA 52353 (800) 282-6631
Vaccines, dewormers, & syringes- Jeffers, P.O. Box 948, West Plains, MO 65775-0948 (800) 533-3377
© 2001 by Jennifer A. Floyd. All rights reserved. Contact me at Shahbazin@aol.com