Caring for sheep
Before you decide to get sheep, it is important to consider whether you have the time, resources, and knowledge, as well as the right environment to care for your sheep properly.
Sheep are grazers and eat plant matter, usually in the form of pasture. Sheep need a wholesome diet that satisfies their nutritional needs and allows them to maintain appropriate body condition according to their life stage.
- Sheep should have food available at all times (exceptions are prior to pregnancy scanning, shearing or transport, or under veterinary advice).
- Sheep need constant access to clean, fresh water.
- Supplementary feed (e.g. hay, silage, concentrate pellets, or grain) may be given when quality pasture is lacking or when sheep are sick, old, or young and may require extra energy.
All sheep should live in a suitable and comfortable environment, which provides for their needs including shade and shelter, comfortable lying areas and secure fencing to keep them safe and happy.
A good environment:
- Consists of spacious areas of pasture, with constant opportunities to feed.
- Is safe from hazards, predators or toxic substances.
- Must be fenced appropriately, safely containing your sheep and preventing predators.
- Is in a flock: sheep are highly social and feel safest when in a group.
- Has appropriate shade and shelter (natural or artificial). The age, body condition, and health status of the sheep all play a role in whether they are able to cope with adverse changes in weather.
- Is equipped with emergency supplies or opportunities to obtain additional food and water in emergency situations.
Monitor your sheep daily for changes in their appearance or behaviour. Once you are familiar with what normal behaviour looks like in your sheep, then understanding abnormal behaviour becomes easier.
Routine health care of sheep includes proper nutrition, parasite control (e.g. worming, drenching), foot care, and fleece maintenance (e.g. shearing, crutching, or dagging).
If you notice these signs, contact your veterinarian:
- Abnormal behaviour:
- Sheep that have isolated themselves from the flock
- Weakness, lethargy or complete collapse
- Lack of coordination, staggering or swaying
- Muscle tremors or shivering
- Poor appetite
- Discharge, watery, swollen or crusty eyes
- Excessive, coloured discharge from the nostrils (a small amount of clear discharge can be normal)
- Dribbling or dropping food
- Rapid breathing
- Swelling under the jaw
- Skin and fleece:
- Flystrike (dark coloured patches on fleece, rubbing on fences etc)
- Lumps or ulcerated areas of skin
- Parasites (e.g. lice)
- Urine/ Faeces:
- Straining to pass urine or faeces
- Discoloured or bloody urine
- Body condition:
- Overly fat or very thin (e.g. sunken flanks or protruding backbone)
- Lameness, or grazing on knees
- Overgrown or irregular hooves, abnormal wear pattern, infection, foot rot or smell bad
One of the most important natural behaviours for a sheep is being able to graze. Sheep will spend the majority of their day grazing and therefore it is very important they have access to lots of pasture.
Sheep are naturally social animals. Separation is very stressful for sheep and can express abnormal behaviour if they are alone. A small group of about 4 -5 sheep is the ideal number for keeping as a lifestyle situation.
Sheep are intelligent animals. They can be trained to come to food, which can be helpful for veterinary checks and shearing. They can also be trained to run mazes and even clicker-trained!