How to care for sheep
Before you decide to get sheep, it is important to carefully consider whether you have the time, resources, knowledge, as well as the right environment to care for them properly. Below are some important considerations you should think about before getting sheep.
Before you decide to get sheep, it is important to carefully consider whether you have the time, resources, knowledge, as well as the right environment to care for them properly.
Below are some important considerations you should think about before getting sheep.
- Sheep are grazers and eat plant matter, usually in the form of pasture.
- 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 ad-lib clean, fresh water.
- Supplementary feed (e.g. hay, silage, concentrate pellets, or grain) may be given when pasture is lacking or when sheep are ill, injured, old, or young and may require supplementation. Speak with your local veterinarian before supplementing their diet.
- Ensure your sheep have access to a large area of pasture, with constant opportunities to graze on grass of the appropriate length.
- Ensure the area is safe from hazards, predators and toxic substances.
- Ensure the area is fenced appropriately, safely containing your sheep.
- Sheep are very social and feel safest in a flock with other sheep.
- Ensure your flock of sheep has appropriate shade and shelter. The age, body condition, and health status of sheep plays a role in their ability to cope with adverse weather conditions.
- Ensure you are able to access emergency supplies if needed or have the opportunity to obtain additional food and water in emergency situations.
It is essential to monitor your flock daily for changes in their appearance or behaviour. Once you are familiar with what normal behaviour looks like, understanding abnormal behaviour becomes easier.
Routine health care of sheep includes ensuring a proper diet, parasite control (e.g. worming, drenching), foot care, and fleece maintenance (e.g. shearing, crutching, and dagging).
In any situation where you notice abnormal behaviours (some of these can be difficult to notice), contact your local veterinarian:
- Abnormal behaviour:
- Sheep that have isolated themselves from the flock.
- Weakness, lethargy or 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 (i.e. a small amount of clear discharge can be normal).
- Dribbling or dropping food.o Rapid breathing.
- Swelling under the jaw.
- Skin and fleece:
- Flystrike (e.g. dark coloured patches on fleece, rubbing on fences).
- 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 a bad smell from the feet.