SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Keeping your sheep healthy

It is important to check individual sheep daily for injuries or ill health.

Sheep are prey animals and therefore try to hide physical weakness, and do not show signs of sickness until they are quite sick or injured. Therefore, you should be aware of what is normal and abnormal behaviour in individual sheep and within your flock, watching for changes in behaviour or physical appearance.

Routine health care includes:

  • Proper nutrition
  • Parasite control, internal and external (e.g. worming and drenching)
  • Hoof care
  • Fleece maintenance (e.g. shearing, crutching or dagging)
  • Vaccinations (i.e. consult your veterinary for advice).

Hoof care

A sheep’s hooves need to be inspected and trimmed regularly to prevent them from becoming overgrown, which can cause pain and foot or hoof infection.

  • Hoof trimming requires special tools, and your local shearer can usually trim hooves at the same time as shearing your sheep.
  • Call your veterinarian if you see any abnormal behaviour, such as sheep grazing on their knees or limping.

Fleece maintenance

Shearing: Sheep wool grows continuously, therefore maintaining the wool will help keep your sheep comfortable and healthy. Not shearing your sheep can cause them to become distressed in hot weather, and encourage welfare issues, such as flystrike.

  • Contact a local shearer who has appropriate experience to shear your sheep.
  • Sheep should have their fleece shorn at least annually, before hot weather.
  • Avoid shearing in winter or when sheep are close to parturition.
  • If any wounds occur accidently during shearing these should be treated immediately.
  • Sheep should be fasted prior to shearing, so that they are more comfortable (the position in which they are shorn can be uncomfortable with a full belly).
  • Crutching and dag removal:
    • Shearing wool from around the crutch area (i.e. tail and between the rear legs) to help prevent flystrike. Dag removal involves shearing dirty wool (and dags) from the same area.

Issues to watch for include

Flystrike

A painful infestation caused by fly maggots eating into the sheep’s skin and often occurs around wet, dirty areas (often around the tail and between the rear legs).

Prevention measures include shearing and crutching, checking for injuries or wounds, flytraps, insecticides, and a good worming programme.

Facial eczema

Talk to your local veterinarian to find out if facial eczema is a problem in your area and how you can prevent it if it occurs.

  • Looks like sunburn, but can affect an animal’s internal organs.
  • It is caused by sheep eating toxic, fungal spores from pastures.
  • The fungus tends to grow in warm, wet pastures (mostly in Northland).
  • The toxin, Sporidesmin, causes severe damage to the sheep’s liver, and the external signs of facial eczema result from liver damage caused by the toxin.

Bloat

  • Occurs when there is too much gas (from rapidly fermenting feed) trapped in the stomach of sheep.
  • Bloat can be caused by eating lush, green pastures, which have a lot of clover or alfalfa, or if your sheep’s diet is changed too quickly.
  • Bloat can progress rapidly, and if not treated immediately, bloat can be fatal.
  • If your sheep has a stomach that bulges on one side and/or stands with their legs wide apart, panting, and staggering, call your veterinarian immediately.

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, coughing, or feel swelling under the jaw.

Skin and fleece

  • Flystrike (dark coloured patches on fleece, rubbing on fences etc)
  • Sunburn
  • Lumps or ulcerated areas of skin
  • Parasites (e.g. lice)

Urine/ Faeces

  • Diarrhoea
  • Straining to pass urine or faeces
  • Discoloured or bloody urine.

Overly fat or very thin (e.g. sunken flanks or protruding backbone).

Feet

  • Lameness, or grazing on knees
  • Overgrown or irregular hooves
  • Abnormal wear pattern
  • Infection, foot rot or hooves that smell bad.
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