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Sheep Care

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Sheep Diet

Like any animals, sheep should have constant, free-choice access to fresh, clean drinking water.

A free-choice salt block and mineral block should be provided, and the mineral block should be for sheep, not horses. Mineral supplements designed for horses contain far too much copper for sheep, which can lead to a condition called copper toxicity.

Grazing and Hay:

Sheep are excellent grazers and prefer a diet of grass and clover. Ewes (female sheep) that are not being bred will do very well through the whole growing season if they have access to reasonably good pasture, and won’t require any grain to maintain good body condition. In fact, one of the common issues I’ve seen in suburban sheep flocks is over graining. Feeding grain when it is not necessary, no matter how much you love your sheep, is only going to accomplish one thing: Making your sheep overweight. Fat sheep do not do well; overweight ewes especially do not do well if they are ever bred. The animal really wasn’t meant to pack on a lot of fat, and a sheep can experience health problems if allowed to become overweight. And as a side note, shearing a sheep is made more difficult if the animal is overly plump.

Pet sheep that have not been bred should do just fine during the winter months if provided good hay. Straight alfalfa is unnecessary. If you’re not sure about hay quality, the cheaper of the available products is probably what you want for your pet sheep. Do the smell test: Does it smell good to you? Would you eat it (if you were a sheep)? Hay shouldn’t smell moldy or musty, but sweet and fresh, sort of like mowed grass.

Pet sheep that don’t have access to a lot of pasture should be given hay throughout the year. And again, if your sheep are losing weight, that’s the time to offer grain. Don’t grain sheep that already have good body condition!

Shelter and Fencing

Even pet sheep need some kind of a shelter they can retreat to during bad weather and to be kept safe from predators.Three-sided structures are good. Little barn type structures that can be closed up at night are better. If you’re sure that you’re in a coyote-free zone, and have electric fence installed that will deter dogs, you can probably get away with something more like a big lean-to.

Multiple strands of electric fence are really good at keeping sheep where they belong. Wooden post-and-rail or post-and-board fence works well, too, but only if there are more than three rails or boards per panel. Three-rail post-and-rail just doesn’t cut it for sheep; they’ll squeeze right through the rails the first chance they get.

If you don’t want to go the route of electric fence, that’s fine. One good rule of thumb to follow in that case is this: If your fence is good enough to prevent a large dog (such as a German Shepherd) from squeezing through, climbing under, or jumping over, it will definitely suit sheep. In fact, it will probably be overkill, but that’s okay.

Other Important Considerations

Sheep for Pets – Rams or Ewes?

If you find yourself in possession of a ram lamb, do yourself (and him) a favor and have him neutered. Wethers can have a lot of personality, be less skittish than ewes, and can make better pets according to some. Rams, on the other hand, are bound to become aggressive. Part of the reason for their aggression is the animal itself; the other issue is that rams that have been handled a lot and given no reason to fear, and therefore respect, humans, simply won’t see anything wrong with butting you in the knees or knocking down someone’s children. In short, rams can become dangerous as far as pets go.

Feet Trimming:

Sheep need to have their hooves trimmed as the hard outer wall grows. Specifying a time frame for foot trimming is difficult, as it really depends on several factors including the individual animal and what it walks on. It’s best to have an experienced person, like a vet, herdsman, or savvy pet sheep keeper, show you how to do it. A good pair of garden shears, or even sturdy scissors, will usually work really well.

Deworming:

Sheep need medication commonly called dewormer that will kill and remove intestinal parasites and other types of worms. This medication is generally administered orally and, again, make sure the product you purchase is labeled for sheep and not horses. You should deworm your sheep every spring, summer, and fall.

Some plants that are poisonous or toxic to sheep:
This is not a complete list, but a good start: azaleas, chrysanthemums, acorns, choke cherry, buttercups, daffodils, holly, elderberry, and black locust bark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHITTINGTON

VETERINARY CLINIC

1101 Port Street, Abbeville La. 70510 | 337.893.8522 office