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Keeping Sheep

Sheep are social animals and cannot be kept as a solitary animal

Sheep are sentient, they have individual personalities, they feel pain, they get distressed at separation from other sheep.

Sheep are not stupid. They learn quickly, respond to positive training methods and have long memories for unpleasant experiences

Sheep recognise family groups - mothers, grandmothers etc.

Humans can recognize hundreds, if not thousands of individual faces. Sheep, it appears, may not be far behind. A team of British scientists has shown that sheep are able to recognize the individual faces of at least 50 sheep and remember them for more than two years. Sheep, like humans, have specialized areas in the brain for face recognition. The data suggests that sheep exposed to interactions with humans, were unable to identify them with all the same 'expert' methods as were used to discriminate other sheep.

Caring for your sheep

The area where you intend to keep your sheep must provide sufficient feed all year. Sheep prefer short, green grass to tall, dry grass. Depending on grass quality, half to one hectare may be needed to run one sheep for a year. If this area is not available it will be necessary to hand feed. Up to 1 kg a day of good lucerne hay per sheep per day could be needed. A bale of lucerne weighs up to 35kg and costs between $10 - $17depending on the season.

An amount of 2 kg of dry matter is required each day to maintain a 80 kg Ryeland ewe that is not pregnant. Pregnant or lactating ewes will need up to twice this amount.

Sheep that are not pregnant or with a lamb at foot are called 'dry'

The total weight of grass that a sheep eats depends on the moisture content, for example one dry sheep will need to consume 5 kg of lush pasture, which has 80 per cent moisture, to get 1 kg of dry matter.

On very lush pasture animals may lose condition because they do not have the capacity to take in enough grass to satisfy their dry matter requirements. Similarly, on very poor quality grass they may get enough to satisfy their appetite but the nutrient content may be too low to sustain them.

Sheep require fresh, clean water. Ewes with lambs will drink up to 12 litres per day each. Ryelands and pther British breeds require 20% more water per day than Merinos. That is up to -3500 litres per year per animal.

Fencing must be able to contain sheep on your own property. A stock-proof fence is essential.Subdivisional fencing can be either mesh wire (hinge joint or ring lock) or a plain wire fence with five or six strands. Both types must be tightly strained.

Attack by dogs is a big problem when sheep are kept close to town. Pet dogs can be just as destructive as wild or stray dogs. Alpacas may also be used to protect sheep from foxes and dogs but themselves may also be attacked.

Sheep need to be shorn at least once a year It is a good idea to shear in spring so that the wool is short during the hot, wet summer. They should also be crutched at least once between shearings. Crutching is the removal of wool from the crutch of a sheep to keep the area dry and less attractive to blowfly strike. At the same time wool should be removed from around the face of the sheep to prevent wool blindness (wigging) and around the pizzle (penis) of male sheep (ringing).Ewes should be crutched about 6 weeks before lambing. It is increasingly difficult to find shearers for small flocks.

Diseases - are you prepared to provide adequate veterinary care? Fining a vet prepared to visit your porperty to attend sick or injured sheep can be very expensive as 'home visits' are more costly than normal consults and also they charge mileage travel expenses. However, regardless of the cost you must not allow ill or injured sheep to go untreated and suffer.

External parasites

Fly strike is a problem in warm, humid or wet weather when blowflies are active.It is caused by a green blowfly that lays eggs in warm weather on moist parts of the sheep's wool. The eggs hatch into small, cream maggots that live on the sheep. The maggots' toxic secretions can kill the sheep if left untreated Allowing sheep to die of flystrike is unforgivable..

Fly struck wool should be clipped off together with some of the clean wool around it. A pair of sheep shears or large scissors will do. We recommend Extinosad blowfly strike dressing be applied to the area. Apply the chemical according to the instructions on the label. This kills the maggotsand dresses the damaged flesh. The wool that is clipped off should be burnt or disposed of in a sealed plastic bag.

Sheep lice are small pale insects up to 1 mm long, with a broad, reddish head and whitish abdomen, and are peculiar to sheep. Biting lice cause intense irritation. They are not suckers; they eat skin and wool debris. Lice numbers increase in winter/spring and decrease in summer. As much as 0.5 kg of a sheep's wool can be lost because of lice. The wool that is left is usually matted. After shearing, sheep should be either saturated to the skin with an appropriate registered chemical or treated with a registered 'pour-on' type chemical to kill lice. All sheep brought on to a property should be shorn, treated and quarantined to prevent introducing lice.

Internal parasites

Like all other animals, sheep have worms that can kill them or severely restrict their development and wool growth. Where sheep are run continuously in the same paddock, worm infestations can build up rapidly.

Diagnosing worms depends a lot on knowing how your sheep normally looks or behaves. Healthy sheep have pink membranes in their eyes and pink skin around their mouth. If they are on sufficient feed they will be in good condition and will move freely, eating occasionally and later lying down to chew their cud.

Worms in sheep can be effectively controlled with modern drenches. We recommend doing a faecal test to determine what worms are present and what drench to use. Paddock rotation can assist in reducing pasture contamination and is recommended.

Wormy sheep have pale to white membranes and skin. They lose condition rapidly, often have a humpy back and do not move out to feed as often or as freely as do healthy sheep. Sheep droppings are normally formed into pellets; wormy sheep droppings may be black and scouring, and come out in strings and/or stained with blood or mucous.

Drenches are usually given to sheep by mouth, in the side between the front and back teeth. If only a few sheep are involved a 20 ml nylon syringe can be used. However, it is preferable to use a drench gun. Keep strictly to manufacturer's recommendations on the label for dose rate. All sheep coming onto your property should be drenched immediately against worms to prevent infection spreading to your other sheep.

Sheep must be vaccinated against diseases. Lambs are usually vaccinated within one month of birth with a booster vaccination one month later. All sheep must be given a booster vaccination once a year. Vaccine sre made to cover anywhere from 5 to 8 diseases in the one dose. Vaccines come in packs sufficent to do 50 to 100 sheep. Vaccine cannot be kept longterm so you may need tobuy up to three packs per year.

Ovine Johnes Disease (OJD) is a notifiable disease and vaccination is encouraged. However due to the danger of severe reactions to accidental scracthes or needle stick injuries it is strongly advised that you do not do your own vaccination for OJD. One lifetime vaccination is given.

Sick sheep

Sheep are prone to various diseases, however if you have been observing your sheep's behaviour it will be quite obvious when something is wrong. If your sheep is not behaving normally and is not showing symptoms of blowfly strike or worms, observe exactly what is different then consult your local veterinary surgeon. Early detection of symptoms will often help to save the animal and reduce the cost of treatment.

Make it a regular practice to trim your sheep's feet. At the first sign of lameness contact your vet. Footrot is a notifiable disease in most areas.

Breeding sheep

Ryelands like most British breeds, are seasonal breeders, i.e. they will come on heat to be mated during the autumn and lamb approximately 150 days later. There is no point wanting autumn lambs if you have Ryelands as they do not breed at that time of year.

You will need the best ram you can buy. Due to disease control it is usually not possiblel to borrow rams or take your ewes to someone else's ram.

Ewes require supervision and shelter when close to lambing and after lambing. Although Ryelands are good lambers and mothers, sometimes assistance is required. You should locate a veterinarian or experienced farmer able to assist you if you have a ewe in trouble lambing. Don't wait until you are in trouble to find out who is able to help you.

Caring for lambs

Baby lambs can be fostered or hand fed.An orphan lamb every must be bottle fed every3 to 4 hours in the first 2 weeks and then two or three timesd a day for the next 6 weeks.

Before your lamb is 6 weeks old it should have its tail docked. This simple operation keeps the crutch area clean and reduces the chances of flystrike. Male lambs should be castrated as they may otherwise become aggressive and can be dangerous to small children. The irst vaccination is given at this time.

If you are not going to provide shelter and daily supervision to your sheep then you should not own them and certainly do not contact us for sheep!