October 30, 2009

Will sheep fight?

Q. I have 2 acres in northern California in a temperate area. I want to have a flock of about 8-10 jacob sheep, I plan to sell the majority for meat and home consumption. I also do some agri-tourism. People come to see crops, and they’d like to see the sheep (even if the sheep don’t want to be seen).

I will be new to raising sheep, and am busy with two young kids and an off-farm job. So I thought maybe I’d just buy young males or castrated rams and see if I think it’s too much of a hassle. If I start with 3 males and plan to sell/butcher 2 within a year or so, am I going to have bunch of fighting on my hands? If I have one or two females and two males will that lead to fighting?

A. It's pretty typical to keep a group of males together during non-breeding season, and it usually works out ok. Wethers (castrated males) will sometimes fight, as of course do intact males; but unless there's something serious to fight about (read: females or starvation), it should work out fine.

There's always the potential of acquiring that one SOB ram that just won't adapt, in which case he's a candidate for early retirement to the freezer. But that's not usually the case.

A female in heat kept in with (or very near) 2 adult rams will probably drive everyone crazy until she's bred.

October 29, 2009

Questions Welcome!

Please feel free to post any sheep-related questions you may have here, or under a new heading.

October 15, 2009

Novice with Questions

Q. I am a novice and recently purchased four sheep: two ewes and two rams for breeding. They look pretty scraggly and had been in a poor pasture. I have lots of pasture and they have been eating nonstop. Their bowel movements have changed from pellets to bigger stools and their rear ends look dirty. I was giving them a it of sheep grain but stopped and now I would like to wash them up a bit. What do you shampoo and groom sheep with and if diaherra develops what do you give them?

A. I think you're unfortunately finding out the hard way why it pays to buy well-bred and well-managed healthy stock from a reputable breeder! In addition to having a better start, you'd have someone with personal knowledge of the sheep and their own health concerns to turn to with your questions.

But here we are, and I'll try to help you as best I can.

Any sheep that is no longer producing pellets has a problem, and it can be potentially life-threatening. It sounds like what you have is a problem from too much good food, too quickly. Moving a hungry sheep to a lush pasture can cause a number of problems, among those you've described. Parasite infestation - especially coccidiosis - is another likely cause; again common in young sheep that have not received proper care.

Here's what I'd recommend:

Clean up the sheep, at least the rump area, with warm water and a mild livestock shampoo. (I like Orvus paste, which can be obtained at your feed mill.) Otherwise you run the risk of fly strike. (Dealing with a sheep infested with maggots is nobody's idea of a good time!)

Treat any really severe diarrhea with a product such as Pepto Bismol - approx. same dosage-per-pound as a human.

Contact your local vet (large animal vet is best, but any vet office should be able to help), and have them do a fecal check. (In plain English, take a poop sample to them. Ask them to check for parasites, INCLUDING COCCIDIA. Do NOT assume they will check for this, which is NOT a worm and will NOT be treated with any dewormer.) If the sample tests positive, ask for a recommended medication to treat the problem.

If possible, put the animals on dry hay for a few days. Introduce them to the rich pasture for only a couple hours per day, extending their grazing time a little each day.
Make absolutely certain the sheep have access to clean drinking water at all times!

After the sheep are acclimated to your pasture, you can introduce grain into their diet, if desired and necessary, starting slowly and gradually increasing the quantity.