Home | Establishing a Shelter | Operating a Shelter | Developing a Shelter
| Training | Farm Animal Care | Adoption and Placement
Featured Rescues | FAAN Program | Farm Sanctuary
Farm Animal Care

The average life span for sheep is 12 to 14 years. However, most Sanctuary animals come from abusive factory farm conditions and, consequently, may have more health problems and shorter life spans. Mature female sheep (ewes) generally weigh between 150 to 200 pounds. Mature male sheep (ram if un-castrated, wether if castrated) generally weigh between 200 to 250 pounds. A sheep's normal temperature is 100.9° F to 103.8° F.

Nutritional Needs
Water - Clean, fresh water must always be available to your sheep. Use heavy containers to avoid spilling. You may want to purchase an automatic watering system, as it will greatly reduce water waste.
Minerals - Minerals should always be available to your sheep, and are an essential part of nutritional maintenance. Sheep minerals come in different forms, including loose minerals or mineral blocks. If you are keeping sheep and goats together, make sure that the mineral you use are for both, since sheep cannot tolerate copper. Goats, however, require copper and can experience many health problems without it.
Feed - Sheep are ruminants (multi-stomached animals) and rely mainly on hay or pasture for their dietary needs. They will need at least eight hours of grazing time per day. Grain is very high in fat and, therefore, we do not recommend its use, as sheep tend to have weight problems. Watch carefully for obesity, as it is very unhealthy for sheep. Older sheep can easily gain too much weight on even small amounts of feed or hay, which is too rich. The best sheep pastures include clovers and mixed grasses. When using only pasture for roughage, be sure to be careful of overgrazing. Sheep will graze very close to the ground if allowed, and this can destroy your pasture. The best system for grazing is using two or more pastures and rotating as needed. This system also cuts down on parasite problems. Before pasturing, be sure to remove all plants that are poisonous to sheep. Contact your County Agriculture Extension Agent for a complete listing of poisonous plants in your area. Never put sheep on a very rich clover or alfalfa pasture that is wet with rain or dew, as this can cause stomach bloat. If adequate pasture is not available, feed your sheep grass hay such as Timothy. Alfalfa hay is very high-protein hay and should only be used for sick or debilitated animals. Adult sheep need two to four pounds of hay per day. To locate a source of hay in your area, check with your County Agriculture Extension Agent for a listing of hay/straw auctions or look in the farming section of your local paper. It is less expensive per bale if you can buy in large quantities; therefore, it is well worth the investment to build some type of hay storage building or loft.

When working with sheep, be very calm and gentle in your approach. Sheep are suspicious animals by nature, and will spook easily if you yell or handle them roughly. When handling your sheep, use a rope halter (available at farm supply stores or through catalogs). If your sheep have horns, these can also be held to control them. If possible, it is best to have someone available to assist you. Once caught, some sheep will automatically lay down, and you can have your assistant cradle the head and pet them while you are working on them. Handling your sheep too roughly will cause them to actually struggle more, so the best restraint is just enough to keep them still so you can work with them. Positive reinforcement will lead to a better response from your sheep in the future. Sheep are very social animals and ewes tend to stay in maternal groups for life. Isolation of a single sheep can cause health problems due to the stress of being alone.
Tethering - Tethering your sheep (putting them on a long leash) is not recommended, as it can be stressful. Tethering can also be very dangerous, as sheep can hang themselves on a tether.
Identification - If you have a large flock of sheep, it is very important to be able to identify each sheep individually. Farm Sanctuary recommends the use of leg bands. When using these bands, however, make sure they are not too snug when the sheep is shorn or unshorn, and check monthly if a sheep is still growing. A leg band that is too tight can cause discomfort and even serious injury.

Shelter Requirements
Building - A large barn or shed makes a fine shelter for sheep. Allow at least 25-square-feet per sheep, and be sure the shelter has good ventilation and no direct drafts. Always provide your sheep with plenty of clean, dry straw for bedding. Remove damp and soiled straw daily, replacing it with fresh straw. Hydrate lime will help absorb moisture and prevent spread of bacteria, and should be spread lightly on any wet areas.
Fencing - In addition to adequate shelter, you will need a fenced-in area. The ideal fencing to use for sheep is a 4-foot-high, no-climb horse fencing, available at farm supply stores. Field fence has large square openings, and sheep, especially those with horns, can easily get their heads caught. Sheep are easily frightened, and when this occurs their natural instinct is to run — often straight into the fence. Therefore, barbed wire or electric fencing should NEVER be used in sheep enclosures, as sheep become very easily entangled in it, and it is not sufficient for keeping predators out. A tight, no-climb fence that is directly on the ground is a good method for keeping out predators. Be sure to always walk your fence line to check for holes dug by predators under the fencing.
Pasture - We recommend one acre of land for every two sheep. This may vary, depending on the amount of pasture versus the amount of hay you want to utilize. For warm weather, the fenced area must have shade. Sheep can easily overheat, and need to have a place where they can be cool during the heat of the day.

Health Care
Maintenance - Sheep are relatively easy to take care of. Sanitary housing, good quality pasture, nutritious food, and plenty of sunshine will reduce health problems. During your daily contact with your sheep, always be on the lookout for any physical or behavioral changes. Symptoms indicating illness include: Loss of appetite; weakness or staggering; labored or fast breathing; diarrhea; and above normal temperature. If any of these symptoms occur, consult your veterinarian immediately.
Hoof Trimming - Sheep need their hooves trimmed every four to six weeks. This is very important, as neglect can lead to lameness and infection. Hoof trimming is a simple procedure, which your veterinarian can teach you. Hoof trimmers are available through farm supply stores or catalogs.
Shearing - Sheep need to be shorn once a year in the spring. Unless you have had training, hire a professional. Your local County Agriculture Extension agent or veterinarian should have a list of sheep shearers in your area.
Vaccines - Make sure your sheep are vaccinated for Rabies, Tetanus and Clostridium (CTD). The rabies vaccine is very hard on sheep; therefore, the other vaccinations should be given at least one month before or after the rabies vaccine.

Common Health Problems
Upper Respiratory Infection - A respiratory infection is any condition which affects the sheep's breathing apparatus, including the nose, trachea/windpipe, bronchi, and lungs. Symptoms include nasal discharge, excessive coughing or sneezing, loss of appetite, and raised body temperatures. If any of these symptoms occur, consult with your veterinarian immediately.
Bloat - This is a serious condition commonly caused by overeating grain or new pasture. Preventative steps should be taken to stop bloat from occurring. Do not put sheep out on new pasture all day until their digestive systems are adjusted to that type of food. Be especially careful with fields of rapidly growing plants such as alfalfa and clover. Introduce sheep to new pasture by only leaving them on the pasture for one to two hours, and then supplementing with hay. Then, gradually put them on the pasture for a few more hours at a time, making sure that the field is not wet, as a wet field is more likely to cause bloat than a dry field. Make sure feed barrels and bags are completely inaccessible, and do not overfeed sheep. The first obvious symptoms of bloat are distension of the rumen of the left side, labored breathing and signs of discomfort such as kicking, grinding teeth, bawling, and profuse salivation. Any evidence of bloat should be deemed an emergency — contact your veterinarian immediately.
Coccidiosis - Coccidia are a protozoan parasite which, when present in small numbers, cause very little damage to sheep, as most adult sheep are infected and immune. However, lambs are extremely susceptible and an acute form of this parasite can cause death. Almost all species of animals have their own strain of coccidia, meaning that the coccidia in rabbits, chickens or goats will not affect sheep. Regular fecal checks (every three months) should be done to help keep parasites under control.
Abscesses - Abscesses are localized pockets of infection filled with pus, usually caused by wounds or cuts, which have penetrated the skin. They are indicated by swellings or lumps found under the skin and could be anywhere on the sheep's body. Should you notice any unusual lumps or swellings on your sheep, isolate him or her from the herd and contact your veterinarian.
CL/Caseous Lymphadenitis - CL is a chronic, recurring, contagious disease, which causes the development of non-painful abscesses at the point of entry into the skin. These abscesses may spread via the blood or lymph system and cause abscesses in the internal lymph nodes and organs of the animal. In older animals, the spread into major organs, such as lungs, can lead to death. Diagnosis is extremely important, since this is a contagious disease. When an abscess is found on an animal, a culture should be taken and the animal should be isolated until the results come back. Consult your vet for treatment options.
Ovine Progressive Pneumonia - OVP is a viral disease of sheep that affects the lungs, udder and joints. OVP is a slow, progressive disease that includes signs of wasting and an increase in respiratory distress. Many secondary infections can occur, leading to coughing, depression and fever, and many infected sheep die of pneumonia. Signs rarely occur in sheep under two years old and more often in sheep over four years old. A veterinarian should always be called in if your sheep show signs of OVP.
Hoof Rot - Hoof rot is a fungal infection of the hoof. It is more prevalent during wet seasons or when sheep spend long periods of time on wet grounds. One or more hooves can be infected at any time. Symptoms include lameness, swelling between claws and an elevated temperature. If left untreated, the foot will begin to "rot," revealing a foul-smelling discharge. By tending to your sheep's hooves on a regular basis and by keeping bedding clean and dry, you will help prevent the occurrence of hoof rot. For treatment, soak affected feet in a solution of Epsom salts, dry hoof thoroughly and apply Kopertox (TM) (available at feed stores). Apply this two to three times daily until the infection clears up. Be sure to isolate the sheep from the herd, and keep the bedding very clean and dry. Consult your veterinarian if you have any questions about your sheep's condition or treatment.

Click here to return to the main animal care page.