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°
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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