FEEDING AND GENERAL CARE OF YOUR SHEEP
Sheep are ruminants that digest grass or roughage for food. No supplements are normally needed in the spring and summer if the sheep are on green grass. Sheep eat about 2?3% of their body weight per day, or about 3# for the 110# lamb & 4?5# for the 150# ewe. Up to 5% of a sheep’s weight can be fed if they are growing or if the ewe is with a nursing lamb. The average sheep needs only hay or grass as the majority of their diet. A mixture of 1 part alfalfa + 1 part dehydrated alfalfa pellets + 1/3 part soybean or cottonseed meal can be fed at approx. 2.5# per head daily as a good winter feed, or if on marginal pasture. A brown mineralized salt block and water should be available at all times, unless your sheep are on a mountain pasture, grazing lupines and/or grazing clover. We do not see copper toxicities when sheep have availability to these hard, brown mineral salt blocks; especially those labeled for sheep which have a low level of copper, zinc is within this block, etc. We do not recommend the use of the soft range blocks for small ruminants. We actually can see copper deficiency in our area. Never allow sheep access to supplements containing > 50 mg copper/# of feed or supplements for horses. We do not recommend soybean meal, brewer’s grains, feeds for poultry, swine or other species to be fed to sheep. Cattle feeds even have 10x more the amount of copper than the needs are for sheep. If you have an electric water heater, ensure that the tank is properly grounded. Grain normally does not need to be fed to most sheep, however up to 1# per day can be fed. Up to 8# ensilage per day also can be fed in lieu of hay or grain. If sheep are off feed, and especially have been fed grain and/or have had digestive upsets, take their temperature and call us regarding the problem and possible thiamine injections. Adult male sheep should not be on alfalfa hay; we have a separate handout regarding urolithiasis if you are unaware of this problem.
Nutritional flushing increases the reproductive performance of a ewe. Before breeding a ewe, you can “flush” them by daily feeding 1/2# grain/ewe two weeks before breeding till 1 week after servicing by the ram. During the 150 day gestation period, no additional feed is needed until the last 6 weeks before lambing. Gradually start feeding up to 1/2# of grain/ewe/day during the last month of pregnancy. Two weeks before lambing, up to 2# of grain/ewe should be fed daily. Any grain increase for a sheep, goat, cow, horse or other herbivore should be gradual, over a couple weeks or more time period. After lambing, 3# of grain and 3# of hay/ewe should be fed daily for 8?10 weeks. It should be noted that an overweight ewe can develop a pregnancy ketosis at lambing, although it usually occurs before lambing. Fatter is not always healthier.
The lamb should have its navel dipped in an iodine solution soon after birth, if possible. An injection of Vitamin A & D, oral good bacteria and/or an antibiotic injection are also advisable. After 2 weeks of age a lamb can be started on a creep feed of 7 parts grain + 3 parts protein supplement. A creep feed is not needed on green pasture. A lamb is weaned at about 3 months of age and on good pasture does not require grain to reach a 110# market weight. If feeding out for slaughter a diet of up to 1/3 grain can be fed. An orphan lamb should be fed a lamb milk replacer (not cow) containing 24+% protein, 30+% fat, and 30% or less lactose. 1 pint/10#/day, split into 2 feedings is adequate (1/2 pint/10#/feeding).
Internal parasites (worms), external parasites (keds, lice, etc), shearing of the wool, and foot care also need to be considered and are usually routinely scheduled. We recommend that you catch up the flock at least once a week so that it will be easier to work them when needed.
Castration and tail docking is usually done at around 2 weeks of age, or earlier. It is recommended to leave at least 2”, yet less than 4” of tail; another measurement is no closer than the distal end of the caudal tail fold in order to not predispose the lamb to a rectal prolapse. At this time, vaccinate the lamb against enterotoxemia and tetanus, or by 8 weeks of age at the latest. The vaccinations need to be repeated in a month and again in the fall or before the lamb is placed on a finishing grain ration. Adult sheep should be vaccinated and dewormed yearly. Orf, or contagious ecthyma, is a vaccine that may be given, especially if the lamb is on a show circuit. Other vaccines are available but not routinely used. If your sheep are going to graze in the high country where there are wild Bighorn sheep or goat we recommend using a Mannheimia haemolytica vaccine on all animals (previously called Pasteurella haemolytica). There is a vaccine available for caseous lymphadenitis, also known as C.L. or Corynebacterium. In some flocks we do recommend this vaccine if your sheep shearing causes very many wounds. Unless within a few months of going to slaughter we recommend giving 5 days of antibiotics to all sheep who have wounds, to prevent C.L. If a flock has a contagious, pneumonia type of Corynebacterium we have a separate handout for this disease. When selling or transferring the ownership of any livestock in Colorado a bill of sale and a call to the brand inspector is required. If you purchase a lamb keep the bill of sale in your sheep health record file; if this lamb is later sold and/or you plan to slaughter you will need such documentation in Colorado. All premises where livestock are kept are to be registered with the USDA; www.aphis.usda.gov/
Brucella testing of rams 6 months or older is required for sale in Colorado. All rams intended for home flock breeding should also be tested for Brucellosis.
Scrapie is a prion disease of concern in sheep and goats. For this reason all sheep traveling interstate after 2002 are required to have legible ear tattoos, official ear tags and/or microchip identification. Farms that raise sheep and show will need to apply to the state department of agriculture for individual farm tags. “Wool break” occurs when sheep undergo stress while the wool is in the telogen phase of hair growth, or a similar rubbing loss can occur with scrapie. We highly recommend that all premises where sheep are bred or sold to obtain the free scrapie tags from the USDA; these tags are used as an official identification number for each animal. When we have to do health certificates we prefer these plastic tags to already be in place versus the metal tags we are required to place in sheep if there are no scrapie tags. The preferred ear is the right ear, but this is not mandatory; as FYI the RFID ear tags for livestock is for the left ear. For interstate travel all sheep have to have the scrapie or an official metal ear tag; there are no exceptions. For breeding sheep we also recommend the OPP, Johnes and the brucellosis tests, plus the scrapie test and spider gene test if applicable.
Miscellaneous Problems in Sheep
Codon testing is a genetic blood test to see if that sheep is susceptible to the scrapie disease. This is a DNA test to see if the animal is susceptible (or resistant) to Scrapie; we have a separate handout on scrapie. This test is recommended for all breeding sheep and/or for sheep exposed to scrapie. The breeds diagnosed with scrapie are the Cheviots, Corridales, Dorsets, Finns, Hampshires, Merinos, Montdales, Southdown, Suffolk and all of these breeds crosses. A DNA gene map has smaller location areas called cordons. We recommend the DNA test for the Cordon 171 and 136 in all breeding sheep. The Cordon 154 test is not needed in the United States, at this time. Scrapie susceptible sheep have the especially have the QQ gene. AA QR, AA QR & AV KR are also susceptible, while AA RR are resistant; yet the AA QR are rarely infected. The analysis of the genes alleles will determine if the sheep will break within 4-6 years, or maybe many years later. There are over a dozen strains of scrapie. When a flock is infected with scrapie, the owner should consider total depopulation.
Dermatsparaxis is a genetic problem where there is a defect in the collagen; the skin tears very easily. It seen in the white color breeds of sheep, and in some countries up to 20% of the white Dorper sheep will test positive for having this recessive gene. There is a genetic test available. Besides sheep, cats, cattle and humans can have this Dermatosparaxis problem.
Spider syndrome is also called Spider Lamb, Spider Gene and/or hereditary chondrodysplasia. As the name implies there is a defect in the formation of the bones. The lamb may appear normal at birth, yet most do not stand. Long and abnormally bent lets, a flattened ribcage, twisted spine and/or a rounded head may be noticed. It is a recessive gene found mostly in Suffolk sheep. There is a genetic test available.