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Sheep Tips and Tricks

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This is a compilation of tips, many coming from members of an Internet mailing list for people raising animals for their handspinning fiber. Not all will work in all circumstances, but give them a try on your farm and see what happens. If you would like to suggest a tip, email me with your idea and I will add it here if possible.

Moving Sheep

  • Sheep move better if they're going toward light. Don't expect them to voluntarily go into a dark barn if they're not trained to it. Turn on a light or open a window to lighten the interior.
  • Most flocks 'elect' a leader they always seem to follow. Identify your leader ewe and induce her to go where you need the sheep to go, and chances are the rest of the flock will follow if not spooked.
  • Standing near a sheep, note that when you move parallel to her, in the direction her head is pointed, she will back up; moving in the direction of her tail, she will move forward. Use this knowledge to help direct sheep where you need them.
  • Train your sheep to come when they hear grain rattling in a bucket. It's easy to do--just reward them with grain a few times! After that, you will be able to use the rattling bucket to lead them.
  • You can also use a particular call each time you offer grain for a while, then they will follow you when you call them without the grain.

General Tips

  • Keep pieces of baling twine from hay bales handy around the barn, pastures, and paddocks. It can be made into a temporary halter for an animal, can be used to hold gates closed, temporarily fix a fence, and many other uses.
  • But make sure the twine isn't dangling where lambs can get to it. We had one lamb manage to strangle himself this year that way.
  • Use combo panels, fence-like sections of heavy welded wire measuring 16 feet wide by 4 feet tall, to temporarily contain sheep or move them.
  • You can also use combo panels to make gates that will be wide enough to allow full-sized trucks and tractors through easily.

Feeding Tips

  • Feed your ewes mid-morning each time, and they will be more likely to lamb during daylight hours.
  • Make sure you don't throw hay out over their backs, or feed in a way that they are taking mouthfuls of hay from above their heads, and you will greatly reduce the amount of hay in their wool at shearing time.
  • When feeding square bales, weigh several bales to get an average weight, then count how many flakes each contains to get that average. Figuring each sheep eats 4% of its bodyweight in hay each day, you now know approximately how many flakes and/or whole bales to feed. Sheep will always baaa for more, but you will know just what they need for good health and reduced waste.
  • Try to set things up so you feed only every other day. This will both reduce the amount of time you must work, but also encourage the sheep to eat the last bits they might otherwise turn their noses up at, so reducing waste.
  • To know how much water they have without having to actually walk all the way into far paddocks, place a small, brightly-colored, inflated child's ball in the tank as a float. When you can see the ball, you know they have water.
  • To save electricity when using tank heaters in the winter to keep their water from freezing solid, use a timer set to come on less frequently during daylight hours, more often at night. It will require frequent adjustments to allow for temperature swings, but might be worth the electricity saved.

Handling Ram Tips

  • It's tempting, but don't make a pet out of a ram lamb! When he's an adult, he will ram you when the mood strikes, no matter how affectionate he used to be. If he's wary of you, he's less likely to butt you.
  • If a ram is acting rambunctious with you, smack him on the nose to show him who's boss. Or try throwing a bucket of cold water in his face. Eventually you may be able to face him down with just a squirt of water rather than a whole bucket.
  • Never turn your back on a ram when in his pen, particularly if he's with a group of ewes during breeding season. You are the interloper, and he's just protecting his harem.
  • Warn your shearer when he's about to work on a ram or wether, or the poor sheep might end up missing some important parts!

Lambing Tips

  • If you raise sheep that must have attention at lambing, then buy some sort of portable monitor device, such as are sold to new parents to put in the nursery so they can hear their baby crying. It will help you know when to check on the ewes-in-waiting.
  • Some eartags don't adequately differentiate between the numbers 6 and 9. Check your tags. If you find it confusing, throw away the 9 and don't worry about the gap in your records. Much better that than to worry if you have the right lamb, particuarly when they're both black ram lambs! (Yes, the voice of direct experience talking :)
  • Cut down old sweatshirts and sweaters are often used to keep young lambs warm when it's extra cold out--for extra small lambs, just a sleeve may be all that's needed.
  • If a lamb seems cold, put your finger in its mouth. It should feel warm; if not, warm the lamb with a heat lamp, blow dryer, or warm bath.
  • Make up a form on your computer (or just use regular paper) of all the things you want to note when a new lamb is born, and keep several copies handy near your lambing area: Dam, date, time, sex, weight, condition, color of birth coat, ear tag number, whether it got selenium gel, etc. It's amazing how easy it is to lose track when you have a lot of lambs.
  • Try not to interfere too much with mother nature. Good moms won't be put off by you messing with their babies, but yearling ewes in particular may be spooked and reject the youngster if you do too much, too soon. Give them a chance to bond with minimal interference.
  • Sometimes a birth may occur so quickly that a first-time ewe is scared by this funny little lump following her around and crying. It may be best to jug them together, and you may need to hold the ewe while baby nurses a few times. After that, bonding will take place, belated but nonetheless sure.
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