Sheep Management and Health (Warm Climate)

 

Health Checklist

 

Housing

  • I have seen bears, coyotes, and stray dogs kill adult sheep. It is best to keep them in a smaller corral or an enclosed area at night if you do not have a guardian dog or strong fences. Strong fences without space underneath, top and bottom electric wire with the strongest fence charger you can get, and livestock guardian dogs will all help.

  • Fresh water at all times – use the automatic waterers, it will make your life a lot easier

  • Ideally a covered area they can use if they choose to. Clean and dry.

    • We scrape the floor out with our tractor every once in a while to clean up the poo and urine. It goes into the garden and makes great fertilizer.

    • Wind protection for very young animals when it is cold, here in Florida we really don't have to worry too much about this, even in the winter.

  • Premier feeder design works best for keeping feed clean and reducing waste: https://www.premier1supplies.com/sheep-guide/2012/10/build-your-own-feeders/

 

Nutrition

  • Types of Food

    • Grass hay or grass pasture

      • Low protein and energy, high fiber

      • Examples are coastal, orchard, timothy, tifton, bahia

      • Fiber is necessary for healthy GI tract

    • Legume Hay

      • High protein and high energy

      • Examples are perennial peanut (not peanut vine hay) and alfalfa

      • Alfalfa cubes or pellets can be fed if SOAKED with water. Some sheep will choke on them if not soaked thoroughly! Some sheep will not eat wet feed.

      • Larsens Alfalfa in Ocala is has the best price on alfala in the half or full pasture blocks (500# and 1000#)

    • Note: Always check hay for moisture or mold. Take it back if you find mold or wet hay inside the bale. This can make animals sick.

    • Concentrate Feeds

      • Low or high protein depending on the mixture, high energy

      • Grain mixtures or pellets

      • Dangerous in large amounts

      • MUST be labeled for SHEEP. Other blends contain added copper which is TOXIC to sheep in the amounts labeled for cattle and goats! It won't cause acute death, but will accumulate in the liver over time and eventually kill them. 

      • Goats need quite a bit of copper in the diet.

    • Minerals

      • Needed for healthy body functions

      • FL is selenium deficient so it should contain this mineral

      • Free choice at all times

      • Labeled for SHEEP!

      • Loose mineral is best, the blocks can wear down their teeth and they also will not eat an adequate amount

      • Tractor supply "general purpose mineral" has worked fine for us.

 

  • Feeding adults that are not lactating, not pregnant or in the first ⅔ of pregnancy

    • Free choice grass hay or pasture, free choice sheep mineral

    • Small amount concentrate or legume hay only if body condition score is low

 

  • Feeding ewes in the last 1-2 months of gestation and lactating ewes

    • Free choice grass hay, sheep mineral, plus

      • 2-4lbs legume hay per ewe per day

      • OR 1lbs concentrate per ewe per day

      • OR a combination of the above (reduce amount of legume and concentrate)

 

  • Feeding young, growing animals

    • Free choice grass hay, sheep mineral, plus

    • A 16% to 18% concentrate at 1% of body weight

    • OR free choice legume hay

    • OR a combination of the above (reduce amounts of legume and concentrate)

 

  • Feeding adult rams

    • Ideally only grass pasture or grass hay if body condition is good

    • Feeding grain/concentrate and legume hay in large amounts leads to the development of bladder stones which lodge in the urethra and cause DEATH.

      • If you ever see a male with a painful belly or straining to pee, it is an EMERGENCY.

 

Vaccinations

  • In general, CDT vaccine is the only vaccine required

    • The C and D part stands for Clostridium perfringens type C and D which causes life threatening infection

    • T stands for tetanus, which is brought on by bacteria from the soil entering wounds and causing paralysis and death

    • Give 1-2 times yearly, 2ml subcutaneously in adults (some brands require a larger initial dose, read the directions)

    • Give a dose 4 weeks before lambing so that the antibodies are present in the colostrum at lambing time. When the lambs drink the colostrum they will be protected until 1-2 months of age. 

    • Give lambs doses at 1, 2 and 3 months of age, same dose as adult

 

  • Many producers do not give Blackbelly and Katahdin sheep any vaccinations at all, however I prefer to be on the safe side

 

  • Any other vaccinations are only recommended if you have a proven problem with the specific disease on your farm

 

 

Parasites

  • The leading cause of death in small ruminants

 

  • The biggest problem is Haemonchus, the Barberpole worm

 

  • Does great in hot, wet conditions, lives through Florida’s mild winters

  • Cannot be eradicated

  • Lives in the stomach and sucks blood in sheep and goats (and deer)

  • Eggs are deposited in the animal’s feces, after a few days of sitting in the pasture, a larva hatches and crawls up the nearest blade of grass to be ingested by the next sheep grazing in the area

  • If the larva is eaten by cows or horses, it dies

 

  • Has some degree of resistance to ALL dewormers available

    • There are no new dewormers coming and they develop resistance within a few years of exposure anyway, so we cannot rely on this method of control

    • Pick one dewormer and use it as long as it works for you – don’t rotate dewormers

      • I recommend starting with Safegard (fenbendazole)

      • Doses: www.wormx.info has lots of information and dosage charts!

      • Cydectin (moxidectin) and levamisole are most likely to work, so save it for the animals that are very sick

      • Valbazen (albendazole) can cause birth defects/abortion, so do not use in pregnant animals specifically in the first trimester.

  • Genetic resilience of some breeds to worms does not kick in until the immune system is mature at about 6 months of age, so I recommend deworming lambs as needed until that time

    • Genetic “resistance” – more appropriately termed “resilience”. The ability for an animal to live and function normally in the face of exposure to the parasite

    • Just because they are a “resistant” breed doesn’t mean every individual will have that quality

 

 

  • Prevention (most people are not able to do every single one of these things, but try to abide by as many of these rules as possible)

    • Do not let them graze wet grass

    • Do not let them graze grass less than 4” tall

    • Do not let them get skinny – if the immune system doesn’t have enough nutrients, it doesn’t matter how good of genetics they have if the immune system doesn’t have energy to work

    • Deworm ewes at the time of lambing

      • Due to hormones and stress, this is the easiest time for the worms to cause a problem

    • Cull ewes that require frequent deworming or consistently have high Fecal Egg Counts

      • Breeding genetically resilient animals is really the best way to overcome the parasites!

    • Only deworm animals that need it (anemic or high fecal egg counts)

    • The more you deworm, the more resistant worms you will have

    • The simplest way to control this is to dry lot all of your animals and feed hay off of the ground. If they aren’t eating off of the ground, they aren’t ingesting worms!

      • Not ideal for most people due to the cost of hay, demand for pastured meats

    • Rotate pastures, graze cows or horses after you move the sheep out to help “clean” the pasture

      • Barberpole worm dies if ingested by cows and horses

      • Pasture is also considered clean if it was tilled or used to make hay

      • Can take 6 months for a pasture to be “clean” because the eggs and larva can last a long time!

    • Recently research proves that certain forages high in tannins create an environment in the stomach that the worms do not like.

      • The most popular one is serecia lespedeza, one farm is producing hay and pellets (expensive and must be fed continuously to be effective)

 

 

Most Common Diseases (other than parasites)

  • Ewes

    • Pregnancy toxemia

      • Caused by ewe being too fat or not getting enough nutrition

    • Abortions

      • Many causes, have vet send the fetus and placenta to the lab to determine cause

      • Cats can carry toxoplasma which causes abortion, so keep cats out of sheep areas

    • Dystocia – trouble lambing

      • Lamb is not presented correctly in the birth canal

      • Active labor should not take more than 2 hours

  • Rams

    • Obesity – decreases fertility

    • Urinary stones – blocks urethra and causes death

  • Any

 

Breeding

  • Advisable to wait 1-2 months for uterus to heal after lambing before rebreeding

  • Ewes will usually cycle in about a month after lambing

  • Hair sheep ewes may cycle year round (as opposed to other breeds which cycle only in the winter)

  • I generally keep the ram in with my ewes at all times, due to ease of management

    • However, he may be at a higher risk of obesity or urinary stones because he is eating high nutrient feed at times

  • I use the program Kintracks to keep records, it is free. I am trying out the cell phone app Herdboss this year. 

  • Keep a close eye on ewes that have twins or triplets– they will be more prove to excessive weight loss and  parasite after lambing

    • If the lambs seem to be too much of a burden on the ewes, you can wean them at 2-3 months of age

    • Otherwise I leave lambs on the ewes until 2 months before they are due to give birth again – being in lactation and in late pregnancy is a large hardship on ewes