Sheep Best Management Practices
Developed by Richard Brzozowski, Extension educator, University of Maine Cooperative Extension; Diane Schivera, livestock specialist, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association; and Jean Noon, sheep producer, The Noon Family Sheep Farm, Springvale, Maine. April 2013.
O = organic management
- Your primary goal is to reduce stress through good management, nutrition and proper health care.
- Observe animals daily by looking at their behavior and their movement — watch for any limpers (catch, examine and treat if necessary) and for animals hanging back or that don’t get up to feed.
- Gently handle all sheep, refrain from yelling, yanking legs and horns and pulling wool.
- When handling sheep, squeeze them into a small space with a gate.
- Sheep typically move away from a rattle and a crook. There is no need to hit.
- Facilities should include an easy way to catch and restrain animals for observation or treatment.
- Provide adequate space for each animal based on its size, breed and other recommendations.
- Manage facilities with sanitation and disease prevention in mind.
- Clean out pens at least yearly.
- Provide dry pathways for sheep to move to and from pasture.
- O Provide daily outside access to a well drained area for sheep not on pasture (no mud).
- Move animals to new pasture based on the condition of the current pasture, its regrowth and parasite control. The average stocking density is five sheep per acre.
- Provide adequate fencing to keep sheep in and predators out.
- Permanently identify all animals with an ear tag or tattoo.
- If you plan to castrate ram lambs, do so before 14 days of age. If ram lambs are kept intact, separate rams from ewe lambs by 5 months of age.
- Dock (remove tails from) lambs before 14 days of age, if included in management system.
- Plan for breeding ewes based on your lamb market or your management system.
- Wean lambs at approximately 60 to 80 days of age.
- Consider checking ewes’ pregnancy by ultrasound, if available.
- Dry ewes after weaning by feeding lower quality roughage, reducing water intake and not providing concentrate (grain).
- Observe or feel ewes’ udders at weaning and daily for two weeks after weaning.
- Evaluate ewes with body condition scores two months before breeding and adjust feeding accordingly.
- Evaluate ewes with body condition scores after weaning and adjust feeding accordingly.
- Select replacement ewes from ewe lambs at 120 days of age, using records.
- Select replacement ewe lambs at 80 pounds.
- O Contact your certifier before using any product that is not included on your Organic System Plan (OSP).
- Have visitors use booties or foot baths to clean and disinfect footwear before entering barns or pastures.
- Provide a quarantine pen for at least three weeks for animals that are new to the farm. Be sure to trim and check all hooves of new sheep..
- Consider participating in the National Scrapie Eradication Program (www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/animal_diseases/scrapie/).
- Consider a vaccination program.
- Vaccinate lambs for CD-T (clostridial diseases, including tetanus) two times, 21 to 28 days apart.
- Vaccinate ewes with a CD-T booster annually.
- Vaccinate with tetanus antitoxin before any surgery.
- Have a parasite management procedure in place.
- Perform FAMACHA weekly or biweekly through the grazing season to check for parasite infection.
- Keep sheep off feed for 12 hours before deworming with herbal or synthetic products.
- Deworm sheep on a dry lot and keep them off new pasture for 24 hours.
- Deworm only sheep that show signs of anemia.
- O Slaughter stock and breeding stock that are in the last third of gestation, as they cannot be treated with synthetic parasiticide.
- Rotate pasture to reduce contact with parasite larvae.
- Breed genetically resistant animals; cull susceptible animals.
- Trim hooves of all mature sheep one or two times per year, depending on growth. (Hooves are typically trimmed after shearing.)
- Give sheep a foot bath in 10 percent zinc sulfate solution weekly through the grazing season. Use junk wool or shavings in the foot bath to minimize splashing of solution. Protect your eyes by using safety glasses when mixing the foot bath solution.
- Provide minerals formulated for sheep free choice.
- Selenium must be provided.
- Copper should not be part of a mineral mix as it is toxic to sheep.
- Provide fresh water, free choice, 24/7.
- Provide adequate roughage (hay, silage or pasture).
- Provide adequate nutrition (pasture, high quality forage or grains) to brood ewes during the last third of gestation and until their lambs are weaned.
- Provide adequate nutrition (pasture, high quality forage or grains) to growing lambs via creep.
- Creep feed of 20 percent protein is recommended.
- Start lambs on creep feed at 10 to 14 days of age.
- Secure your hay source well before the hay is needed.
- Line up the source early in the season.
- Test the nutritional content with a forage test in order to balance the ration and save on grain purchases.
- Provide protection to the hands and arms of human females of child-bearing age if they assist ewes at lambing.
- Allow ewes adequate space to move about freely during pregnancy.
- Check ewes regularly before, during and after lambing.
- Identify lambs with ear tags or tattoos at birth or soon after.
- Observe lambs daily, watching for robust activity, full bellies (not starving), pneumonia and scours. Listen for possible wheezing and coughing.
- Provide colostrum in the first 12 hours at a rate of 5 percent of body weight – e.g., a 10-pound lamb should receive 8 ounces.
- Keep ewes with their lambs in jugs (pens) for two to five days.
- Check each ewe’s udder to be sure lamb(s) are using both sides.
- Clip; dip; strip (clip umbilical cord about an inch from the belly; dip it in iodine by tipping a bottle against the stub; strip the ewe to be sure she has milk and to remove possible plugs).
- Consider giving lambs 1/2 cc BoSE (selenium) when ear tagging.
- Separate ewes raising single lambs from ewes raising multiple-birth lambs and feed accordingly.
- Flush ewes by providing a higher level of nutrition before and during breeding.
- Select rams based on soundness and traits sought.
- Evaluate rams for soundness 30 days before breeding.
- Turn in teaser ram two weeks before turning in ewes with breeding ram.
- Leave the breeding ram in with ewes for 36 days; every ewe will have cycled at least twice during that time span.
- Change the color of the breeding harness crayon or raddle every 18 days.
Wool and Shearing
- Shear sheep at least once per year. Some breeds are shorn twice annually.
- Have shearer disinfect equipment, electrical cords, cutter and combs before shearing.
- Have shearer wear clean clothing before handling and shearing your sheep.
- Keep sheep off feed for 12 hours before shearing.
- If you see any lumps on sheep while shearing, be sure to disinfect machinery before the next sheep, then cull that sheep. Lumps could indicate Caseous Lymphadenitis (CL), a contagious bacterial infection.
- Shear all white sheep first, then colored.
- Avoid second cuts when shearing.
- Skirt fleeces as they are removed from the sheep.
- Label wool to distinguish it from others (using sheep ewe tag numbers).
- Store wool in appropriate containers in a dry place.
- Keep production records for each ewe.
- Percent of lambs marketed per ewe, conception rate, lambing rate, lambing percentage (lambs born per ewe lambing), lamb survival rate
- Keep records of ewes’ performance before, during and after lambing.
- Mark and record ID numbers of ewes. Specify those that are poor mothers — those lacking milk, having damaged udders, or “poor doers” (generally doing poorly). Cull these ewes and possibly their lambs.
- Record lamb weights at birth, at 30, 60 and 90 days and at weaning.
- O Maintain records of flock member, ration, pasture use, outside access/temporary confinement, field history, health care/treatment.
- Record weights of wool harvested from each sheep, if applicable.
Processing Slaughter Stock
- Keep slaughter lambs off feed for 24 hours before slaughter.
- Provide water to lambs before slaughter.
- Arrange for slaughter of animals with the abattoir well in advance.