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Sheep care part 1
Observe your sheep in health at different times of the day and in different places - until you understand what is normal.
- A sheep alone is not a good sign
- A sheep sitting and chewing the cud is a good sign
- A sheep that sits for extended periods of time - and/or is not chewing the cud, should be observed further
- If you get close to them e.g. closer than 10 foot - and they don't get up, this is a (general) sign of something wrong
- A sheep kept alone will be a stressed sheep.
- Sheep (like all animals) NEED access to shade from heat and sunburn in summer - yes sheep can get sunburn but especially when just shorn.
- In bad weather or during storms in in winter they will need to get out of the worst of it. This is particularly necessary if the sheep were shorn recently but at if the weather is particularly bad, even if they carry a full fleece.
- Sheep need extra food and shelter for at least two months after shearing whilst they grow some protection back
- Sheep calling for any length of time - is not a good sign - my sheep are older and don't call unless they are unable to find their friends. N.B. expect a lot of calling immediately post shearing whilst they try to identify each other!
- Rarely - one sheep is left behind because it's asleep - if they are lost (and they will follow you) call them towards the other sheep - or if easier bring the other sheep over to the lost sheep.
- Sometimes they will very lie still and look dead(!) gently approach to wake them or observe for an ear flick.
- A sheep that is cast must be righted quickly - grab legs on one side - they roll over very easily. Let them rest for a moment then encourage them to get up as soon as possible.
- Sheep like spend the night on an elevated area of land. They will seek out the sun on chilly mornings.
- If you have a sick sheep - pick the best place for the sick sheep to be kept - and keep its friends close by.
- Assuming you have a reasonable number of sheep - count the sheep twice a day - signs of problems/change can be easily picked up this way - a missing sheep can be found and issues dealt with before nightfall.
- Avoid doing risky treatments on the weekend especially on a Sunday - getting a vet on a Sunday is (a) expensive (b) practically impossible for a sheep.
- A sheep grazing on its knees indicates a front foot problem. A sheep that sits a lot could be suffering from foot problems - observe at the walk and treat the affected foot. Some foot problems will resolve themselves. Foot problems that show no improvement after 2/3 days - should be brought in and treated.
- Sheep lame on back foot - will limp at a walk/sit down with difficulty/remain sitting for a long time.
- Sometimes sheep can make a slightly alarming hiccup sound - observe and decide what is normal for the sheep. The same goes for coughing..
- Sometimes they rub and rub on fences, sometimes they are just itchy or hot.
Observation will tell you when something is going wrong.
Sheep and water
- Sheep do not swim readily. If their fleeces get wet, they get heavy, and even in small streams this could be the cause of drowning
- Even the muddy edges of streams can cause them to get bogged and are unable to get out
- Sheep grazing in wet areas are also prone to liver fluke which can be the cause of death
Things you will hear that are just plain wrong
- Sheep are just weed eaters. Wrong! they are not convenient mechanical scrub cutters - they actually need decent grass and minerals too.
- Sheep set out to find ways to kill themselves! Wrong! Ignorance of the cause is not an excuse to blame the animals. People who say this might be better to try to understand the cause and find out how to prevent further deaths. The route cause is frequently failure to anticipate problems by the shepherd. Like other animals and people, sheep die, accidents happen and there's nothing we can do but to learn and take action to prevent further deaths.
- Sheep don't need water. Wrong! Sheep need clean fresh water, they may not drink a lot but they still need daily access.
- Sheep don't get sunburned. Wrong! Both newly-shorn and unshorn sheep are vulnerable to the sun (source Purdue University)