Sheep maintenance. Huh. Wouldn’t it be great if your sheep just took care of themselves?
Unfortunately, they don’t. Beyond basic feeding, housing, and watering, there are various sheep maintenance tasks you need to do in order to keep raising sheep successfully.
It doesn’t matter whether you have hair sheep, wool sheep breeds, meat sheep, or dairy sheep. Pregnant sheep, old sheep, young sheep. Healthy sheep, sick sheep, black sheep or white sheep.
No matter what, sheep farming requires some work. In this post, I’ll walk you through a few key sheep maintenance tasks that need to be done when you’re raising sheep in any setting.
Let’s dive in!
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What Kind of Care Do Sheep Require?
This post won’t focus quite as much on feeding and housing sheep, but instead on the basic veterinary and maintenance tasks that are required to keep healthy sheep. To that end, you’ll need to plan on doing the following tasks if you plan on keeping sheep:
- Maintaining their hooves
- Shearing wool sheep at least once a year (often more)
- Crutching and dagging the sheep
- Putting out fresh bedding
- Monitoring for and addressing parasite loads
- Preventing basic illnesses and doing vaccinations
- Administering loose mineral salt
Other than that, sheep require minimal care, especially if they are primarily grazing animals. If you have to buy grass hay, you will of course need to calculate how much hay is necessary and buy that ahead of time.
In addition to providing fresh water, you’ll need to feed either round or square bales to your sheep.
Depending on feed availability, whether you are feeding grain (this is optional), and the size of your flock, you’ll need to put out a bale of hay at a rate of about one 45.5 lb bale per 10 ewes each day. Again, this is an estimate.
For square bales, you can estimate about two pounds of hay per day per ewe.
Here’s a video to demonstrate the process of unloading hay:
Building an appropriate shelter and sheep pen with fencing to protect these grazing animals from predators is also essential, but I won’t dive too deep into that topic in this post.
How Do You Maintain a Sheep Farm? 7 Key Sheep Care Tasks
Here are some simple tasks you can do while keeping sheep – if you want to raise sheep, you’ve got to do it the right way!
1. Maintain Hooves
Take the time to properly care for the hooves of your sheep.
In addition to providing fresh bedding so your sheep aren’t constantly walking on dirty, wet ground, you should also take the time to trim hooves about once per month.
When you do this, you’ll be cutting back extra horn that makes it difficult for sheep to walk comfortably. You’ll need to be careful not to cut too deeply into the sensitive tissue, as this can cause infection and other issues, like foot rot.
Trim once every six weeks during dry weather and more often when conditions are poor. You’ll dig dirt from between the toes, then trim away excess nail that sits parallel to the hoof growth lines.
Here’s a video to demystify the process for you:
2. Shearing and Crutching Sheep
Shearing is a task that many beginning shepherds think they’ll be able to handle with ease, but trust me – it’s easier said than done!
You may want to hire a professional shearer to handle this task for you, or, at the very least, take some classes first.
For wool sheep or those with long fleeces, you will need to shear at least twice per year. Other breeds (with the exception of hair sheep or those that roo their wool) should be sheared around once per year.
Crutching is something else that can be done. We raise Icelandic sheep that roo their wool, so full shearing isn’t really necessary. However, we do crutch our pregnant sheep right before they lamb to make sure we have access at lambing time.
Crutching pregnant ewes also makes it easy for newborn lambs to find the teats to suckle.
The act of crunching simply involves trimming the area around the tail, down the hind legs and part of the way to the underside. This is an essential practice not just for mature sheep who are about to lamb but for other sheep that might be at risk of diseases like flystrike.
By keeping this area sheared and clean, it reduces the risk of contamination that can attract flies and other pests.
Dagging is similar. This involves removing hard clumps of feces and mud that’s gotten itself bound into the sheep’s wool. You can do this as needed, using a set of hand shears to do so.
3. Cleaning the Barn and Putting out Fresh Bedding
When raising any kind of livestock, keeping clean living quarters is also essential.
For shape, a clean barn can make the difference between healthy sheep and unhealthy (or worse, dead) ones. Dirty bedding can serve as a breeding ground for bacteria and parasites and degrade the quality of your sheep’s wool and hooves.
Clean the barn out at least once a week or deep bed, replacing the bedding as often as possible. Clean more often if the barn will be used as a breeding area.
How much bedding should you use? This varies, but ideally, you should be keeping the bedding as dry as possible. Straw and hay are some of the best choices for sheep barns.Save up to 50% off select Ray-Ban and Oakley Sunglasses
4. Addressing Parasites
Deworm your sheep on a regular basis. Sheep are said to be some of the trickiest animals to raise when it comes to parasites – they almost always have a parasite load.
The trick here is in keeping them within a healthy range. Regular FAMACHA checks – more information on these here – can help you monitor your sheep for parasite-related anemia.
Plan to deworm on a regular basis, either with natural or chemical products. These usually come in large pill, paste, liquid, injectable, and pour-on forms. Most shepherds use liquids that are meant to be administered via a drench.
Switch up the dewormers you use to make sure the parasites don’t become resistant. You may also want to take a look at this article on how to prevent bottle jaw in your sheep, a common issue related to parasites in a flock.
Rotational grazing can help prevent sheep from developing parasite infestations too.
5. Vaccinations and Basic Health Checks
There are various preventative tasks you should do to make sure your sheep steer clear of diseases and other problems.
Crutching and shearing fall into this category, as they can help to prevent flystrike and other sanitation issues.
However, you’ll also want to do the following:
- Watch for diarrhea, as this can indicate a variety of diseases
- Keep an eye out for nasal discharge, which may indicate a parasitic or respiratory infection
- Check the coat regularly for lice and mites
In addition, if you notice at any time that any of your sheep are lethargic or lagging behind the rest of the flock, that can be a sign of disease, too.
There are a few vaccinations you can give sheep but the one that is universally recommended is CDT. Read more here!
6. Providing Minerals
A mineral supplement is necessary for disease prevention and ensuring that your animals stay in good body condition.
Use a loose salt – salt blocks tend to be not as effective. Make sure your sheep have free access to this at all times! And make sure it’s specifically for sheep, as the mineral rations need to be formulated especially for them (sheep are sensitive to copper).
7. Keeping Breeding Records
Finally, do your best to keep reliable and up-to-date breeding records for your flock. This will give you information on things like:
- Genetic traits and positive characteristics
- Issues with parentage and genetic lines
- Problems at lambing
…and much more.
Are Sheep Expensive to Maintain?
Although the initial expense of buying sheep isn’t very high – the average ewe will cost less than $500, which is much less than the average cost of a cow or similar animal – the cost of actually keeping sheep can be a bit prohibitive for some people.
Of course, this all depends on your geography and living conditions.
If you live in a warm climate where minimal housing is needed and the sheep spend 99% of their time on pasture, then you won’t have to worry about potentially costly investments, such as building a sheep pen or buying extra grain to keep your sheep warm in the winter.
Of course, if your sheep spend all their time on pasture, it cuts down on how much feed you need to buy in general. If your sheep graze quality forage at all times, then buying hay won’t be necessary. That’s a significant expense you can cross off the list!
That said, raising sheep, regardless of the geography and living conditions, does have certain expenses tied to it.
Some of these vary among sheep breeds. To raise sheep that will be used for wool, you’ll need to plan on shearing sheep yourself or hiring someone to do it. Shearing sheep isn’t easy – even if you choose to save money by doing it yourself instead of outsourcing, you’ll still need to buy a pair of shears.
Those alone can cost several hundred dollars.
You’ll also need to pay for things like:
- Loose mineral salt
- Hoof trimmers
- Straw bedding
- Adequate fencing
- Deworming medications
- Vaccinations and medication administration supplies
- Lambing supplies
Be sure to account for all of these expenses as you consider whether raising sheep is practical for you.
Are Sheep Hard to Maintain?
Sheep aren’t hard to maintain – once you have a few years under your belt of dealing with these animals, you’ll find that it’s quite easy to keep sheep healthy.
However, it’s easy for these chores to get the best of you – and it can be tough to stay organized. To stay on top of things, you may want to consider investing in a sheep task chart, like this.
It has all the information you need to collect to make sure you’re on top of all the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly to-dos. Download it today!
Do you raise sheep? What chores would you add to this list?
Want to learn more about farming? Be sure to take a look at these other articles.
- How to Cut Up A Chicken For the Freezer
- How to Make Your Own Sourdough Bread
- 20 Resourceful Recipes to Use Up Leftover Pickles
- 6 Absolutely Tantalizing Radish Recipes You Need to Try Tonight
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