9 Things to Expect if You Get Sheep

9 Things to Expect if You Get Sheep


ONE: Expect to Shear (unless they are hair sheep)

We have had 2 different people come into our pawnshop and try to give us hair sheep.  For Free.

Hair sheep are easy because they don’t need to be sheared.  I totally see the appeal here.  Not having to deal with shearing would be glorious.  However, if you want to eat lamb… the mouth-watering, tender, marbled lamb meat (the kind you may have tasted in fine dining establishments) – hair sheep is not it.

For the highest quality lamb meat, you’ll need fat-tailed sheep.

And all of the fat-tailed sheep I know about must be should be sheared.  Technically, if you do not shear Tunis sheep they will eventually shed.

This sheep is ‘shedding’ her wool.

Shedding is a horrible looking process where the sheep lose their winter coat.  It is not thorough, it is usually patchy and a slooooow process.  The gal pictured above began shedding in February.  It’s May and it looks like she’s just getting started.  With shedding the wool comes off in patches and is not consistent at all.  But, if you never get around to shearing your Tunis sheep they will eventually lose most of their fleece with or without your help.

Shearing is a pain.  I am told that you get better at it with practice, but I’m not sure I have it in me to sheer enough sheep to get good.  Luckily, there are folks out there who do this for a living.  If you call on one of them you will have bald sheep for a small fee per head. More on that here.

There is a guy in our area who will shear sheep for about $8 per animal.  He keeps the wool, but you won’t need to buy expensive shears or deal with washing, drying, shearing or accidentally slicing off one of your sheep’s teats.

If you decide to take on the task yourself, be sure to use the right equipment.

TWO:  Expect to Trim Hooves

Hoof rot is one of the biggest complaints of the Tunis sheep owner.  Sheep need to have their hooves trimmed 2 times per year (unless there is a history of problems – then it will need to happen more often).

This can easily be done at shearing times or birthing times.

Some things that can be done to maintain hoof health:

  1. Keep hooves trimmed
  2. Keep pastures/ barns clean
  3. If muddy areas develope be sure to move water or hay so the sheep are not spending time standing in too much moisture

To trim hooves:

Hold the leg of the sheep securely.  You may use a stanchion, a sheep chair or just flip her someone’s lap.  Remove any mud, manure or debris.  If there is a rotten smell, the hoof could have hoof rot.  Use the pointy end of your trimmers to clean out the hoof.

After cleaning well, begin trimming the hoof around the outside of the hoof.  Cut small chunks off.  Stop trimming as soon as you see pinkness. A pink color means you are close to the blood supply.  Trim from the heal to the toe.

THREE:  Expect to have Pens

After a ewe has her lambs we pen her up with her babies for a few days.  Most folks I know who keep sheep do this.  This helps the ewe bond with her lambs.  It also allows you easy access to everyone those first few days after birth so you can keep a close eye on them.

After lambing, you will want easy access to the ewes and their lambs.  This will make it easier to keep watch over the udders and attend to all the things that need to happen that first week (wool trimming, hoof care, banding tails, vaccinations, etc).

FOUR:  Expect to Trim wool around udder after birth

A lamb’s wool is fluffy from a distance but if you got up close and personal with a lamb you would see mats and clumps of wool.  Especially on the underside.  The problem is that those mats and clumps of wool hanging underneath an ewe can look a little bit like a teat to a newborn lamb.

It is good to trim off all those dangling clumps (especially near the udder) so the lambs don’t get confused and suck on a hunk of wool instead of a teat.  Believe it or not, lambs have starved because of this.  No one has ever said lambs are smart.

FIVE: Expect to Dock Lamb’s Tails (if you have fat-tailed sheep)

Everyone on earth wants to know why we cut the lamb’s tails off.  With fat-tailed sheep, you must dock tails.  To leave them is a recipe for serious health problems.

Why Dock Tails:

  1. Docked tails are cleaner.  Because the tails are so wide, fat and heavy, the sheep can not lift it.  This creates an atmosphere for disease, uncleanness, and maggots.
  2. Docking tails will help them breed more easily.
  3. Docking Tails will make the meat better.  My friend who gave me my sheep says that when the tail is docked, it enhances the marbling in the meat.

SIX: Expect to Tackle Flip Sheep

Sheep flipping is a skill.  I recommend watching a couple of YouTube videos before grabbing a sheep and trying to flip her over.  It’s not hard, but there is a trick to it.

Basically, if you turn their heads into their body facing their tails and push them over they just fall down and roll.  Once they are flipped you can set them in a sheep chair or on one of your children’s laps and work them.  Flipping sheep is a great skill to have.  It will make it easier to shear them, take care of hooves and do any other maintenance.

When a sheep is flipped over they will just relax and hang out.  It legitimately leaves them somewhat paralyzed.  It’s bizarre.  This is the reason sheep must have a guard animal.  A pack of dogs, wolves, or coyotes can easily kill a sheep – all they must do is roll it over and its a goner.

SEVEN: Expect to get a Livestock Guardian

Yes, you must have a guard animal if you get sheep.  At least, this is the general consensus.  The problem is the whole ‘sheep flipping’ anomaly.  First of all, it is tremendously easy to flip a sheep onto it’s back.  Secondly, the flipping brings on temporary paralysis.  Now, just imagine how easy it would be for a pack of dogs, or coyotes or another wild animal to take down a sheep and have a feast.

Livestock guardian dogs or donkeys are the most common guard animals for sheep.  We have a Great Pyrenees and he is fantastic.  He watches over the sheep and the chickens.  We love him!

EIGHT:  Expect to Lead them (no, Sheep will not be herded)

Chasing sheep is not fun and never really accomplishes anything.  Sheep are followers and prefer to be led not herded.

My 10-year-old son is the shepherd of our flock.  When he goes down to the sheep pasture they all come up to him and stare at him.  It is adorable.  They will follow him where ever he goes.

To move sheep all you need is a shepherd and a bucket of feed.  They will follow anywhere.

NINE:  Expect to Work the Lambs

When lambing season arrives you will have some work to do.  It is not difficult work and quite enjoyable if you like your sheep.

Here are some of the to-dos with lambs:

  1. Band-tails – You will need to band the tails of the lambs.  To see how go here.
  2. Castrate the Ram-Lambs (if you do not want rams).  If you plan to eat (or sell) the ram-lamb it is a good idea to castrate them.  This can easily be done by banding their scrotum.  This will prevent any gamey-ness from developing due to testosterone.  Some breeders elect to keep ram-lambs intact, but if you chose to do this you will need to have space to separate the intact rams from the rest of the herd from about 4 months old and up (to prevent breeding).
  3. Expect to Give Shots.  Lambs need a CDT shot at after birth (if the mama was vaccinated 30 days before lambing then the lambs do not need the vaccination at birth) and a booster 2 months later. For more on shots go here.
  4. Expect to Trim Umbilical Cords.  After birth, we trim the cord and spritz the area with a little iodine to prevent infection.

I suppose, there is a bit of work that comes with owning sheep, but I feel they are worth the effort.  Lambs are quite profitable, especially when comparing the price per pound for lamb meat to other animals.

Additionally, sheep (and lambs) are quiet, docile and pleasant to work with.  We have loved having them!

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