We added Tunis sheep to our homestead last summer.
I am new to sheep.
The Tunis sheep are a meat breed. The wool is useful, but Tunis are prized for the incredible amount of marbling in the meat. They are one of the “fat-tailed” breeds. When you see a fat tail like a paddle, you know it’s gonna taste good.
I have a dear friend who also raises Tunis sheep. Her husband passed away last year and we have been helping out with the farm work. We were at her place earlier this week working the lambs.
By the way, when your sheep are giving birth it’s called “lambing.” When you goats are giving birth it’s called “kidding.” When you cows are giving birth it’s called “calving.”
So, she is “lambing” and oh what fun it is!
Just look at that face! I think he’s smiling. These lambs are about a week old. They have bonded with their mama-ewes and are ready for some maintenance.
The process all begins with separating the lambs from the mama’s so we can work with them and not be harassed. The moms were in a pen just a few feet away balling the entire time. So sweet.
We only had the lambs away from their ewe’s a few minutes, but you would have thought we separated them for life the way they protested.
We used a “Tuff Stuff” storage can as our examination table. This is how things go on the farm. You tend to use what ever is convenient – or available.
We got all the vaccinations and equipment ready to go.
Patient #1 is brought to the working station.
The first thing on the agenda is to remove the majority of the umbilical cord. We used a pair of kitchen scissors to snip most of the drying cord off. We left about an inch still attached. Then we dipped the remaining bit into some iodine to prevent infection.
Next, was the CDT shot. This is a pretty routine vaccination for sheep and goats.
If the ewe receives the vaccine while she is pregnant, the unborn lamb will automatically be covered. If the ewe did not receive the injection during pregnancy, it can be given to the lambs and the ewes after birth.
Here’s more on CDT if you’re interested:
“The only universally-recommended vaccine for sheep and lambs is for clostridial diseases. There are 3, 7, and 8-way vaccines. CDT provides three-way protection against enterotoxemia caused by Clostridium perfringens types C and D and tetanus (lockjaw) caused by Clostridium tetani. The 7 and 8-way clostridial vaccines provide protection against additional clostridial diseases, including blackleg and malignant edema. The extra protection provided by the 7 and 8 way vaccines may or may not be necessary, depending upon farm.” –source
Yes, they must lose their tails. This is called, “Tail docking.” I’m not an expert on this, but I’m gonna try to explain. what may seem like a barbaric practice.
Fat-tailed sheep do not have the ability to lift their tails if they are not docked. This can create a breeding ground for problems caused by moisture & uncleanness. Those giant fat tails can even provide a habitat for fly and insect reproduction. Yuck.
Tail docking can be done by knife (usually by a vet) or by using bands. We used banding. This is a simple and safe way to remove tails (and testicles). I love practices that can be done on small farms by homesteaders like me that don’t take a vet or expert.
This is the tool we use. It can be purchased at most farm stores. You can see the little green band on the nubs of the instrument. This tiny band is what will eventually remove the tails. To open the rubber band you just squeeze the grips. Once you stretch out the rubber band you are ready. Make sure the prongs are pointing up. This will make it easier to get the band off the tool & on the tail.
Drop the tail down through the rubber band.
You will need to get involved in order to get the rubber band to come off the nubs (the prongs of the tool). Just closing the prongs will not make the band slide off. You just have to scooch the band upward and it will slide into place.
To see where the band needs to go, lift the tail. Underneath you can see the caudal fold. You want to put the band at the end of this area. When the sheep is grown it will still have a tail about 4 inches long. This is large enough that folks can see and admire the glory of the fat-tailed breed – but short enough that the area stays clean and healthy.
Once the tails were docked and the vaccines were given, the lambs were reunited with their mamas. I find it adorable that in a field with 20+ sheep the lambs all know their mommy. Likewise, the mommas all know which babies belong to them.
It’s a good thing I’m not a sheep – because they all look exactly the same to me.
After the first batch of lambs was reunited with their families, we collected the next group and continued working lambs until everyone was sufficiently trimmed, injected & banded.
Thanks to the bands, it was easy to tell which lambs had been treated and who was still on the docket.
WORKING THE EWES
Next, we needed to address the ewes.
Working with full-grown sheep is kinda hilarious.
Here’s something about sheep… If you flip them over on their back they are basically paralyzed. It’s kinda funny and kinda sad. This is one of the reasons it is critical that there is a guardian animal with sheep. They need a livestock guardian dog or donkey to watch over them. It’s true.
A pack of coyotes, dogs or other predators can easily take down a sheep. All they must do is get it on its back. Once it’s flipped over it is a goner.
This makes working with giant sheep surprisingly easy. All you have to do is flip it over.
When a sheep is sunny-side up you can do whatever you want to them. They just lay there and relax. It’s quite adorable and horrifying too.
Just google “sheep chair” and see what you get – so funny. There are lots of different sheep chairs for sale for this very purpose – it’s a sling (like a hammock) for holding sheep on their backs/butts so they can be worked. You can trim hooves, give a vaccination, and even sheer them (at least one side of them).
The work was easy, enjoyable and didn’t take long.
I LOVE having sheep. They are just so sweet and easy to work with. The lambs (baby sheep) are much hardier than kids (baby goats) according to my friend who has about 100 of each.
I only have 3 Tunis sheep (2 ewes and a ram) but am hoping for much reproduction in the next few years.