Merck Manual

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Professional Version

General Management of Sheep


Signe G. Balch

, DVM, DPhil, Cherry Valley Veterinary Services, Larkspur, CO

Reviewed/Revised Oct 2022 | Modified Nov 2022

In both extensive and intensive management systems, sheep should be provided clean, uncrowded shelter that protects them from weather extremes. Adequate ventilation must exist to prevent overheating in warm climates and the accumulation of ammonia in structures tightly sealed against cold. Bedding should be clean, dry, and replaced when soiled. Shelter and paddock substrates should be kept as dry as possible to minimize the risk of foot diseases.

If possible, areas separate from the flock’s primary shelter should be established for sick or quarantined animals. Likewise, an area that ensures minimal contact with other sheep and that can be easily and frequently cleaned should be created for lambing and jugging (moving animals into small individual pens when necessary). Confinement management systems should also allow adequate space for movement and rest. Grazing management systems should keep stocking densities below the carrying capacity of the land to avoid overgrazing and environmental degradation.

Fencing, when used, should be kept in good repair to minimize loss of animals and possible entrapment. Measures should be taken to guard against predators, particularly during lambing season and in large grazing flocks. In urban and semiurban areas, the greatest predator risk often comes from neighboring dogs.

In confinement systems, feeders designed to accommodate the natural head-down grazing behavior of sheep encourage better feed consumption. Sheep like to flock, and they naturally crowd a feed bunk. However, enough bunk space should be available (20–50 cm/head) to allow easy access for all sheep being fed. Feeding directly off the ground in confinement systems increases the risk of disease and should be avoided.

Animals should be inspected frequently to monitor for obvious clinical signs of disease or injury and to assess body condition and hoof health. Any sheep isolating or showing clinical signs of weight loss, limping, injury, or atypical behavior should be removed from the flock for further evaluation and treatment.

Preventing disease is much less costly than curing disease, so preventive health care measures, such as vaccinations and hoof trimming, should be encouraged and practiced routinely. Producers should develop a flock health plan that addresses nutrition, parasite control, breeding selection criteria, disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Management practices such as conducting physical examinations and quarantining sick animals to minimize the introduction of infectious diseases should be followed in both extensive and intensive systems.

Although prevention of disease should be the aim of any producer, disease diagnosis should be encouraged as well. When possible, the death of any sheep in a flock should be investigated, even through techniques as simple as gross field necropsy. In addition to disease diagnosis, tissue samples harvested postmortem can provide ancillary flock health information, such as in vivo mineral analysis.

Large flocks and producers in resource-rich countries often have access to technology-driven, expansive management programs and extensive private veterinary care. With diligence, though, flock management can be accomplished with tools as simple as pencil and paper. In smaller flocks or flocks in socioeconomic communities with fewer resources, the value of an individual animal may be much greater to a producer than would be a single animal in a flock of thousands. Producers can work with local or national agencies for information regarding flock health and management, especially if private veterinary care is not feasible. Flock improvement, particularly in poorer economies, may be limited; however, small management changes based on sound principles can improve flock health in any situation.

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