Overview of Preventative Health Care and Husbandry of Sheep

BySigne G. Balch, DVM, DPhil
Reviewed/Revised Oct 2022

    Sheep are a cornerstone of animal production around the world and number over 1 billion animals globally; in 96% of the countries recognized by the UN, the sheep population exceeds 1 million. The ability of sheep to survive in varied environments and to produce meat, milk, skin, and wool makes them an integral component of many agriculture-based economies. Sheep provide both income and food security for many people worldwide, particularly in countries with limited resources. Even in the US, where sheep have been classified as a minor species since 2000,1 sheep-related products generated $5.8 billion in 2016 and every $1 invested in sheep and sheep-related production added nearly $2.90 to the US economy.2

    The number of distinct sheep breeds in the world is estimated to be > 1,000. From the fine-wooled Merino of the Australian Outback, to the small North Ronaldsay that survives on seaweed in the Orkney archipelago, to the fat-tailed Red Maasai found in East Africa, sheep provide diverse production niches. Management practices for sheep are just as varied as the breeds themselves. Extensive production practices are used to manage flocks of thousands of sheep ranging the vast pastures of New Zealand, but also to manage flocks of only half a dozen animals grazing the roadsides in small Middle Eastern villages. Intensive confinement management practices are used in Iceland during extreme winter weather and also on small hobby/pet farms in the metropolitan US. Production demands (environment, number of animals, products produced) ultimately determine the specific management of any sheep flock, but basic animal husbandry principles can be applied across most management settings to increase the health status of any flock.

    References

    1. United States Food and Drug Administration: New Animal Drug Applications; Sheep as a Minor Species. 65 FR 47668.

    2. American Sheep Industry Association: U.S. Sheep Industry Economic Impact Study 2017.

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