Bringing Home Your Adult Sheep

While adult sheep are hardier than lambs, there are still some precautions to take when you bring home an adult ewe, wether, or ram. Since people most commonly bring home ewes, I will be referring to ewes in this article.

Sheep are flock animals, and separation from the flock is one of the most stressful things imaginable for a sheep. Anything you can do to make the move less stressful will keep her healthy. Here are some tips based on my experience, the experiences of others, and research papers I have read.

Transportation:

An adult will fit in a sheep/goat carrier. We can comfortably fit 3 grown ewes in ours, which fills up our pickup bed.

Feed:

Ewes that are pregnant or lactating should be on a supplemental feed. Ask your breeder what he or she has been feeding, and have a bag ready at home. You may want to switch feed, but do so gradually. I start out with making 1/8 of the ration the new feed the first day, then 1/4, and so on. If the stool gets a little loose, go back to the previous step.  Split the daily ration into two or more feedings per day.

For the first couple of days home, feed only hay and plenty of fresh water (no grain). During the summer, we put out some water with electrolytes and some without (in case they really can’t stand the taste). They are at risk of acidosis when under stress.

Adults that are not pregnant or lactating should do just fine on grass and hay, plus a mineral supplement labeled for sheep.

If you keep species other than sheep, BEWARE: Most feed and minerals for cattle, goats, even chickens is toxic to sheep.

Another thing if you keep goats… If you  have a billy running with the flock, a billy can get a sheep pregnant but the sheep will miscarry. Since this is dangerous and traumatic for everyone, do not keep billy goats with your sheep.

Environment:

When we bring home a new adult, we separate her for a while so that the other sheep can see her and start getting used to her. We have found that if we just throw them together they are mean to the newcomer and may even start butting heads like rams.

The newcomer may be scared of you at first, but after a couple of days she will figure out who is bringing the feed bucket and will become easy to handle. Take things slowly and earn her trust. I have had some ewes go for months without wanting to be petted, and then all of a sudden they decided they wanted to be buddies and now won’t leave me alone.

Things to look for:

1) Not eating. Southdowns love to eat. If they are not eating, something is probably wrong.

2) Diarrhea. This tends to be more of a problem with lambs than adults, but stress can cause diarrhea in ewes also.  This is why no grain should be fed for the first couple of days after arriving home.

3) Pneumonia. Pneumonia can set in from transportation trauma or stress – it is often called “shipping fever.” This is the biggest threat to your ewe. Again, you may see a loss of appetite.  Sometimes pneumonia has no fever, and it can hit very fast. A combination of fever, rapid breathing or breathing problems and not eating, as well as a sheep who is “down” and not getting up, suggest a serious situation and requires immediate medical attention.

Our coming home ritual:

When we bring home a new ewe, before setting foot near the barn we trim and wash her hoofs with antiseptic.  Then we give her a shot of LA-200 to prevent shipping fever. If we do not have a vaccination record, we give her a CD/T shot. Then we worm her with something like Safeguard which is safe for pregnant ewes.  Finally we take her out to the shed and put her in a good-sized pen with some hay and water and let her stay there til the next morning, when we can keep an eye on the interactions and ensure no one becomes injured fighting.

Since we have practiced these steps we have never had one fall ill after arriving home.

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