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 for him will keep your lamb healthier. Here are some tips based on my experience, the experiences of others, and research papers I have read.
If you don’t have a sheep/goat carrier, most young Southdown lambs will fit in a large dog kennel (i.e., Lab/German Shepherd size). I suggest using bungee or rubber cords to reinforce it, because lambs can bash their way out of things (including cable ties, so don’t rely on those unless you use a lot of them). If the weather is warm, add shade but don’t cut off air circulation. Tie a tarp or sheet down well because flapping objects make sheep nervous.
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. Rapid diet changes upset the digestive tract and can be fatal. 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. If Diarrhea sets in, follow the steps below in the Diarrhea section. 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 with some elecrolytes (no grain). They are at risk of acidosis when under stress. Follow the same procedure after going to the fair, also.
Ask your breeder to send you home with a gallon of their water. Gradually mix it in with your own water and add a little electrolytes to the water (available at the feed store). The vitamins help with stress, and most sheep like the taste. Our lambs are used to them as we always give electrolytes during stress periods like shearing, the fair, and heat waves. Don’t mix it too strong or it will upset their stomachs.
Always keep water clean and cool, so they will drink more. Male sheep can get bladder stones called “urinary calculi” which is a serious condition. If your lamb has difficulty urinating, call a vet immediately.
If your lamb is going to your school barn or home, and will be staying with other sheep – great! Goats are OK. One lamb alone will not thrive or eat as much as more than one. I do not recommend keeping one a lamb alone, with no other sheep or goats.
They may be scared of you at first, but after a couple of days they will figure out who is bringing the feed bucket and will become easy to handle.
Do you have a plan to keep out coyotes or neighbor dogs? Electric fencing, available at Tractor Supply or Gebo’s, is an easy and fast way to add some extra protection especially combined with barbed wire top and bottom and a good sturdy fence.
All food products should be securely locked up from the lambs. They can open 5-gallon bucket lids easily. If they get into food, they will eat themselves sick. Don’t leave human food out because lambs may eat the food and the packaging. If you keep species other than sheep, BEWARE: Most feed and minerals for cattle, goats, even chickens is toxic to sheep. And, most lamb feeds contain an antibiotic (i.e., Decoxx) highly toxic to horses and donkeys.
Things to look for:
1) Not eating. Our lambs love to eat. If they are not eating, something is probably wrong.
2) Diarrhea. Healthy sheep poop looks like coffee beans. Sometimes the stool gets a little loose and sticks together, which can be a normal result of diet change or stress. In these cases, add a more hay and less grain for a couple of days. Runny stool is a cause for concern and should be dealt with immediately. Here is a nice, basic article on the causes of diarrhea and what do to.
Some people are afraid that hay will cause “hay belly” (a large belly unattractive in the show ring), become too stingy with the hay, and end up with diarrhea. I too made that mistake. Always feed hay. At least a generous handful with each feeding. It’s a must for the digestive tract. Suddenly ramping up on grain feeding can be dangerous.
Here is an article about why it’s best to feed hay first. And remember, Southdowns don’t need tons of grain! Overfeeding grain is one of the causes of digestive problems (in addition to making them too fat). Don’t just take a big old scoop and figure that ought to do it (I made this mistake, too!). Get a simple kitchen scale and weigh the feed portion, and adjust as needed.
3) Pneumonia. Pneumonia can set in from transportation trauma or stress. Again, you will also see a loss of appetite which means that something is wrong. You should have a thermometer (from the feed store) on hand and learn how to take your lambs’ temperature – a fever may mean pneumonia. You can treat this yourself with antibiotics, but if your lamb is going to a sale ask your adviser or teacher what medicines are allowed and when. A combination of fever, rapid breathing or breathing problems and not eating, as well as a lamb who is “down” and not getting up, suggest a serious situation and requires immediate medical attention.
Our sheep will have received 3 CD/T shots before going home. When a lamb is going into a high-grain diet (i.e., switching from being on pasture to going on a show lamb diet) it’s a good idea to give another CD/T shot even if the lamb already has had 2-3 shots. Provided it’s been at least 3 weeks since the last one. “Overeating disease” is not caused by overeating, but the sudden change in diet causes the bad bugs in the gut to take over. So, vaccinate those lambs and don’t be in a rush to start hitting them hard with the grain.
Finally, you will need to worm regularly and keep those hoofs trimmed so that they will have nice neat feet for the show.
Sheep, Southdowns in particular, are one of the easiest kinds of livestock to keep. If you purchase a sheep from us, please do not hesitate to call anytime with questions. If I don’t know the answer I will find it and we will learn together. Any responsible breeder will want to know how it is going, so that he or she can improve his or her own program. We want you to have a great experience.