• The basic guide to • Sheep are a popular choice for those new to lifestyle blocks, however keeping them healthy can be challenging.
People new to country life often see sheep as easier to handle and less scary than larger common farm animals like cattle.
Certainly some sheep are relatively trouble-free, but most require more vigilant care and proper management than an inexperienced farmer may realise.
Sheep are not woolly lawn mowers. They are ruminants, a very different digestion system from humans, and must have adequate and appropriate feed, mostly grass once they're weaned from milk as lambs.
They may need to be treated to control internal and external parasites. They will need to be shorn regularly, unless they are a special breed that sheds its wool.
They need to be checked on daily, or more often if they are in bad health or during very hot or very cold weather.
You must provide them with what they need to live comfortably, and rescue them if they find unanticipated trouble. To do that, you need to know how they behave normally.
What is normal behaviour for a sheep?
Learning their normal behaviour isn't complicated – it will require your interest and a little attention.
Sheep spend lots of time grazing on grass, and lots of time lying around resting, usually contentedly chewing their cud which is feed they’ve eaten earlier and gradually process by burping up small amounts and re-chewing it. They should be alert and interested in things around them because they instinctively know the next thing through the fence might be a danger. In some neighbourhoods, that could well be a dog. Get to know what your animals look like when they're happy and relaxed – this will make it much easier for you to know if something is wrong.
Sometimes sheep will lie flat out on their sides but not often; sometimes they'll sit with their ears down, but not for long or often. If either of those behaviours
is seen, check that animal. A sheep which looks sad will be described as ‘depressed’ but not in an emotional sense – she’ll be physically depressed as she's feeling unwell and that means you need to act immediately to find out what's wrong with her because she won't be able to fix it on her own. The longer you leave a depressed animal, the more difficult and expensive it will be to fix her if she is sick or injured.
If you can't figure out what’s wrong, you'll need expert help, and this usually means a vet who will come to your property. You may be able to take a lamb in to your local clinic – ring and ask them, as it’s free to get basic advice.