Ten top tips if you’ve al­ways wanted to keep sheep

Ve­teri­nar­i­ans Phillipa Page and Kim Hamer have writ­ten a man­ual for the hob­by­ist farmer to help guide them in solv­ing the ev­ery­day prob­lems they en­counter while look­ing af­ter their sheep. Here, Glouces­ter­shire-based Phillipa gives us her top tips…

Cotswold Life - - EDITOR’S COMMENT - WORDS: Phillipa Page Š PHO­TOS: Phillipa Page and Kim Hamer

Keep­ing sheep can be in­ter­est­ing, re­ward­ing and ex­cit­ing. Sheep farm­ers will­ingly de­vote their lives to car­ing for these won­der­ful an­i­mals. While main­tain­ing the coun­try­side as we know it, sheep also pro­duce great prod­ucts, such as wool for clothes, blan­kets and in­su­la­tion, and meat that has high wel­fare stan­dards, is highly nu­tri­tious, healthy and tasty.

More and more peo­ple from nona­gri­cul­tural back­grounds are be­com­ing in­ter­ested in keep­ing sheep. Of­ten small parcels of land be­come avail­able or are pur­chased with a house. Sheep can be a means of grass con­trol, rear­ing food or sim­ply adored pets. What­ever their pur­pose, sheep must be well looked af­ter.

Sheep are a do­mes­ti­cated species, but they are also live­stock, which means that they have dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics and needs from other pets. As such their care re­quires dif­fer­ent skills and re­search. It is al­ways sat­is­fy­ing as a vet to visit sheep that be­long to well­pre­pared own­ers who, as a re­sult, are proud of their happy healthy flock.

TOP 10 TIPS

1 Do your re­search when you start to think about keep­ing sheep. De­cide whether you want to use them as ‘lawn­mow­ers’ or would like to breed from them? There are many books and re­sources out there that are full of information. ‘Sheep Keep­ing’ is an ex­cel­lent, up to date ref­er­ence book, writ­ten by sheep vets as part of the Pro­fes­sional Small­holder se­ries. This book cov­ers a com­pre­hen­sive range of top­ics from nutri­tion, le­gal re­quire­ments, sheep be­hav­ior and vet­eri­nary care. 2 Le­gal re­quire­ments. To keep sheep, you will need to reg­is­ter the land with the An­i­mal Health and Plant Agency (APHA) www.gov.uk/ gov­ern­ment/col­lec­tions/guid­ance-for­keep­ers-of-sheep-goats-and-pigs. You will then be given a unique hold­ing num­ber and a unique flock num­ber. Due to the ever-chang­ing threats posed by in­fec­tious dis­eases, the lo­ca­tion of all live­stock must be known to and recorded by the author­i­ties. 3 Choos­ing a breed. The UK is unique in hav­ing a huge num­ber and va­ri­ety of sheep breeds. Most ar­eas have a ‘na­tive breed’, for ex­am­ple the Cotswold, Kerry hill or Che­viot. Ease of care varies con­sid­er­ably be­tween breeds, so do your re­search and choose wisely. For ex­am­ple, for pets choose a breed that is amenable to han­dling. Many of the breed so­ci­eties have in­for­ma­tive web­sites with contact de­tails of peo­ple who are happy to help. 4 How many sheep? Sheep are flock an­i­mals, so al­ways keep a min­i­mum of three. Find out how many sheep your land can carry. Re­mem­ber that the land may not sup­port sheep all year round due to vari­able weather con­di­tions, so shel­ter or hous­ing may be re­quired. A general guide is four sheep to the acre but this may re­duce if you have ewes with lambs or if the qual­ity of the graz­ing is poor - speak­ing to lo­cal farm­ers about this can be help­ful. 5 What about food? Sheep are ru­mi­nants and as such their diet must con­sist mainly of for­age in the form of grass, hay, hay­lage or silage. This keeps their di­ges­tive sys­tem

healthy. Good qual­ity for­age means that sheep can sur­vive all year round with lit­tle ad­di­tional feed. Small amounts of feed, fruit or vegeta­bles can be used to keep them tame. Ad­di­tional sheep feed is of­ten needed if they are preg­nant or for­age qual­ity is poor. Be pre­pared to buy ex­tra hay or silage for win­ter, when the grass stops grow­ing.

Reg­u­larly feel­ing the back fat of in­di­vid­ual sheep can in­form you of whether more or less feed is needed. Also, thin sheep on good feed may be suf­fer­ing from dis­ease mean­ing that vet­eri­nary as­sis­tance is needed. 6 Shel­ter and clean­li­ness. Sheep like to choose their sur­round­ings de­pend­ing on the weather and ac­tiv­ity (eat­ing, sleep­ing or so­cial­is­ing). Shel­ter can take the form of a field shel­ter or shade from trees/bushes. En­sure shel­tered ar­eas are clean (of fae­ces) and dry un­der­foot. Sheep (like other live­stock) should be re­moved from fields that are en­tirely un­der stand­ing wa­ter. 7 Find a keen sheep vet. Sheep are sto­ical crea­tures and can be the master of dis­guise when un­well, do­ing all they can to show no signs of ill­ness. There­fore, en­sure that you find a vet who is in­ter­ested in sheep and can

‘Sheep are flock an­i­mals, so al­ways keep a min­i­mum of three’

guide you. Your vet should visit your flock at least once a year to check the health and dis­cuss con­cerns. This will help you to pre­vent prob­lems that might cause suf­fer­ing and re­quire ex­pen­sive treat­ment. Also, when prob­lems do oc­cur it helps to al­ready have a good re­la­tion­ship with your vet prac­tice. 8 Moral sup­port! Other lo­cal sheep keep­ers and sheep farm­ers can be a great source of sup­port, who will share your en­thu­si­asm for your woolly friends. These con­tacts can help you source feed, equip­ment and re­sources, such as shear­ers and good sheep vets. Your vet prac­tice may be able to help you make these con­tacts. Build­ing a friend­ship with a lo­cal sheep farmer can be par­tic­u­larly ben­e­fi­cial. Their wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence and skills (which you may need in an emer­gency) are price­less. 9 Sheep need shear­ing. This is a MUST! Un­shorn sheep are at risk of ‘fly­strike’, in which mag­gots, from eggs laid by flies on dirty or sweaty wool dam­age the skin caus­ing a se­vere, ex­tremely painful, life threat­en­ing ill­ness (learn the signs for this hor­ri­ble dis­ease so you can catch and treat it early, don‘t be caught out). Shear­ing must be done in late spring or early sum­mer, be­fore fly num­bers build up.

10. Go­ing on hol­i­day. Sheep need check­ing daily and some­times twice a day in sum­mer or bad weather. Make sure that you have some­one skilled avail­able to look af­ter your sheep when­ever you are away, even if it’s just for a week­end.

Keep­ing sheep is en­joy­able, but prepa­ra­tion is key. Aim to be con­tin­u­ally learn­ing from the many re­sources that are avail­able and have fun!

The UK is unique in hav­ing a huge num­ber and va­ri­ety of sheep breeds

To learn more fol­low Phillipa on Twit­ter: @ philli­pa­far­mvet Sheep Keep­ing, by Phillipa Page and Kim Hamer, is avail­able from www.5mbooks. com, priced at £24.95 each.

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