First Steps

In­spect closely and ask ques­tions be­fore hand­ing over the cash for your first sheep, rec­om­mends Deb­bie Kings­ley

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month -

Buy­ing sheep

AFTER many years of sheep keep­ing, peo­ple of­ten ask me if I can re­mem­ber what it was like to bring home my first sheep. Some­times I’m tempted to stroke my (imag­i­nary) long grey beard and spin some out­ra­geous tale of long-drawn out con­sid­er­a­tions, ad­min­is­tra­tive night­mares, trans­porta­tion shenani­gans and emo­tions churn­ing out of con­trol. In fact, how­ever, it was all quite sim­ple.

I al­ready had ex­pe­ri­ence of han­dling other peo­ple’s sheep and, at the small­hold­ing I run with my hus­band, An­drew Hub­bard, we had good fenc­ing and wa­ter in place. We fan­cied some Ja­cobs, looked at the lo­cal small clas­si­fied ads (as Face­book and Google didn’t ex­ist back then), made a phone call, bor­rowed a trailer and brought them home.

The is­sues started after that. With a proper in­spec­tion at home, one of the ‘ewe lambs’ turned out to be a her­maph­ro­dite, so we had our first meat quicker than an­tic­i­pated.

Les­son 1 Con­duct a proper hands-on in­spec­tion

Don’t worry if you haven’t yet per­fected the tech­nique for turn­ing a sheep on to its bot­tom. If you need help res­train­ing a sheep, ask the seller for help. Have a good look at its feet. If they are sweaty/stinky/ in poor shape/badly over­grown don’t buy it. If it is a girl that has lambed pre­vi­ously, check the ud­der. You don’t want to be feel­ing any hard lumps there.

Look at the teeth. Are they in good or­der and the right size for the in­di­cated age. You can check on­line for im­ages of sheep den­ti­tion. Does the up­per and lower jaw meet nicely or does the sheep have an over­shot or un­der­shot jaw. If it dis­plays the lat­ter two, leave it with the seller.

Check un­der the fleece. Is it very thin, very fat or some­where in be­tween? Does it have good clear eyes? When it stands, is it low on the pasterns or stand­ing well, with ‘a leg in each cor­ner’? Does it have a dipped back, scrawny back­side, or an odd shape, or does it pos­sess a pleas­ing con­for­ma­tion?

Is it cough­ing or have a dirty back end — again, leave it be­hind if it does. Th­ese are all things that you can re­search be­fore your visit and then go through your check­list on site. Take your time, be hon­est that you are a new­bie and be pre­pared to learn as you go.

Les­son 2 Ask ques­tions Les­son 3 Ob­serve be­fore buy­ing

It is a rare seller who will tell you lies. How­ever, if you don’t ask, they have no re­spon­si­bil­ity to vol­un­teer in­for­ma­tion. Ask about the health of the flock, what is­sues they have reg­u­larly or oc­ca­sion­ally, what things you should look out for at home and what med­i­ca­tion and vac­ci­na­tions the flock has had and when.

Ask why th­ese par­tic­u­lar sheep are for sale and for any point­ers they would like to share with you. Also find out what the sheep weigh in an­tic­i­pa­tion of any fu­ture ap­pli­ca­tion of med­i­ca­tion. Be­fore you seal the deal and put the sheep in the trailer ob­serve them. Do they move freely, show­ing no signs of lame­ness? Are they wild and skit­tish or calm and friendly? You may not be able to bring home sheep that are dog-like in their de­vo­tion and trot at your heel (try goats for that), but if they are ter­ri­fied of you and their han­dler, or show signs of real stress when you ap­proach, they may not be suit­able for a first-time keeper.

Sheep are prey an­i­mals, but if they equate you with a wolf you are go­ing to find it hard to man­age them. This is not the same as hav­ing young, lively an­i­mals that are yet to learn adult man­ners, or a prag­matic ac­cep­tance that you aren’t go­ing to hurt them when they are gath­ered for han­dling.

Les­son 4 Learn by ex­pe­ri­ence

We all have to start some­where, so spend time with your new sheep, get stuck in, en­joy them and learn from the ex­pe­ri­ence.

NEXT MONTH: buy­ing your first pigs

When you ob­serve your po­ten­tial pur­chases, see if they are wild and skit­tish or calm and friendly

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