Sheep are some of the easiest livestock to care for due to the fact that they’re easy to handle, can adapt to nearly any climate, don’t need much in the way of shelter, and can thrive even with minimal caretaking. However, that doesn’t mean you should turn your sheep out on pasture and let them completely fend for themselves. Before you get sheep, here is some important information to know about them.
Sheep need at least 1/4 to 1/2 acre of quality pasture per animal for optimal health. Since they have natural protection from the elements–a thick wool coat—they don’t necessarily need elaborate shelter, but providing a simple three-sided shed (4-6 square feet per animal) is often a good idea for further protection from harsh weather.
As for containing them, electric fence, run 12-15 inches above the ground, with a second strand run a foot higher than the first, or grid wire mesh fencing works well. However, during breeding season, you will likely need a strong protective enclosure to keep predators out.
Adult Sheep Nutrition
Like cattle, sheep are ruminants with a compartmental stomach which allows them to eat plant material and retain it long enough to allow bacteria, protozoa, and fungi to break down and digest it. Plants are eaten quickly, regurgitated, re-chewed and swallowed; this is known as cud-chewing. Healthy, mature sheep will chew their cud for several hours daily.
Sheep need at least one gallon of clean water per 100 lbs of bodyweight daily and do best on a forage-based diet. However, poor quality pasture or hay may not provide enough nutrients to keep your sheep healthy, especially pregnant or nursing ewes.
The easiest way to judge if your sheep are getting adequate energy in their diet is to use a body condition scoring system (BSC) with 1 being extremely thin and 5 being extremely obese. Palpate the amount of fat covering the spine to determine their score. Any sheep with a score of 1-2 will need more in the way of energy while those with a BSC score higher than 3.5 should be fed less. Remember to make all dietary changes slowly.
Since sheep aren’t able to digest poor-quality protein as efficiently as cattle, supplementation may be necessary in some instances (such as with mature grass or hay or during winter). Alfalfa is often a good choice.
Like all livestock, sheep require major and trace minerals, including salt and can benefit from supplementation of our Icelandic Organic Kelp and Pure Unrefined Sea Salt. Sheep on mature pasture or winter range may develop a phosphorus deficiency and should be supplemented with grain or a phosphorus supplement such as defluorinated rock phosphate.
Because sheep are prone to parasites, deworming is often necessary. Our Omni-Wormguard Plus works to prevent parasites from overburdening your sheep and also contains probiotics for a healthy immune system. And speaking of probiotics, if you have to give antibiotics to your sheep for any reason, adding our ProGuard Probiotics will help to completely replenish those healthy gut bacteria in order to keep their immune system strong.