My Sheep Health Care Routine
Let me start with a disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian and I am not an expert shepherdess. However, I have been keeping sheep for a little while and will gladly share what I do to help keep them healthy. I find it interesting to see what others do. Keep in mind that management techniques may also vary based on the type of sheep you keep and the climate in which they live. Here is what I currently use as my plan of care.
I believe strongly in immunizations. There is sound scientific evidence to support using them to prevent prevalent fatal or debilitating diseases. I have never heard of any sheep getting autism from immunizations, but I have heard of them dying because they don't have them. In fact, I had a mature (yet young) ram come to my farm who had not been given any booster immunizations after his initial lamb ones. He died within a week of arriving. He became very ill very quickly and died very fast, probably from something he contracted right before I purchased him based on when he became sick. I just don't see any valid drawbacks to immunizing ... and this does not include any growth hormones or anything to stimulate performance - just to prevent diseases.
Most vaccines are given to lambs at four months old because this is when their immune system has become mature enough to mount a response with a memory. (I do often give one dose earlier to lambs weaned younger.) This is needed so that when they are exposed to the pathogenic version, they are ready to defend. Most have two initial doses spaced two to six weeks apart depending on the immunization. Then, the sheep should be given annual boosters. For me, their first booster usually falls in February and their initial two doses later in the spring. This is perfectly fine.
CD-T is the bare minimum vaccination sheep should receive in the prevention of entertoxemia caused by Clostridium perfringens type C and D as well as Costridium tetani (tetanus). I prefer to give an 8-way vaccine that includes those immunizations, such as Covexin 8. Be sure it includes tetanus.
A word on Covexin 8 - I've used a few different ones and this is what I prefer. I tried others because Covexin 8 can sometimes create a lump under the skin. Based on my research, this is because of an immune response, but still I didn't want that. It makes my heart sink because is can look like a CLA lump, especially in goats. Anyway, I have found giving this IM means no lumps.
One other vaccine I routinely give is for CLA (caseous lymphadenitis - roughly translated from Latin-based to "cheesy or cheese-like inflammation of lymph nodes"), which typically afflicts goats in the nodes under the skin and sheep on more internal nodes. There is a different vaccine for sheep and for goats, and the sheep vaccine should not be given to goats as it can make them sick. I have not seen evidence of CLA among my sheep, but use it as a precaution.
I have seen a lot of natural anthelmintic treatments available, but through researching controlled studies, it seems to point that natural treatment can help control parasite populations, but not effectively wipe them out. I don't know. I have mixed species that graze side by side, so there is a high potential for sharing. Still, I don't have parasite problems. I try to plant "natural" dewormers, or plants that help control parasite spread. I also use conventional dewormers.
My conventional dewormers have wide-spread resistance, but are still commonly used. I use some with wide-spread resistance, but I use them in combinations with one or two others. I select at least one that is highly effective. I also select them with different methods of action. You can look up the class of the dewormer and choose one from different classes. For example, in the summer of some lambs' first year, I may deworm them with moxidectin and albendzole (should get about 98% parasite reduction). This gets them "cleaned up" before their first breeding so they are in really good physical condition.
Check for proper dosing, which is specie and weight based. Sheep dosing is usually less than goat dosing (slower digestion) and pretty similar to cattle dosing, just on a different scale. If you are milking your sheep, please be sure to check for milk withdrawals. Ditto for meat withdrawals. This does not mean if you consume products from the animal that you will be dewormed, but it does mean that there may be residual of dewormer or broken down components not approved for human consumption. The sheep dairy industry is small, so you may find it is common that sheep dairy withdrawal periods have not been tested.
Copper-free Minerals: Loose minerals are best, but I usually have a solid salt lick available, too. You'll want to get one with selenium, a good combination of other minerals, but one that does NOT contain copper. Copper can build up to toxic levels for sheep. My sheep seem to like licking on the salt block, but I don't think they can get enough. I often have it in a pan that holds water and add a little. They lick the block and the water. Loose minerals are ideal, especially if you can have different types of minerals so they select what they crave or tastes good to them, which is usually what they need. Baking soda should be offered along with these as it aids in the prevention of bloat.
Selenium & Vitamin E: I absolute supplement regularly for these, which should be given in combination because that is how they work. Areas with high rainfall have soils deplete in these (think - it's been washed away). Hay and pastures grown here aren't supplying what they need. Deficiencies are usually seen more severely in the suckling and weanling lambs. I give Bo-Se injections within 24 hours of birth, at weaning, and prior to breeding. Do not give to pregnant ewes. I also give it orally in minerals and supplement with oral gels while they are pregnant. A good way to prevent deficiencies in lambs is to keep the ewe's tank filled. These are vital in cell repair, and deficiencies may manifest in white muscle wasting, lambs with difficultly walk or hunched backs, slow wool growth, weakened immune systems. It can be overdoses, but I have never had that problem. Blood tests of a sample of your sheep can let you know if you're doing too much or too little ... or hopefully just right.
Calcium, Phosphorus, and Other Dairy Minerals: I supplement my milking ewes with a CMPK gel that contains minerals lost consistently in milk-producing animals. Sweet whey can also be give back to the species it came from to restore some lost minerals. Be sure to ease it into their diet ... I've heard of dairy cows gorging and getting diarrhea from overindulgence.
A Few Feeding Pointers
I offer my sheep pasture in season when we have it. I offer them hay all the time. Milking ewes get some legumes mixed in, usually alfalfa but sometimes clover. My boys do not get any legumes as they have propensity to develop bladder stones from high-phosphorus foods. Bladder stones can be fatal and are sometimes referred to as water belly. I also flush my ewes and bucks for two to three weeks before breeding and throughout breeding by giving them a blend of grains. This helps ensure they are in good physical condition. I also grain my lactating ewes for the same reason - better body condition and improved milk production.
One last word about feeding: don't be fooled by fluffy fleece. I have sheep and goats and the sheep always look fat except right after shearing and delivering lambs. Their wool gives them that look. Feel through the wool. I use my fingertips to touch their spine, hip bones, and ribs. Sometimes they are not what they appear and there can be surprising variation among your flock. I try to check them every week while they are milking and every two to four weeks when they aren't. Overfattening will give you a whole different set of problems, though that is rarely a problem with dairy breeds.
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Wife to Brandon, mother to Tess and Liam, farmer, entrepreneur, cook & baker, nurse, and accountant who loves to try new things, travel, and work toward greater self-reliance.