At Home in Nature

  (Agate, Colorado)
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Counting sheep not just for dreamers

Denver is on the verge of allowing you to raise a four legged friend not named fido. 

Raising sheep can be very profitable, whether you are raising them for wool, meat, milk, or to sell lambs.  The best way to maximize profits is to keep your flock healthy from day one.  When you buy your sheep, no matter the age, make sure that they have been ear-tagged with scrapie tags.  Scrapies is a serious infectious disease and you should never buy a sheep that does not come proven to be from a scrapie-free herd.  Also make sure that you are buying sheep that are current on vaccinations.

If you are buying young lambs or have pregnant ewes, young lambs require special care.    If your lamb is not nursing and needs hand-fed, make sure to feed it several times daily.  It should also receive colostrum at first, whether from its mother or from a bottle.  By the time the lamb is one or two months old, it should be eating grass or hay in sufficient quantities to wean it from its mother or the bottle.   Lambs over a week old should be given access to hay and grain so that they can start learning how to eat more than milk. 

With all age sheep, make sure to feed grains that are formulated for sheep: sheep are very sensitive to copper, and feeds not designed for sheep (such as cattle feed) are too high in copper.  Sheep that have too much copper in their diet will become lethargic and anemic, and typically die 1 to 2 days later.  Copper toxicity may take years to show symptoms as the copper builds up in the liver, so don’t assume that your feed is okay just because your sheep appear healthy.

        Sheep are prone to fly infections under their tail, which results in a painful and potentially fatal disease.  To prevent this, all lambs should have their tails docked (removed) when they are less than one week old.  It is difficult and dangerous to remove the tails of older lambs.  This is typically done by banding, wherein an elastic band is tied around the tail to cut off the blood flow, and the tail will fall off after the tissues die.  You may also want to vaccinate for tetanus at this time.

        Male lambs should also be castrated by banding before they are a week old.  When your lambs are 6 to 8 weeks old, they should be vaccinated with a CD-T vaccine.  They should be given a booster shot 2 weeks later.  Most sheep do not require any other vaccines than this during their life.

        Watch out for worms!  A worm infection in your sheep’s gut can make it very sick or kill it.  You can tell if a sheep needs dewormed by looking at the color of the membranes of its lower eyelids. A pale color (white or pinkish white) is a sign of anemia (low red blood cells) which is the primary symptom of barber pole worm infection. The barber pole worm (Haemonchus contortus) is the primary worm affecting lambs. It is a blood sucking worm that causes blood and protein loss, not diarrhea.  A lamb with scours (diarrhea) should be treated promptly.  It is not usually contagious, but it can be, depending on the cause.  Many things can cause scours, but it is usually caused by a type of bacteria called coccidia.  This can be treated with several different medicines.   Lambs with scours should also be given electrolytes in their water.

        Coughing sometimes occurs in sheep, typically from dusty feed.  If your feed is not dusty, or if your sheep are coughing even when no food is present, they may have allergies, or they may have a respiratory infection.  Take their rectal temperature: if it is more than 103F, they have an infection and should be given antibiotics.  Other diseases such as soremouth and footrot should also be watched for.  With regular care and fast response when you see a problem, your sheep can live long and productive lives. 

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