Care of the Shetland Sheep Flock

Being a primitive breed, Shetland sheep are not made to eat a high concentrate or man made diet. Synthetic products should be avoided and use of grains should be kept at the minimum. High amounts of concentrates will actually create coarseness in fleeces and promote health problems.

Feed Stuffs Recommended:

Pasture: The flock owner’s holdings should be divided so that a portion of the pasture is always green for the sheep. In California this means a portion that is irrigated May – October and a portion to be kept to native and natural grasses which are ideally green from November – April. If this cannot be accomplished then a significant amount of hay may need to be fed during some seasons. The volume of the flock should be kept to an amount that can utilize but not overgraze the available pasturage. Rotational grazing of the pastures must be employed to maximize forage quantity and quality as well as keep parasites under control. Ideally available pasture would be divided into a minimum of 8 sections. If a new section of pasture can be given to the sheep every 10 days it is possible in many situations, to keep the parasite load well in check. Four strand electric fence or netting may be used for sensible mature sheep. Lambs, rams and young stock should only be in 4-5 strand electric or high tensile electric. Lambs are easily lost to entanglement in netting as are rams with their horns. No matter what the pasture quality it must be supplemented with minerals.

Minerals: Good quality freeze dried kelp must be available free choice at all times. A quality loose salt suitable for sheep such as Redmond salt should also be available. Check mineral mixes carefully and avoid any with synthetics, sugars, or grain additives as these items can create abnormal consumption of the product. Avoid block products as they can ruin a sheep’s teeth. Other minerals to consider are a mix with vitamin E such as Hunter Nutrition, a mix with extra selenium if conditions warrant and Hemocel from Agri Dynamics. These would be in addition to the kelp and quality salt. The importance of kelp cannot be overemphasized.

Hays: Good quality orchard grass hay is the place where a shepherd’s money is best spent. Alfalfa hay is estrogenic and will stick in fleeces. Bloat can be problematic with alfalfa and other legume hays as consumption is difficult to control and monitor. Wheat or oat hay can be used during times of the year when grasses are very high in protein and can cause loose stools. Offer at bit of grain hay at these times and if it is quickly consumed you know it is necessary. Hay should always be broken apart, fluffed and fed in low feeders. Never throw hay to wool sheep or feed in high feeders. Fleece quality will suffer due to the infusion of vegetative matter in these cases. If good quality, clean grass hay cannot be obtained then feed the best that is
available and supplement with a small amount of organic alfalfa pellets. Pellet consumption is easier to monitor and thus less risky.

Concentrates: Shetland sheep may need tiny amounts of grain for 6 weeks prior to and after lambing and lambs may need tiny amounts for 8 weeks after weaning. Use a mix that is made from real grains and free of synthetics. Shoot for around 14% protein. 4 oz per head per day would be the maximum. Good quality hay and possibly alfalfa pellets as well as kelp would be the cornerstone of these diets with the grain as merely a small supplement. Always make feed changes very slowly over about an 8 day period and add probiotics to the diet when changing feeds or traveling. Probios paste or powder is recommended as is Fast Track and goats prefer probiotic products.

Worming: It is recommended that fecal egg counts be run 4 times per year at the minimum. If egg counts are high then worming should be done. We use Ivomec drench in the summer and Valbazen or Safeguard at other times. Kelp and pasture rotation will help keep parasite loads down.

Vaccinations and Basic Health Items:

Lambs:

  • At Birth: ¼ cc bose, ½ cc naselgen in the nostril
  • 4 weeks of age: CDT, naselgen, and hoof trim
  • 7 weeks of age: CDT and safeguard wormer
  • 12 weeks of age CDT, hoof trim, BOSE, Ivomec

Ewe Flock:

  • August: Valbazen and BOSE and hoof trim
  • October: Breeding
  • January: Shearing, hoof trim, safeguard and CDT
  • March: Lambing, BOSE
  • June: Weaning, Ivomec

Rams:

  • August: Valbazen, hoof trim and BOSE
  • January: Shear, BOSE, hoof trim, CDT, Safeguard
  • June: hoof trim and Ivomec

Coccidia: These protozoa can be a problem in sheep. Do not use Corid as it inhibits thiamin production and may kill your sheep. If sheep are positive for coccidia use albon liquid or bolus treatment as per veterinary recommendations.

Ailments: Shetland Sheep being a primitive breed, respond well to homeopathy. Studying up on this technique, purchasing a kit and employing it as your first line of defense can be quite advantageous. The book Homeopathy for the Herd is recommended.

Recommended Reading: Another book that is recommended is Raising Miniature Livestock. This book contains much valuable small sheep information on a variety of topics and is excellent.