General Information About the Sheep

NATURE

Most sheep will graze peacefully and stay well contained in a pasture or paddock with a 4-foot high fence.  Higher fences may be needed depending on your particular flock. When fencing, make sure a fence is erected to keep predators out as well as keeping sheep in.  Fencing with a mesh-type pattern is recommended.  When startled, the sheep will flock together, and if chased some individuals may leap, run, and possibly clear a 4-foot high fence.  They are usually more athletic than wool sheep or larger hair sheep such as the Katahdin or Dorper sheep so they can and will run faster and leap higher and are beautiful and graceful as they jump and seem to fly.  Sheep within the American Heavy Horned Division may be much heavier built but will still display athleticism.

While the sheep breeds represented by United Horned Hair Sheep Association, Inc., can be naturally wild and flighty, the sheep can become very docile when handled and individual sheep may have a docile and friendly disposition even without a lot of handling.  Bottle-raised ewes can make great pets if cared for properly.  Bottle feeding ram lambs is not recommended unless it is to save the ram lamb’s life as at maturity some bottle-fed rams could become aggressive.   Castrating the ram lambs that have been bottle-fed may assist with fending off aggressive behavior, but it will also stop the horn growth.

Painted Desert and Texas Dall sheep have been halter broke and exhibited and shown at live sheep shows with great success. They have held their own in the show ring, competing against other breeds and placing as top breeds in several open breeding shows.   In 2017, a California shepherd is planning to show her young Mouflon ram. While most show breeders will not work with their rams every day to prevent aggressive behavior, the more you work with your ewe flock and are around them, generally, the more calm the sheep will be around you.  In fact, many breeders who interact with their ewes every day find that some ewes can become quite friendly while you are holding the grain buckets!

Just like all breeds of sheep, the sheep can sense when it is time for medicine and no matter how friendly they have been, they will probably run away from you!  Most breeders use a catch pen or smaller area for checking their sheep and doing health maintenance.  Catch pens can be homemade from items you already have or purchased from equipment stores.  It is nice to have your catch pen be higher than 4 feet to prevent sheep from escaping by jumping.

Lambs and Ewes will run and play. One of the most wonderful and rewarding sights is to watch the lambs run and play “king of the mountain”.  The sheep love to climb and jump and chase each other.   This observed behavior, in conjunction with hands-on checking of the sheep as required, can also let you know that the sheep are feeling good.  Sheep that move slowly, or that can not keep up with the flock should be examined to determine the problem.

MOTHERING AND LAMBING

These sheep are generally excellent mothers with twins, triplets, and the rare quadruplets being produced.  Mouflon ewes will produce only single lambs with the rare twin occurring. Sheep in the American Heavy Horned Division with strong Alaskan Dall or Bighorn sheep influences may also tend to produce single lambs.  In cases of multiple lambs, most ewes can easily take care of all offspring.   Breeders will monitor the situation when multiple births occur and ensure that all the lambs have gotten a first drink and continue to receive enough milk.  Gestation dates run from 142 – 155 days generally, with an average of 150 days being the best estimate from time of breeding to time of lambing. NM Dahl sheep tend toward the 155-day mark and sheep within the American Heavy Horned Division with strong Bighorn or Alaskan Dall influences may tend to have even longer gestation times.
If a marking harness is used, breeding dates can be recorded and you will have a good idea of what day lambs will arrive.

Some breeders lamb in barns or lambing jugs, while other breeders have their ewes lamb out on pasture.  Others do a combination where the ewes lamb outside in shelter and are brought in for a couple of days to make sure the lambs are doing well.    If you lamb during the winter or times of wet and cool weather, make sure that the lambs are able to get dried off quickly or are in a dry, warmer place until they are dried off.  While these sheep are hardy, all newborn lambs could become chilled quickly in the right conditions. Some breeders place all first-time mothers in a lambing jug or stall for a day or so to make sure she will accept and care for lambs and has enough milk for them.

FLOCK MANAGEMENT

WEANING: Lambs are ready for weaning around 10 – 12 weeks of age with  Mouflon, Bighorn, or Alaskan Dall influenced lambs’ weaning age tending toward the longer period and may go beyond 12 weeks.  While some ewes will wean their lambs on their own, others will not so it is best to remove the lambs at 12 weeks of age, especially for ram lambs.  If both ewe and ram lambs are weaned at the same time, the weanlings should be separated by gender during the weaning process.

BREEDING: Ram Lambs have been known to breed as early as age 3 to 4 months of age. Removing the ram lambs at age 12 weeks from all ewes, including weanling ewe lambs, is the only sure way to ensure the accurate identification of which ram is the sire to the next lambs – especially important for registered stock.  Weaning ram lambs at 12 weeks of age and keeping them separate from weanling ewe lambs will also prevent the ewe lambs from breeding too early.

Ewe lambs generally start cycling between 5 – 8 months and as young as 4 months of age. Some breeders will wait until after the ewe lambs are one year old to expose them to a ram while other shepherds plan for the first lambing to occur as or after the ewe lambs turn one year. At what age to expose ewe lambs to a ram for breeding should b dependent upon the size in comparison to the parents, condition, and health of the ewe lamb.  Using smaller-sized rams for the first breeding can be helpful.  In addition, good nutrition is invaluable to young expectant ewes.

Depending upon the fertility and drive of the breeding flock sire and time placed with the ewe flock, one ram can tend to 50 plus ewes.  Placing more than one ram in with the ewes at the same time or within two weeks (more time is preferred) of removing a different breeding flock sire is never advised for registered flocks as accurate identification of both the sire and dam is required.

PLANNING LAMBING PERIODS:  If you would like to have a period of time without lambs, you will also need to remove the flock sire ram from the ewe flock as these sheep can breed any time of the year though the rams’ activity may decrease during the hottest months.  For example, removing your ram from the flock during July, August and September will prevent lambs from arriving in December, January, and February and vice versa.   Ewe lambs which are not to be bred at the time should be removed from the ewe flock when the flock sire is present and not kept with any ram lambs over the age of 12 weeks. Keep in mind that sheep with strong Bighorn or Alaskan Dall influence within the American Heavy Horned Division may tend to lamb once a year.

KEEPING EWES AND RAMS: Some breeders find that having another ram to keep the flock sire company after his time with the ewes to be beneficial if you do remove your flock sire. You would need at least another ram or older ram lamb to keep the “companion ram” company during the time when the flock sire is in with the ewes.  It is advisable, if you keep the rams away from the ewes, to have an area between the rams and the ewes.

Mature rams generally tolerate ram lambs and breeders can keep the older rams with their younger weanling ram lambs.  There are mature rams that will not tolerate young rams or even ram lambs so the rams would then need to be kept separate based on age to prevent injury or death to other younger rams.

Whenever introducing new rams, especially yearlings and mature rams, into a ram pen or pasture, it is best to arrange a small area in which to contain the rams so they do not have enough room to seriously hurt each other as they adjust to each other and decide who is in charge.  Ewes also can be seen adjusting to each other and deciding who is “top ewe of the pasture” at times, but without the large horns and strength of a ram, they are much less likely to injure each other.

HEALTH MANAGEMENT:    Work with your local veterinarian and talk with other sheep breeders in your areas to plan out a health management plan as the health care of your sheep can be very farm-specific.  Corsican, Desert Sand, Painted Desert, Texas Dall, Black Hawaiian, Multi-horned Hair, and NM Dahl Sheep are generally more able to withstand internal parasites than sheep with wool, but certain individuals may need more or less attention.  Hair Sheep are also more immune to problems with external parasites.

Mouflon sheep can tend to have issues with coccidiosis and sheep within the American Heavy Horned Division with strong Bighorn influences may have issues with pneumonia. From breeders’ experience, the higher the percentage of Bighorn blood, the higher the increased risks of pneumonia, especially in geographic areas with higher humidity levels.

Deworming schedules are different in each area and can be very farm-specific.  Check with your local veterinarian about your area and recommended deworming schedules.  Wet, moist, and humid areas may require more frequent dewormings than areas that are low in humidity and much drier. The FAMACHA system was developed in South Africa for one of the major internal parasites of all sheep and goats.  Talk to your local veterinarian and/or do stool samples to determine if Haemonchus contortus (barber pole worm) is of concern on your farm and learn about the FAMACHA system.

Proper hoof care is important.  Dependent on your soil type and environment, your sheep may not ever need to have their hooves trimmed, while other sheep at other farms based on the soil and environment may need to have hooves trimmed two or three times a year. Some individual sheep tend to grow their hooves faster than others.

GENERAL ANATOMY

Anatomy of Sheep

HORN ANATOMY

HORNS of these sheep have an inner core.  This picture shows the inner core and the outer horn.  The inner core will usually not be all the way to the tip of the horn.

As ram’s age, blood vessels and sinus
cavities are growing up into the horn as the horns are growing from the base out.

Occasionally, rams may damage their horns. Depending upon the location, infection and blood loss may be of concern. However, most reported damage has been to the outer core with chips and cracks.

The Inner Core

MEASURING HORNS

CLICK HERE to see how to score your ram’s horns