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Raising sheep "the Okie way."

Deciding to raise sheep in cattle and horse country wasn't easy, but deciding to raise a dual-purpose, colored-wool sheep when 90 percent of the few sheep raised here are meat sheep, was a real challenge! The local vets that had successfully treated my horses and cattle informed me that sheep weren't their "specialty." I finally managed to locate a vet who specializes in sheep and goats and my $12 long distance call was worth every penny! Between this vet and a lady that has a Ph.D. in animal husbandry (specializing in sheep), I was able to compile some valuable information to absorb before losing any sheep. Please, please read up on the proper care of any animal before you purchase them - you'll save lots of money and have animals that will live a long and healthy life.

Two of the best sheep books I have purchased are: Raising Sheep the Modern Way, by Paula Simmons (the best sheep book I own), plus the SID (Sheep Industry Development Program - 6911 S. Yosemite St., Englewood, CO 80112.) The best magazine pertaining strictly to sheep is sheep! magazine, W2997 Markert Rd., Helenville, WI 53137.

I realize that everyone develops their own individual way of caring for animals. I am not a vet, but I do have a 100 percent survival rate along with healthy animals, so I'm just offering my way of raising them. If you're already raising sheep successfully, then "if it ain't broke don't fix it" should apply.

Two things that kill sheep

Two things kill sheep the fastest (besides predators): overfeeding on grain, and worms. You can kill a sheep with kindness. Sheep usually "baa" whenever they see you so a novice will thin the sheep weren't given enough grain the first feeding. The rule of thumb is limited grain, unlimited hay, salt and water.

If your grain has a high protein percentage you can use prairie hay. Salt blocks need to be plain - copper poisoning can result from using a copper salt block.

The type of grain you use is also a personal preference, but with the help of two farmers owning large flocks of sheep and goats plus a vet, I came up with the following custom 21 percent ration:

700 pounds whole oats

700 pounds cracked corn

600 pounds soybean

Vitamins A, D, E

Plain salt

Molasses (helps prevent prolapse)

(Paula Simmons says no milo and no rolled oats, so I don't use them.)

This grain is fed to all 200 of my farm animals - horses, cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, geese, guineas, ducks, turkeys and pigs. Only my Angora rabbits, dogs and cats receive different food. It's so much easier this way - I have only one grain to mess with and no fear of the wrong animal receiving the wrong food if I'm out of town and my city-raised hubby has to take care of them for a couple of days. Since the grain is so high in protein, one-half of a metal scoop does great for adult sheep, one scoop for nursing moms, and one cup for lambs. Lambs need to be fed separately from adults - a place the lambs can get through but adults can't is perfect. I fill a five-gallon bucket full and this feeds my adult sheep. I have several feeders so everyone gets about the same amount of grain.

Whenever you purchase new sheep, never change their grain quickly. I always let them eat hay, salt and drink water for two days - no grain. On the third day I start giving them a cup of my custom grain. I do this for three days, then gradually increase to one-half scoop. By this time the quarantined new sheep will probably be ready to join the flock.

Never quickly change sheep from dry winter hay over to lush green pasture. Let the sheep eat hay all day, then turn them into the pasture for about 30 minutes. A small amount of grain will get them back into their corral. Do this for about three days, then gradually increase the time on new grass. The short time spent on the gradual introduction to new pasture will be a lot better than burying dead sheep or trying to cure sick ones!

In Oklahoma, humidity prevents us from rotating pastures to control worms - it just doesn't work here. Mild and humid winters along with mild and humid summers create a large worm problem. A sheep vet told me that sheep "dropped like flies" last year because previous worming methods failed. Research has proven that we need to worm on May 15, June 15, July 15, August 15 and September 15 and if no hard freeze yet, October 15. The vet told me these days and months are important and not to deviate so I don't.

Alternate worm medicines - I use sheep Ivomec one month and Tramisol bolus the next. I don't use horse or cattle wormer. I also keep on hand Covexin 8, combiotic, tetanus, hypodermic needles, monoject syringes and nipples. Yearly tetanus shots must be given but tetanus is included in the Covexin 8 vaccine. A good supply source I use (cuts middle man's charge) is Omaha Vaccine Co., 1-800-367-4444 or 3030 "L" St., Omaha, NE 68107-0228. Covexin 8 should be given two weeks prior to lambing but if you run rams with ewes and aren't certain of birth date, then give a shot of Covexin 8 to ewe and lamb (I give three days after birth to both then turn them loose out of lambing jug - weather permitting). It's important to give the lamb a shot because the ewe's body takes up to two weeks to absorb and give out these antibodies through her milk. I also give a combiotic shot before I haul any sheep and when I buy them. It aids in travel sickness.

Shelter can be a three-sided pole barn that shouldn't face north - where the strongest winds come from. A lambing jug or pen can be made by putting up hog panels or wooden pallets. I always keep ewe and lamb in together for three days - it seems they bond better. I always check the teats to make sure colostrum and milk are coming out, instead of a waxy plug that prevents nursing.

Besides shearing yearly you need to keep hooves trimmed. I use professional clippers - they stay sharper longer.

Show sheep and strictly meat sheep will need different care, with meat sheep needing more grain through a gradual increase.

Some plants are poisonous to sheep:

* Red maple leaves

* Acorns

* Rhododendron

* Mountain Laurel

* Azaleas

* Yew needles

* Apple seeds

* Nightshade

* Skunk cabbage

* Tangy ragwort

* Larkspur

* Water hemlock

* Halogeten

* Locoweed

* Chokecherry

* Milkweed

* Lupine

* Horsebrush

* Death camas

* Potato sprouts

* Wild tobacco stalks

I try to find 10-20 minutes of relax time after feeding all of my critters to watch and enjoy them. Feeding time is hectic and fast - everyone yelling to be fed - so it's great therapy to just relax and watch them.

I hope this article has helped at least a little. I don't have a vet degree but I've spent plenty of time and money consulting with vets, plus hours of reading when I should have been sleeping, and 22 healthy adults and 18 jumping babies tell me I must be doing a little something right. Now if I could just talk that ram into producing all ewe lambs...

Sheep & goat miscellany:

One way to make

cottage cheese

Place two gallons of milk (cow or goat) in a large kettle, pot or roaster. Add one cup of starter (either cultured buttermilk or sour milk that still tastes good). Stir well and place in a warm oven overnight or for 12 hours.

As soon as the milk is clabbered, carefully take out one pint and refrigerate it to use as starter for the next batch.

Turn the oven to the lowest heat possible, or about 100 [degrees]. After an hour, cut the milk clabber in two directions with a long knife (such as a bread knife), making cubes. Take care not to stir the cubes or to move the pan unnecessarily.

Leave the milk in the oven with low heat until the whey and curds are well separated. The curds have a tendency to rise to the top when they're hot enough.

Turn the heat off and let it set until cool. Dip off the excess whey, place a cheesecloth over a colander, carefully dip the curds into this, and let drain. Season to taste.

Why shepherds

keep donkeys

If you are having a predator problem with sheep and/or a problem with thistle in your pastures, consider adding a donkey to your flock.

It is becoming a fairly common practice among sheepherders to have donkeys, as they will bond with the sheep and become protective of them, driving off most predators. Female donkeys are far better shepherds than male ones.

In addition, thistle is a preferred plant of donkeys and they can help to control its spread in your pastures.

Donkey carts are still a means of transportation in some parts of the world and might provide a third use of these animals on the homestead.

Deadly locoweed

More than 100 species of locoweed grow in New Mexico. These are some of the first plants to green up in the spring, making them attractive to grazing animals. This combination makes them the most dangerous plant group in the state for livestock.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Parrish, Vicki
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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