Other management practices that contribute to superb sheep health

  • Good nutrition is the cornerstone of any successful sheep health program. My philosophy on this has always been simple: It's wiser (and kinder and cheaper and easier) to feed your animals well every day and avoid illness in the first place than it is to try and save money upfront and deal with sick animals later. I've also found that well-fed sheep live longer and more productive lives, and have very few problems with birthing and raising their babies.

    Here's the feeding program that works for the SkyLines flock . . .

    Pasture Grazing
    SkyLines sheep rotationally graze our own rich, green pastures for six to seven months out of each year.

    During the winter months the sheep eat nutritious mixed-grass hay and leafy green high protein alfalfa hay, both locally grown.

    During the last six weeks of gestation and early lactation period (until the pastures are ready to graze) the ewes also enjoy a daily serving of grains. This helps them grow georgeous, long, lustrous handspinning fleeces while also meeting the added nutritional demands of pregnancy and nursing. The grain mixture is a pure, simple blend of locally-grown whole barley, oats, and peas and never includes any sort of antibiotic or other drug (nor is it "fortified" with any animal by-products, see below).

    Note on animal by-products: Animal by-products are now prohibited from use in animal feed, but fish meal is still allowed. In this area it can be found as one ingredient in a feed supplement called a "protein block." I realize that fish meal can be a relatively inexpensive protein source, but sheep are herbivores just like cattle, and are designed to eat grass and grains. I have no evidence of any negative effect from fish meal, but just makes sense to me that fish shouldn't be on a sheep's menu!

    Mineral & Salt Supplements
    Since many soils in this country have been found to be deficient in minerals, and I'm convinced that minerals are key to optimal health, all of the SkyLines animals have free access to certified organic kelp meal (a source of up to 65 trace minerals) and also trace mineral salt with selenium. Additionally, as part of my organic internal parasite control program I add Diatomaceous Earth to the salt mixture (see Management Practices - Parasite Control page for more details).

  • Frequent rotation of summer pastures and winter lounging yards is important, so the sheep are not standing or lying in deep mud or manure, both of which can harbor disease. SkyLines barns are all located on high ground, so water drains away from the yards very quickly and doesn't pool. Thankfully, "mud season," though it does occur, is relatively short on this farm. See the Pasture Management pages for more details on rotational grazing of the summer pastures.

  • Open, airy barns allow in plenty of sunshine and air circulation all year round. Some people believe that a good barn is one that keeps the animals inside totally protected from the elements, much the same way our houses keep us protected. I have come to believe that a tight barn is actually an unhealthy barn for animals.

    I've visited farms where conscientious shepherds had designed very nice, tight, house-like barns. These barns had very poor air circulation and provided no opportunity for wind and sunshine to get in and cleanse the walls and floors. These shepherds often locked their sheep inside the barn at night for security also (in lieu of keeping guard dogs to protect the sheep while they're out in the fresh air). Often, the sheep that lived on these farms were weak and quite frequently sick.

    All three of the SkyLines sheep barns are metal-sided pole barns that provide excellent air circulation. They're basically just large sheds that the sheep can enter or leave at will and that only offer protection from the fiercest of the winter winds, rain, and snow.

  • Lots of exercise. For about 10 months out of the year, the SkyLines sheep live entirely out on the farm's pastures. They spend the summer grazing season moving through a series of subdivided paddocks that cover much of SkyLines' 63 acres. Each paddock opens onto a long central runway that the sheep use to access their water every day.

    In the winter months they live in one of the heavily wooded pastures, where the dense evergreen trees offer protection from the weather, and I deliver hay to them. As in the summer, every day they make the trek down the runway to access water and minerals.

    In early March the sheep come into the barnyard for shearing, and they remain there through lambing season and until the grass is ready to graze again.

    This nearly-year-round daily exercise regimen not only helps keep the entire flock extremely healthy, but it has made a dramatic difference in the number of ewes who need assistance at lambing time. In my early years, when the sheep spent their entire winters lolling about the barnyard, lambing season was intense and exhausting - as it still is for many shepherds. Lambing at SkyLines Farm is now a much more natural affair, and a lot easier for both the ewes and the shepherdess (though I of course am still "on duty" during the entire period).

  • Running a nearly closed flock. SkyLines sheep do not leave the farm to attend sheep shows or fairs, or anywhere else, where they could be exposed to diseases and parasites carried by other sheep. Nor do I purchase new ewes from other breeders. I've bred all of my own ewes since 1996.

    The only new animals that are brought to the farm are new Romney rams every few years, in order to continually improve the genetic stock. The new rams come from highly respected, award-winning Romney breeders, but they are always quarantined for a minimum of one month, preferably two or three months, just to be safe.

    Since sheep are flock animals and a sheep by itself is a miserable creature, I always choose a lamb to live with the new ram and keep him company during his quarantine period. No new ram or his buddy lamb has ever turned up sick, but I prefer to err on the side of caution and maintain this strict quarantine policy.

  • Trying to maintain bio-security on the farm. Throughout the year, but particularly during the spring and summer months, I often give farm tours so folks can meet the SkyLines animals in person. I'm always happy to have visitors (as long as they call first please!), but I do have one very strict requirement. I insist that all visitors wear clean clothes and boots that have not been worn around livestock or on another farm, particularly another sheep farm. Mud and manure on boots can easily carry disease from one farm to another, and I firmly believe that vigilance pays off in this case. I even keep extra pairs of boots on hand for visitors who come unprepared.



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SkyLines Farm 4551 Highway 6 Harvard, ID 83834 208.875.8747
Purebred Romney & Romney-Cross Sheep