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.

    This is 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 two kinds of hay: the highly nutritious mixed-grass hay grown right here on the farm, and leafy green, very high protein alfalfa hay. The alfalfa hay is grown in the nutrient-rich soils of the Columbia River Basin in nearby Washington State and trucked to SkyLines Farm.

    During the last six weeks of gestation and early lactation period (until the pasturesare ready to graze) the ewes also enjoy a daily serving of grain. This helps them grow those wonderful fleeces while also meeting the added nutritional demands of pregnancy and nursing. The grain is pure, simple, whole barley or oats and never includes any sort of antibiotic or other drug (nor is it "fortified" with any animal by-products, see below). My grain is grown in local fields by local farmers.

    All year long, the sheep have free access to a vitamin-mineral-salt supplement that is formulated specifically to meet the nutritional requirements of sheep grazing northwest soils. As part of my natural internal parasite control program, I also add Diatomaceous Earth to this supplement (see Management Practices - Natural Parasite Control page for more details).

    Note on animal by-products: Like my grain, the vitamin-mineral-salt supplement I provide for SkyLines sheep contains no animal by-products. Some well-meaning shepherds feed their sheep mineral/protein supplements that are fortified with animal by-products such as fish meal. Now, I realize that these by-products are a relatively inexpensive protein source, but sheep are herbivores just like cattle. This means they're designed to eat grass and grains - period. It just makes sense to me that fish shouldn't be on their menu.

  • 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. From spring through fall, SkyLines sheep leave the barn areas and live entirely out on the farm's pastures. They spend the 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, they travel from the barn out to their hay feeding areas and back again many times each day.

    This 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. Lambing is now a much more natural affair, fairly uneventful, 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