All sheep must receive immediate veterinary attention when they are sick or injured. In most cases, unnecessary pain, injury and disease can be prevented through good husbandry, regular visits to a veterinarian and addressing any issues the veterinarian raises.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act outlines how people must take care of and act towards animals in New Zealand. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), the Police and SPCA work together to make sure people in New Zealand follow these laws.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, all animal guardians (owners) are responsible for making sure the welfare needs of animals in their care are met. Learning about the Five Domains helps us to understand these welfare needs and how we can make sure we provide these. One of the Five Domains is Health. In this section you will learn about this domain and how you can make sure your sheep have the right veterinary care to be healthy.
Just like you have a family doctor that you see when you are unwell, your sheep will need their own doctor too - a veterinarian is an animal doctor. It’s a good idea for your family to decide on the veterinarian they plan on using before you get your sheep. Not all veterinary clinics specialise in sheep, so it is important you find a veterinarian that is experienced at treating sheep.
Vets that specialise in sheep will usually come to where your sheep is, rather than you having to transport your sheep into a veterinary clinic. Once you get a new sheep, your family should have him/her seen by your chosen veterinarian straight away for a check-up and to administer any preventative treatments or medication that may be required.
Your veterinarian should also be able to give you lots of tips and advice for properly caring for your sheep and helping him/her to settle in. Make sure you ask the veterinarian any questions you have about caring for your sheep.
Sheep are prey animals in the wild, which means they try to hide any sign of being sick or in pain so that larger predators don’t find out that they are the weaker ones in the flock.
Even though sheep are domesticated (farmed), these instincts are still strong in sheep particularly. Therefore, you will need to watch your sheep closely and observe for any small changes in behaviour or their physical appearance.
Knowing how your sheep act in normal circumstances is important to be able to tell when something is abnormal. Sheep that are sick or hurt may show the following symptoms:
Sheep wool grows continuously, which means it will keep growing and growing if it is not cut. Cutting your sheep’s wool is called shearing, and depending on the breed of your sheep, they will probably need to be shorn before hot weather starts. There are some sheep which automatically drop their fleece (woolly coat) – so do your research on sheep breeds before getting yours.
If you do not shear your sheep, he/she can become very uncomfortable and distressed as they are unable to regulate their temperature as well when the weather is warm and hot. Most sheep will get shorn in the spring just before summer starts, so they are nice and cool for summer.
Although shearing doesn’t hurt the sheep, it does require special equipment, which is very sharp, therefore someone who is proficient in shearing and handling sheep is required to be able to shear your sheep correctly – and calmly.
Professional shearers can be hired, and they will come to your property and shear your sheep for you – they usually check your sheep’s feet and trim, drench and anything else you might need. In general, you can see when other people in your area start to shear their sheep, and that is when you should shear yours. Remember, if, in doubt, you can always ring your local veterinarian for advice.
Sheep have two weight bearing toes on each foot, which are strong horny parts of their feet. Your sheep’s hooves will need to be inspected often to make sure they are healthy, in good shape and trimmed regularly, so they don’t overgrow.
If you let your sheep’s hooves grow too long, they can cause problems and pain with walking, and can sometimes lead to infections. Your sheep’s hooves will need to be trimmed with special tools, so it is best to let a shearer trim your sheep’s hooves.
Foot rot is another condition in which the hooves of your sheep can become infected. This can come about from not looking after your sheep’s feet. A common sign of this is when you see sheep grazing on their knees, as opposed to standing. If this occurs, you will need a veterinarian to give you advice on what to do as it can be hard to get rid of, once your sheep has this.
Your sheep will need some regular preventative treatments to make sure he/she does not become ill. This is one of the best ways to make sure you keep your sheep healthy.
Vaccinations protect sheep against diseases that can cause illness and death. There is a range of different vaccines available for sheep; your veterinarian will be able to tell you what vaccines are recommended, based on the individual sheep and his/her home and lifestyle.
Sheep also need to be given medication regularly to protect them against worms, lice and other parasites such as mites (both internal and external). Your veterinarian will be able to provide the special medication for this and will show an adult how to give it to your sheep.
Fly strike is a horrible disease, in which blowflies are attracted to wet, dirty areas on or within sheep wool or skin. From there, maggots hatch from the eggs laid from the blowflies and can eat into the skin causing sores, pain and infection. This can occur anywhere on your sheep, but more commonly around their breech area (around their bottom).
If your sheep get flystrike, you should contact your veterinarian and an adult should treat the flystrike, as well as remove the wool that is affected.
The best way to stop this is to prevent it. To stop fly strike from happening, there are a few things you can do:
Facial eczema affects sheep, cattle, and goats and makes the animals very uncomfortable, sore and sometimes in pain. Facial eczema shows like sunburn on an animal’s skin, but can affect their internal organs as well, potentially resulting in them dying, so is a very serious issue.
Facial eczema is usually caused by a toxin (from fungus) which grows in warm, wet pastures, and at the base of green plants, and mostly occurs in Northland. An adult should talk to your veterinarian about how to prevent facial eczema from occurring, and whether it is a problem in your area.
Bloat is a serious condition which affects the stomach of your sheep or lamb. If you are feeding a lamb, it is important to get advice from your local veterinarian or local experienced farmer who will be able to help you with what to feed, how much and how often.
Bloat in grown sheep means there is too much gas trapped in the stomach of your sheep from rapidly fermenting foods (particularly grasses). It can make your sheep feel very ill and can lead to death. If your sheep has bloat, you will notice their stomach will look very large and will bulge and stick out on one side, stand with their legs wide apart, pant and stagger. Any of these symptoms require you getting a veterinarian quickly to support your sheep to recover.
Bloat can be caused by a number of things:
Bloat can get worse very quickly and if it is not treated straight away, it could lead to death. If you notice your sheep showing any of these signs, tell an adult and ask them to call a veterinarian straight away if they think your sheep might have bloat.