Winter management tips for sheep

As cold weather approaches, it is important to consider the comfort of the sheep we care for.

Winter can be a stressful time for livestock. As owners, we need to help to reduce that stress by providing proper care, feeding and management practices. Adjusting management practices will help to ensure that sheep under your care will thrive through the cold winter months.

Sheep should be given some kind of shelter even if it is just a tree line or wind block. Shelters can include barns or three sided shed. Shelters should have adequate ventilation so that moisture does not build up and cause respiratory problems for the sheep. Hair sheep and wool breeds that have been recently shorn require more shelter than animals with longer wool. Ewes that are lambing during the cold winter months should be housed in a barn and check regularly. Newborns must be dried quickly after birth as hypothermia can set in quickly. Avoid damp, dark, or drafty barns, and wet muddy areas in or around buildings. Young lambs are able to withstand cold temperatures quite well, but drafts and dampness can lead to losses from baby lamb pneumonia.  Heat lamps can be used to help keep lambs warm, although care must be taken to prevent electrocutions and/or barn fires.

Sheep require more energy in the winter to help them maintain body temperature. The highest quality hays should not be fed during gestation. Utilize average- to good-quality hays during the early gestation period, when ewe nutrient requirements are low compared to late gestation and lactation. If high-quality hays, such as alfalfa, are fed during gestation it is important to limit intakes as overfeeding is costly. Ewes up through 15 weeks of gestation should receive 4 lbs of a good quality grass/legume hay daily.  In the last 4 weeks of gestation they should  receive 4 lbs of a good quality grass/legume hay plus 1 lb of corn daily. To prevent wool picking and other problems, ewes should receive a minimum of 1.5 lbs of hay per day and one pound of corn can be substituted for 2 pounds of hay. Once ewes lamb and begin to lactate, they should receive 5 pounds of good quality hay and 2 pounds of 15 percent crude protein grain mix a day. Hay should be fed in feeders to help minimize waste and help prevent the spread of disease. Sheep should have access to fresh water at all times. This may require changing water a couple of times a day to remove the ice or some other type of heated waterer.  Michigan State University reminds producers to use caution with any type of electrical device with sheep and lambs may chew the cord. Salt and minerals formulated for sheep should also be available at all times. 

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