Sheep: Guide for Shepherds


A brief guide for novice shepherds.


  • Clostridial vaccines are so potent, cheap and available, it is not unreasonable to expect very few losses from Clostridial diseases. However, the Veterinary Laboratory Agency (VLA) are still reporting serious losses. There are a number of vaccines that protect against all the important clostridia, e.g. pulpy kidney, tetanus, lamb dysentery, braxy. By using an all in one vaccine and efficient primary and secondary doses, it is possible to maintain a protective level of immunity throughout the year in both ewes and lambs, against all the usual Clostridial diseases. Two doses of vaccine at six week intervals generally produce sufficient spare via the colostrum to protect lambs for up to sixteen weeks providing the secondary or booster dose is given approximately one month before lambing. In subsequent years, only one pre-lambing booster is needed to protect both ewes and lambs. Hunters Lodge will be happy to advise on the most appropriate schedule for your flock.
  • Pasteurella Some of these vaccines also include protection against Pasteurella, a very common respiratory disease of sheep resulting in pneumonia. Ask us for advice on which is most appropriate.
  • Orf Highly contagious disease of sheep occasionally transmitted to man. Characterised by sores and scabs around the mouth of lambs, often spreading to the teats of lactating ewes. Infectious scabs fall off and act as a source of virus for other in contact lambs. If you suspect this disease contact us.
  • Foot Rot (See below) – A vaccine is available for this.
  • Abortion Two infectious diseases, Toxoplasmosis and Enzootic Abortion may be controlled by vaccination. Discuss with us to determine the level of risk in your flock. Both of these are potentially transmissible to man, with pregnant women being the most at risk.
  • Blue Tongue A serious disease of sheep causing loss of productivity and slow decline. Spread by biting midges in late spring and summer. transmitted to cattle and goats. A single dose of vaccine is preventative for the season.



  • Lameness is also so common in sheep that many farmers regard it as a fact of life and give it only irregular attention. Apart from the discomfort to the sheep, the loss in production can be considerable, e.g. 0.5kg per week in the fattening lamb and inadequate food intake by the pregnant and lactating ewes, contributing to twin lamb disease (Pregnancy Toxaemia) and newborn lamb diseases. 
  • Foot rot in all its forms is generally the most important condition causing lameness in sheep. It is an infectious disease caused by the combined effect of two bacteria, causing irritation of the skin between the two toes, leading to separation of the horn. Foot rot can reduce food intake and cause some loss of condition and threaten production. It is obviously painful and is of great significance from a welfare point.
  • Treatment will range from simple foot paring and antibiotic spray to foot baths (Zinc sulphate, Copper sulphate or Formalin) or intramuscular antibiotics. Vaccination should be considered if the incidence is high.


  • Foot Trimming Shears
  • Sharp pocket knife
  • Disposable syringes
  • Bottle Calcium Borogluconate
  • Halters
  • Dagging shears
  • Sharpening stone
  • Combined insecticide and antiseptic
  • Antibiotic aerosol spray
  • Mild disinfectant
  • Plastic Gloves
  • Drenching equipment
  • Castrating / tail rings
  • Don’t forget your obligations to record movements of sheep and treatments administered. We can supply you with suitable record books for the latter.
  • Vet’s phone number and address.


  • The flock owner with only a small area of land on which to graze sheep may find it difficult to find constructive ways to improve grazing quality. These ideas may be of some benefit:-        Nitrogen fertilizer in early springtime with K/Potassium later in the year.
  • Weed clearance.
  • Regular mowing to contain surplus grass and prevent flowering or running to seed.
  • Selection of better grass strains or addition of herbs or clover.
  • Make hay from excess grass.


Plants toxic to sheep

  • Yew
  • Azaleas
  • Rhododendron 
  • Ragwort
  • Laurel
  • Bracken
  • Horsetail
  • Laburnum


  • Lubricant 
  • Arm length poly gloves
  • Halter
  • Lambing ropes
  • Lamb stomach tube and syringe
  • Feeding bottles
  • Frozen colostrum
  • Pessaries
  • Antibiotic injection, short or long-acting e.g. Clamoxyl L.A 
  • Antibiotic drench for lambs e.g. Oroject for watery mouth
  • Ophthalmic eye ointment for entropion, e.g. Orbenin
  • Glucose 20% injection 
  • Calcium Borogluconate
  • Magnesium Sulphate injection
  • Oral glucose
  • Iodine spray
  • Cotton wool
  • Spirit
  • Needles – 18 x ½” / 20 x 1”
  • Syringes – 50ml, 10ml, 5ml, 2ml
  • Thermometer to test hypothermia
  • Torch
  • Vet's telephone number



  •  Vaginal Prolapse - Usually occurs in last three weeks and especially in ewes carrying more than one lamb. Often associated with one of the tups and ewes that prolapse often do it again next year. Possibly also hereditary – culling may be advisable. Vagina needs to be replaced after thorough cleaning; delay promotes straining, swelling and infection. The prolapse if then maintained by one of three methods:
    • Wool tying (only simple cases and not in shorn ewes)
    • Vulval sutures – but they do need removing at lambing
    • Truss using intravaginal plastic devices
    • As complications are common such as persistent straining, ringwomb and dead lambs, the ewe needs special observation. To reduce abdominal pressure the quantity of roughage should be reduced. Antibiotic cover is needed if there is obvious mucosal damage.
  • Ringwomb - This is a condition where the cervix or entrance to the uterus fails to dilate. It can be recognized when a preliminary examination reveals a tight inelastic ring at the entrance to the uterus. Careful manual dilation of the cervix may be possible using gloved fingers but if this fails to work within a few minutes then a Caesarean section may be required to save the lambs.
  • Hypocalcaemia - Seen in ewes in late pregnancy or early lactation, often precipitated by some form of stress e.g. moving to a different field, chasing by dogs. The ewe will be recumbent, and reluctant to rise, often frothing at the mouth and showing a fine skin tremor. Untreated, death will ensue. 
  • Hypomagnesaemia – Seen in ewes up to 6 weeks post lambing. The ewe will be recumbent and show signs of violent struggling with spasms of the legs. The eyes have a wild nervous appearance. Death can occur rapidly. 
  • Pregnancy Toxaemia (Twin lamb disease) – A metabolic disease of pregnant sheep, where nutrition is insufficient, for whatever reason, to supply the needs of the growing lambs in the uterus. The ewes may not be able to graze, may be undernourished or given inadequate levels of concentrate. The affected ewe will become dull, separated from the flock, be unsteady on her feet, and then stay down. There is a characteristic smell of pear drops / nail varnish remover (acetone)on the breath. Early cases may respond to a twin lamb oral drench, but veterinary assistance is often required.
  • Lambs – Dip navels with iodine on two successive days, or spray with antibiotic aerosol. Look out for lameness in young lambs that may result from a navel infection and joint ill. Similarly, check that young lambs are feeding regularly, and have received plenty of colostrum within the first few hours of life – specifically 150ml within 4 hours, 1 litre within 24 hours. Lambs up to 3 days old, with excess salivation and dullness are showing symptoms of watery mouth, which can prove fatal.



Thin ewes are common. The list of causes is short:

  • Lack of food
  • Inadequate teeth (especially cheek teeth)
  • Chronic lameness
  • Parasitic infection
  • Pneumonia
  • One of the reasons for thin ewes being so common is because the fleece masks their condition and it is only when the ewe is shorn or handled that the thinness is disclosed. Condition scoring was introduced to overcome this problem.
  • The crucial element in the technique is to decide by feeling the mid-lumbar region, whether the ewe is too thin or too thick i.e. is too bony or too fat. The technique requires practice – there is a useful leaflet produced by M.L.C, Milton Keynes, MK2 2EF.
  • Two vital times to condition score a flock are 6-8 weeks pre-tupping and 6-8 weeks pre – lambing because then there is time to re-allocate resources such as food and housing.
  • Ewes with a condition score of less than three should be separated and be clinically checked. Most will need more and perhaps better food, whilst some will need treatment or even culling.


Lambs are at risk from several types of intestinal parasite:

  1.  Nematodirus: primarily in young lambs up to 3 months old. This is only a risk if lambs are turned out after lambing on to the same pasture each year: if alternate fields are used to graze initially in successive years then the risk is minimized.
  2. Haemonchus and Ostertagia (gut worms): Intestinal worms are primarily a problem in lambs and occasionally older sheep. The most important source of infection for the lamb crop is the rise in the egg count around the time of lambing. Treatment of the ewes in the fourth month of pregnancy should help prevent this. Alternatively, worm the ewe 3 days before turnout post lambing to kill off developed worms in the intestine. The ewe herself may pick up further worm eggs from the pasture whilst her immunity is at its lowest; to counteract this worm 6 weeks post lambing.
  3. The lambs will start to pick up worm larvae from the pasture once they start eating grass. These may be deposited either by ewes post lambing, or have overwintered as eggs from the last grazing season. It is good practice to allow the lambs access to fresh grass before the ewes have access to it. This “creep feeding” of grass can be achieved by suitable fencing arrangements. To maintain freedom from worms lambs should be wormed at least from weaning, and then at up to 3-week intervals through the grazing season depending on the estimated challenge. Affected lambs will show poor growth rates, and later develop a characteristic green scour, soiling the tail area. A specific class of wormer should be used for a grazing season, and then changed to a different class in subsequent years, to reduce the likelihood of the parasites becoming resistant to the drugs used.
  4. The main classes of drug are: (a) Thiazoles e.g. Levamisole (b) Benzimidazoles e.g. White drenches  (c)Avermectins e.g. Ivermectin.
  5. Tapeworms: Commonly present but not usually significant. Treat with benzimidazole mid summer.
  6. Liver fluke: Not a common problem in this area. Patchy incidence in areas that are prone to flooding. They are more likely to affect the adult animal causing weight loss, or groups of animals grazing marshy ground in winter.
  7. Coccidiosis: A parasitic disease seen in lambs 4 – 8 weeks old, with symptoms of acute diarrhoea and a tucked up appearance with abdominal pain. Seen particularly where large numbers of lambs congregate together and take in infectious oocysts from the environment. Contact us if you are suspicious.

This information is provided for information purposes to our registered clients. It is the individual opinion of veterinary surgeons within the practice. It should not be relied upon as an alternative to a clinical examination and diagnosis by a veterinary surgeon. If in any doubt please contact the practice for further advice.


Further Resources

Jane Upton, Dennis Soden - An Introduction to Keeping Sheep

Thear - The Smallholders Manual

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