With the majority of sheep housed indoors at this time of year, mainly due to lambing, knowing how to best handle your flock is very important.
Did you know there are at least four negative impacts associated with bad handling practices? These include increased stress, reduced worker efficiency, carcass damage, as well as having a significant impact on the health of workers.
Stress - Stress is a big problem for sheep and pregnant ewes in particular. Any general task associated with sheep, such as herding, shearing, crutching and yarding, can cause stress. Once stress, the reproductive performance may be affected, while sheep may also suffer from a reduced immunity to diseases which affect output.
Efficiency - Not having a good system in place for handling your flock, will lead to a reduction in labour efficiency. Did you know that up to 40% of time spent handling is usually spent moving sheep through yards and races, with the remaining time spent on whatever procedure is being carried out?
This makes having a good handling system in place all the more important and will help reduce the time spent gathering and handling your sheep.
Worker Health - When dealing with sheep and handling especially, farmers put a lot of strain on their bodies by bending down, turning, carrying loads and other practices. Having bad handling facilities in place will only make a workers job harder and therefore put extra strain on them and their health. This will also increase the risk of long-term injuries.
Carcass Damage - In times of handling, sheep can suffer damage in many different ways. They bruise very easily and often in their excitement, cause extensive damage to themselves and/or other sheep. Carcass Damage is restricted with a good handling system in place and the more space each sheep has, the less likely they are to crash into a barrier.
Things to look out for when handling -
There are many different tips and tricks to successfully handling sheep. Take a look at some of the tips provided below!
- Movement - Sheep can become very frightened when it comes to sudden movements. At handling, it is important to know that sheep will run in a forward direction if they notice movement behind their shoulders. Movement in front of their shoulders will cause them to instantly turn and try to run away.
- Sight - Again, sheep are very aware of their surroundings and it is very important to them to always have contact with the other members of the flock. Don’t forget that sheep’s eyes are located on the side of their heads and this should be taken into account when handling individuals. If they can see their friends, your job will be that little bit easier.
Top tips for handling -
- The key to handling sheep is being as relaxed and as gentle as possible, as difficult as that may be sometimes. When moving the flock, try to do it as gently and carefree as possible, to ensure they don’t get over-excited. Sheep that are on edge will likely try to escape or jump, causing damage to either itself of other sheep.
- For impregnated ewes, avoid all and any heavy contact if possible. Ewes which are on the cusp of lambing can be easily agitated and you do not want to stress any ewe who is about to lamb. NEVER force a pregnant ewe to run, this could cause unnecessary stress and even the death of their lamb.
- It is advised to keep heavily pregnant ewes in separate, individual pens. This will not only ensure they are calm, but will also make handling them in the future a much easier process.
- When moving sheep, it is important that you yourself are calm as sheep can pick up if a farmer is stressed themselves. Never strike or punch sheep when moving them, simply use your knees to move her, whilst holding it under the chin.
- The final tip is to always ensure your sheep are well protected at housing. Make sure if you have any dog on the farm, that they are well away from any of the flock.