1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Mangagement of Lowland Sheep

(Part 86)


Mangagement of Lowland Sheep

As the management of sheep is influenced mainly by the nature of the lands upon which they are kept, we shall first described the practice of Lowland flockmasters, and afterwards that pursued on Highland sheep-walks.

On arable farms, where turnips are grown and a breeding stock of sheep regularly kept, it is usual to wean the lambs about the middle of July. When this has been done, the aged and faulty ewes are drafted out, and put upon good aftermath or other succulent food, that they may be got ready for market as soon as possible. In many districts it is the practice to take but three crops of lambs from each ewe. A third part of the breeding flock – viz., the four year-old ewes – it thus drafted off every autumn, and their places supplied by the introduction of a corresponding number of the best of the ewe-lambs of the preceding years crop. These cast or draft ewes are then sold to the occupiers of richer soils in populous districts, who keep them for another season to feed fat lambs. Such parties buy in a fresh stock of ewes every autumn, and, as they phrase it, "feed lamb and dam." In other cases the ewes are kept as long as their teeth continue sound, and after that they are fattened and sold to the butcher directly from the farm on which they have been reared. When the ewes that are retained for breeding stock have been thus overhauled, they are put to the worst pasture on the farm, and run rather thickly upon it. Attention is necessary, for some days after weaning, to see that none of them suffer from gorgoing of the udder. When it appears every turgid in any of them, they are caught and partially milked by hand; but usually the change to poorer pasturage, aided by their restlessness and bleating for want of their lambs, at once restlessness and bleating for want of their lambs, at once arrests the flow of milk. The time of admitting the ram is regulated by the purpose for which the flock is kept, and by the date at which fresh green food can be reckoned upon in spring. When the produce is to be disposed of as fat lambs, it is of course and object to have them easily; but for a holding stock, to be reared and flattened at fourteen to sixteen month old, from 20th September to 20th October, according to the climate of the particular locality, is usual time for admitting rams to ewes. A few weeks before this takes place the ewes are removed from bare pasture, and put on the freshest that the farm affords, or better still, on rape, failing which one good feed of white turnips per diem is carted and spread on their pastures, or the ewes are folded for part of the say on growing turnips. The rams re turned in amongst them just when this better fare has begun to tell in their improving appearance, as it is found that in such circumstances they come in heat more rapidly, and with a greatly, and with moderate-sized, enclosures, and ram suffices for sixty ewes; but it is bad economy to overtask the rams, and one to forty ewes is better practice. Sometimes a large lot of ewes are kept in one flock, and several rams, at the above proportion, turned among them promiscuously. It is better, however, when they can be placed ion separate lots. The breasts of the rams are rubbed with ruddle, that the shepherd may know way they are about. Those who themselves breed rams, or other who hire in what they use at high prices, have recourse to a different plan for the purpose of getting more service from each male, and of knowing exactly when each ewe may be expected to lamb; and also of putting each ewe to the ram most suitable to her in point of size, figure, and quality of flesh and fleece. The rams in this case are kept o pens is a small enclosure. What is technically called a teaser is turned among the general flock of ewes, which, on being seen to be in heat, are brought up and put to the ram that is selected for tem. They are then numbered, and a note kept of the date, or otherwise a common mark, varied for each successive week, is put on all as they come up. The more usual practice is to mark the breast of the ram with ruddle, as already described, for the first seventeen days that they are among the ewes --- that being the time of the periodic recurrence of the heat --- and then to use soot instead. When lambing-time draws, near, the red-rumped ewes, or those that conceived from the first copulation, are brought into the fold and the remainder after the lapse of the proper interval. If all goes on well, six week is long enough for the rams to remain with the flock. The ewes are then put to more moderate fare, taking care, however, not to pinch them, but to preserve the due medium betwixt fatness and poverty. Under the first-mentioned extreme there is great risk of losing both ewe and lamb at the time of parturition; and under the second, of the ewe shedding her wool, and being unable to nourish her lamb properly either before its birth or after. When there is a considerable breadth of grass-land, the grit or in-lamb ewes are run thinly upon it so long as the weather continues moderate. As the pasturage fails or winter weather sets in, they receive a daily feed of turnips of hay, or part of both. In districts where the four-course rotation is pursued, and wheat sown after seeds, there is a necessity for keeping the ewes wholly on turnips and chopped hay or straw. In this case they are made to follow the fattening sheep, and to eat up their scraps, an arrangement which is suitable for both lots. A recently introduced practice is better still --- namely, to feed the ewes at this season on a mixture for one part by measure of pulped turnips or mangel-wurzel to two of chopped straw, which is served out to them in troughs set down in their pastures. From the large quantity of straw which ewes are thus induced to eat, they can be allowed to take their fill of this mixture, and be kept in a satisfied and thriving state with a very moderate allowance of roots. As their time to lamb draws near, the mess should be made more nourishing by adding to it ground rape-cake, bean-meal, and bran, at the rate of from 1/4 th to 1/3 rd of a pound of each of these articles to each ewe daily.

The period of gestation in the ewe is twenty-one weeks. No lambs that are born more than twelve days short of this period survive. Before any lamb are expected to arrive a comfortable fold is provided, into which either the entire flock of ewes, or those that by their marking are known to lamb first, are brought every night. This fold which may either be a permanent erection or fitted up annually for the occasion, is provided all round with separate pens of cribs of size enough to accommodate a single ewe with her lamb or pair. The pasture or turnip fold to which the flock is turned by day is also furnished with several temporary but well-sheltered cribs, for the reception of such ewes as lamb during the day. It is of especial consequences that ewes producing twins be at once consigned to a separate apartments, as, if left in the crowd, they frequently lose sight of one lamb, and may refuse to own it when restored to them, even after a very short separation. Some ewes will make a favourite of one lamb, and wholly repudiate the other, even when due care has been taken to keep them together from the first, in this case the favourite must either be separated from her or be muzzled with apiece of network, to prevent it from getting more than its share of the milk in the shepherd’s absence. Indeed the maternal affection seems much dependent on the flow of milk, as ewes with a well-filled udder seldom trouble the shepherd by such capricious partialities. As soon as the lambs have got fairly afoot, their dams are turned with them into the most forward piece of seeds, or to rape, rye, winter-oats, or water-meadow, the great point being to have abundance of succulent green food for the ewes as soon as they lamb. Without this they cannot yield milk abundantly, and without plenty of milk it is impossible to have good lambs. It is sometimes necessary to aid a lamb that has a poor nurse with cow’s milk. This is at best a poor alternative; but if it must be resorted to, it is only the milk of a farrow cow, or at least of one that has been calved six months, that is at all fit for this purpose. To give the milk of a recently-calved cow to a young lamb is usually equivalent to knocking it on the head. Ewe milk is poor in butter, but very rich in curd, which is known to be also in a measure the character of that of cows that have been long calved and are not again pregnant. We have found the Aberdeen yellow bullock turnip the best for pregnant and nursing ewes. Mangel-wurzel is much approved of by the flockmasters of the southern counties for the same purpose. It is of importance at this season to remove at once from the fold and pens all dead lambs, and filth of every kind, the presence of putrefying matter being most hurtful to the flock. Should a case of puerperal fever occur, the shepherd must scrupulously avoid touching the ewe so affected; or if he has done so, some one should take his accoucheur duties for a few days, as this deadly malady is highly contagious, and is often unconsciously communicated to numbers of the flock by the shepherd’s hands. Unnecessary interference with ewes during parturition is much to be deprecated. When the presentation is all right, it is best to leave them as much as possible to their natural efforts. When a false presentation does occur, the shepherd must endeavor to rectify it by gently introducing his hand after first lubricating it with fresh lard or olive-oil. The less dogging or disturbance of any kind thaw ewes receive during pregnancy the less risk is there of unnatural presentations. As soon as lambs are brought forth the shepherd must give them suck. When they have once got a bellyful, and are protected from wet or excessive cold for two or three days, there is no fear of their taking harm from ordinary weather, provided only that the ewes have plenty of suitable food. Lambs are castrated, docked, and ear-marked, with least risk when about ten days old. Ewes with lambs must have good and clean pasturage throughout the summer. For this purpose they must either be run thinly among cattle or have two or more enclosures, one of which may always be getting clean and fresh for their reception as the other gets bare and soiled. We have not found any advantage in allowing lambs yeaned in March to run with their dams beyond 20th July. A clover or other perfectly clean pasture is the most suitable for newly weaned lambs. Such as abound in that, as it is called in Scotland --- that is, rank herbage growing above the droppings of sheep or other animals --- are peculiarly noxious to them. Folding upon rape or vetches suits the admirably, so that fresh supplies are given regularly as required. Sheep, when folded on green rye or vetches, require good deals of water, and will not thrive unless this is supplied to them.

All sheeps are liable to be infested with certain vermin, especially "fags’ or "kaids" (Melophagus ovinus) and lice. To rid them of these parasites various means are resorted to. Some farmers use mercurial ointment, which is applied by parting the wool, and then with the finger rubbing the ointment on the skin, in three or four longitudinal seams on each side, and a few shorter ones on the neck, belly, legs, &c. Those who use this salve dress their lambs with it immediately after shearing their ewes, and again just before putting them on turnips. More frequently the sheep are immersed, all but their heads, in a bath in which arsenic and other ingredients are dissolved. On being lifted out of the bath, the animal is laid on spars, over a shallow vessel so placed that the superfluous liquor, as it is wrung out of the fleece, flows back into the bath. If this is done when the ewes are newly shorn, the liquor goes farther than when the process is deferred until the lambs are larger and their wool longer. It is a good practice to souse the newly-shorn ewes, and indeed the whole flock at the same time, in a similar bath, so as to rid them all of vermin. [Footnotes 395-1]

As turnips constitute the staple winter fare of sheep, it is necessary to have a portion of these sown in time to be fit for use in September. Young sheep always show a reluctance to take to this very succulent food, and should therefore be put upon it so early in autumn that they may get thoroughly reconciled to it while the weather is yet temperate. Rape or cabbage suits admirably as transitionary food from grass to turnips. When this transference from summer to winter fare is well managed, they usually make rapid progress during October and November. Some farmers recommend giving the hoggets, as they are now called, a daily run off from the turnip-fold to a neighboring pasture for the first few weeks after their being put to this diet. We have found it decidedly better to keep them steady in the turnip-fold from the very first. When they are once taught to look for this daily enlargement, they became impatient for it, and do not settle quietly to their food. If possible, not more than 200 should be kept in one lot. The youngest and weakest sheep should also have a separate berth and more generous treatment. Turnips being a more watery food than sheep naturally feed upon, there is a great advantage in giving them from the first, along with turnips, a liberal allowance of clover hay cut into half-inch chaff. When given in this form, in suitable troughs and in regular feeds, they will eat up the whole without waste, and be greatly the better for it. To economize the hay, equal parts of good oats straw may be cut up with it, and will be readily eaten by the flock. A liberal supply of this dry food corrects the injurious effects which are often produced by feeding sheep on turnips alone, and at the same time lessens the consumption of the green food. We believe also that there is true economy in early beginning to give them a small daily allowance, say _ lb each, of cake or corn. This is more especially desirable when sheep are folded on poor soil. The extraneous food both supplies the lack of nutrition in the turnips and fertilizes the soil for bearing succeeding crops. An immense improvement has been effected in the winter feeding of sheep by the introduction of machines for slicing turnips. Some careful farmers slice the whole of the turnips used by their fattening sheep, of whatever age; but usually the practice is restricted to hoggets, and only resorted to for them when their milk-teeth begin to fail. In the latter case the economy of the practice does not admit of debate. When Mr. Pusey states the difference in value between hoggets that have had their turnips sliced and others that have not, at 8s. per head in favour of the former from this cause alone, we do not think that he over-estimates the benefit. Those who slice turnips for older sheep, and for hoggets also as soon as ever they have taken to them, are, we suspect, acting upon a sound principle, and their example is therefore likely to be generally followed. There is no doubt of this at least, that hoggets frequently lose part of the flesh which they had already gained from the slicing of the turnips being unduly delayed. By 1st December their first teeth, although not actually gone, have become so inefficiently that they require longer time and greater exertion to feed their fill than before; and this, concurring with shorter days and colder weather, operates much to their prejudice. When the slicing is begun, it is well to leave a portion of growing turnips in each day’s fold, as there are always some timid sheep in a lot that never come freely to the troughs; and they serve, moreover, to occupy the lot during moonlight nights, and at other times when the troughs cannot be instantly replenished. As the sheep have access to both sides of the troughs, each will accommodate nearly as many as it is feet in length. There should therefore be provided at least as many foot-lengths of trough as there are sheep in the fold. The troughs should be perpendicular at their outer edges, as the sheep are less apt to scatter the sliced turnips on the ground with this form than when they slope outwards. It is expedient to have a separate set of similar troughs for the cake or grain and chopped fodder, which it is best to use mixed together.

As the season when frost and snow may be expected approaches it is necessary to provide in time for the flock having clean unfrozen turnips to eat in the hardest weather. To secure this, care must be taken to have always several week’s supply put together in heaps and cover with earth to a sufficient thickness to exclude frost. The covering with earth is the only extra cost incurred from using this precaution, for if slicing the roots is practised at all, it necessarily implies that the roots must be pulled, trimmed, and thrown together, and this again should be done in such a way as to insure that the dung and urine of the sheep shall be equally distributed over the whole field. This is secured by throwing together the produce of 18 or 20 drills into small heaps, of about a ton each, in a straight row and at equal distances apart. For a time it will suffice to cover these heaps with a few of the turnip leaves and a spadeful of earth here and there to prevent the leaves from being blown off. This arrangement necessitates the regular moving of the troughs over the whole ground. As the heaps are stript of their covering special care must be taken to scatter the tops well about, otherwise there will be corresponding rank spots in the grain crop that follows.

On light dry soils it is usually most profitable to consume the whole turnip crop where it grows by sheep, and to convert the straw of the farm into dung by store cattle kept in suitable yards, to which a daily allowance of rape or cotton cake is given, with wholesome water constantly at their command. But it may at times be more profitable to use young sheep instead of cattle for this purpose, and it is quite practicable to do so. In the winter of 1865 – 66, in consequence of the prevalence of rinderpest, we had recourse to this expedient with entire success. A lot of 200 hoggets was put into two contiguous yards, of a size which ordinarily had accommodated 15 cattle each; the hoggets were fed on hay cut into chaff, which was served to them in troughs so placed as to be protected from rain. Along with this chaff they received 2 lb each daily of mixed cakes and grain, and a constant supply of water. A covered passage by which the yards communicated was coated with quicklime, which was stirred up daily and added to twice a-week. Care was taken to drive the whole lot of sheep over this limed passage once every day, with liberty to them to pass and repass as much as they liked at all times. The yards were kept clean by being thinly covered over with fresh straw every day. By this means and by an occasional paring of the hoofs when seen to be necessary, their feet were kept perfectly sound. In other respects they throve well, and the death-rate was unusually small.

To clear the ground in time for the succeeding grain crop a portion of the turnip crop is usually stored on some piece of grass or fallow, where the flock is folded until the pastures are ready to receive them. As the date of this varies exceedingly, it is well to lay in turnips for a late season, and rather to have some to spare than to be obliged to stock the pastures prematurely. If corn or cake has been given in the turnip field, it must be continued in the pasture. Hoggets that have been well managed will be ready for markets as soon as they can be shorn, and may not require grass at all. They usually, however, grow very rapidly on the first flush of clovers and sown grasses, especially when aided by cake or corn. When the soil is of poor quality, it is expedient to continue the use of such extra food during summer. The best sheep are generally sent to market first, and the others as they attain to a proper degree of fatness. Store sheep or cattle are then purchased to occupy their places until the next crop of lambs is weaned.

Lowland flocks are for the most part shorn in May, although many fat sheep are sent to market out of their wool at a much earlier date. Indeed railway transits has made it practicable to forward newly-shorn sheep to market so quickly that there is now little risk of their suffering from exposure to bad weather, and accordingly few fat sheep are now sent to market rough after the 1st of April. But in the case of nursing ewes and store sheep of all kinds it is highly inexpedient to deprive them of their fleeces until summer weather has fairly set in. accordingly, the latter half of May and the first half of June are, in average seasons, the best shearing time, beginning with the hoggets and ending with the ewes.

This practice of shearing a portion of the flock so early as April renders it necessary to make a change on that mode of sheep-washing so well described by the author of the Seasons. Artificial washing-pools are accordingly now provided by damming up some small stream of clean water. The bottom is paved and three sides faced with bricks set in cement, with a sluice of let off the foul water when necessary. The most accessible side of the pool is formed of strong planks, securely jointed, behind which the men engaged in washing the sheep stand dry, and accomplish their work much in the way that a washerwoman does hers at her tub. A sloping passage at the upper end of the pool allows the sheep to walk out, one by one, as they are washed. One such pool is often made to accommodate several neighboring farms.


395-1 The mercurial and arsenical salves and washes commonly in use are believed often to have a hurtful effect on the health of the flocks to which they are applied, and have sometimes caused very serious losses. Having used Macdougall's dip (a preparation of carbolic acid) for many years, we can testify to its efficacy and safety.

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