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Soay Sheep Husbandry

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Breeding

Soay sheep breed in the Fall when the days get shorter and the weather starts getting colder.  When we first started breeding British Soay we kep the breeding groups outside in separate pens. However after several years and sev

152eral snow storms, we decided it was better to breed them in the barn.  

Breeding groups (whether inside or outside) should be set up so that the rams can't see into the other pens.  This keeps them from getting 'distracted'.  The rut is when rams are ready to breed and they begin challenging each other for dominence.

153 British Soay are small in size - but you don't want to get between two rams fighting!  Their horns are very heavy and can do some damage.  However rams are not agressive creatives.  They are mearly establishing the pecking order' in their ram group.

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Ewes cycle every two weeks when they are in season.  We keep the ewes in the breeding groups with thier rams for 6 weeks to ensure that all the ewes are bred.  The breeding group configuration is determined using pedigree charts, and 

a breeder's software program to ensure that we keep a diverse flock of British Soay.  We use this same process to select sheep to create starter flocks for new breeders

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Both ewes and rams will curl their lips when they smell something 'interesting'.  This is often seen during breeding, but can also be seen at other times of the year.  It resembles a 'smile'.

 

The  gestation for Soay Sheep is approximately 142 to 152 days, with 148 -150 days being the average.    Typically lambs will be born around the first two weeks of April. 

20 As the ewes get closer and closer to lambing, their tummies get bigger and bigger.  It was pretty obvious to us last year that one of our ewes was carrying twins, and sure enough on April 18th last year, she delivered two gorgeous little rams. 

 

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Larger or mature Soay ewes are more likely to have twins than smaller, younger ewes.  We will have a number of mature ewes we will be breeding this year, so I hope to have several sets of twins.

 

 

Soay ewes are excellent mothers.  They keep a very close eye on their lambs and nurse them up until they are 3 months old. As the lambs start exploring their world more and more, the mothers follow close behind.

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Health

Soay sheep are very hearty animals.  Minimal care is required to maintain their good health.  We vaccinate our sheep annually and worm them typicaly in the Spring and again in the Fall.  Lambs require a booster vaccination about a month after their first vaccine.

Soay sheep hooves sometimes need trimming annually.

In addition to hay and pasture grass, we suppliment our sheep's diet with a medicated Lamb supplement mixed with a small amount of whole oats and rolled barley.  We also provide a container of sheep mineral which is offered free choice.  Sheep feed must be free of copper and made for sheep - not other animals.  Copper is toxic to sheep - all sheep - not just Soays.

 

Sheep behavior speaks louder than words!  Once you get to know your sheep and their individual personalities, it becomes easy to tell when something isn't right.  Sheep need to eat to keep their rumen active.  A sheep that is not eating is a sign that something isn't right.  Occasionally, sheep will eat something that upsets their tummy.  Probios is a paste that can be found at most farm/feed stores and squirting 3cc of it in their mouth will help keep their rumen in good working order. 

Sheep temperatures can range from 100-103. Temperatures over that may need further investiation.  Stress can also cause a slight fever, if there has been recent dramatic changes to their environment, it might just take them a few days to settle down.  Upper respiratory symptoms may require antibiotics.  If in doubt, I always phone my vet.

 

Scrapies Eradication Program

Scrapie is a horrible, debilitating and fatal disease found in sheep.  It is transferred to lambs via the birthing fluids from the ewe.  It can take symptoms of Scrapie years to show up, while in the meantime infected lambs are born and sold - spreading the disease.  This is why it is so important for all sheep breeders to be enrolled in the Voluntary Scrapies Eradication Program to ensure that their flock stays healthy and all sheep leaving their farm are healthy. 

Soay sheep are a primitive breed of sheep and therefore could be susceptible  to Scrapie.  However there has never been a documented case of Scrapie in Soay sheep either in the UK or in North America.  Farms  enrolling in the Voluntary Scrapies  Eradication Program are issued a premise number and each sheep born at that farm is tagged with the premise number and a sheep identification number.  This can be used to trace all movement of the sheep.

At Narnia Farm, we are enrolled in the Voluntary Scrapies Eradication Program. A state veterinarian  visits our farm annually and documents all sheep and  inspects them for any symptoms of Scrapie.  None of our sheep have any signs of Scrapie.   All sheep that we have purchased came from farms that  are in the Voluntary Scrapies Eradication Program and none of them has ever had Scrapie at their farm. 

Although Scrapie has never been documented in Soay sheep, tagging is a precaution to prevent any spread of the disease. With so few British Soay sheep, it would be a shame to loose any from this disease.  We must take precautionary measures when we move sheep from one farm to another.

 

Shelter and Fencing

We have three sided lean-tos in the pasture areas for our sheep.   We used 'treated' posts for the lean-tos.  I've only recently found out that treated wood is treated with a copper product.  Copper is deadly to sheep and if they chewed on the posts they could potentially get a lethal dose.  We covered all exposed posts so that they could not chew on them.

 

I typically bring the ewes and lambs into the barn at night.  The rams have their own special paddock where they live.  Since we live in Wisconsin, our winters can get a bit harse, so the rams and ewes both come into the barn at night and only go outside during the day if temperatures are above 0 degrees. 

We have 5 rail electric fencing surrounding the pasture area and dividing each paddock.  When it was first installed I had my doubts that it would keep the sheep in their intended areas.  However, Soay sheep do not have wool on their face and legs, so the electric fence has worked well to train them where the boundaries are.  Typically sheep aren't going to try to 'escape'. They are prey animals and once Soay have a place they feel safe, it is unlikely that they will run off, unless they are threatened.

The reason we decided to use electric fencing was to keep deer and predators out of the sheep pasture.  Deer carry diseases we didn't want our sheep exposed to and we didn't want our sheep becoming dinner for some  nearby coyotes.  So far so good.  We have not had any problems with deer or coyotes.  We also have some 'cattle fence panels' around the rams pen.  The panels are metal with approx 4" squares.  The rams have caught their horns in the panels 3 or 4 times and its taken us to unpry them from the fence to free them.  We plan to replace the fence panels with electric fencing - which hasn't given us any problems.