Tips to Becoming a Successful Sheep Owner

Dan Morrical’s Tips to Becoming a Successful Sheep Owner

by Sarah Mathers
Summer Intern, CALS Communication Service

On July 28, a pasture walk was led by Dan Morrical, an extension sheep specialist and animal science professor, and Jamie Baumgardner a sales representative with Dow Agrosciences. 

The walk was held at the Iowa State University Sheep Research Farm. The event showcased the importance of healthy pastures and addressed sheep owner’s issues.

Those concerns included conquering thistles, spotting sore mouth, handling predators and controlling weeds.

Conquering Thistles
For sheep farmers in Iowa, thistles are a problem. Thistles can cause pastures to become rough, cause difficulty grazing and since they are usually not consumed during grazing, they are more populated than grasses and legumes in pastures. Having the proper herbicide makes a difference when it comes to controlling thistles.

Morrical explaining common weed issues in pastures. 

Spotting Sore Mouth
Contagious Ecthyma, commonly known as sore mouth or scabby mouth, is a zoonotic skin irritation usually found around the mouths of young lambs, Sore mouth occurs after weaning due to stress but can occur while lambs are still nursing and can cause mastitis, an inflammation in the mammary glands, of nursing ewes.
Vaccinations are available but not guaranteed to prevent the virus. In order to prevent an outbreak, Morrical recommends vaccinating lambs on the barn skin of the inner rear leg. It is important for producers to take precautions during both vaccinations and containing an outbreak by practicing proper biosecurity, remove lambs with this virus from the herd immediately and wear gloves at all times to prevent contracting sore mouth personally.

Handling Predators
Having a guard animal is crucial when it comes to having a flock or smaller animals such as sheep. Coyotes are the most common predator in Iowa but nationally, wolves, mountain lions, bears and eagles can contribute to losses. Popular guard animal include llamas, donkeys and livestock protection dogs such as Spanish Ranch Mastiffs, Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherds and Akbash. In order to have a successful guard dog, you must introduce your puppy into their flock at a young age to ensure it forms bonds with the sheep and ideally should be bred from working breed parents. Most dogs fail to protect sheep when they are too bonded with people.

ISU's Sheep Reserch Farm's Spanish Ranch Mastiff, Chesty, watching over newly weaned lambs. 

Controlling Weeds 
Keeping weeds under control requires knowledge and persistence. One of the most effective ways to stay up to date with new herbicides on the market is to contact an agriculture herbicide specialist before making any major changes to your pasture. Healthy and well managed pastures have fewer weeds however even the best pastures have thistles creep in. 

Morrical answering questions about common pasture issues.