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Author Topic: What points might we miss when assessing a sheep?  (Read 317 times)


  • Joined May 2010
  • South Lanarkshire
    • Wester Gladstone Hebridean Sheep
What points might we miss when assessing a sheep?
« on: December 20, 2018, 12:11:58 am »
Anyone who keeps sheep, other than for petting perhaps, and is looking to buy in more stock, will have a mental list of points to cover when making that decision - to buy or not to buy.  It is a similar process when judging sheep at a show, and yet many people miss out what I consider to be some important points.
We all know the obvious things like conformation, bright eyes, alert ears, healthy gums and well placed front teeth, well sprung ribs to give good lung capacity and plenty of space for the internal organs, fleece quality and trueness to fleece type, horns not cutting into the head.  We all know to check for trueness to the individual breed's standard or description.  However, there is little point in having an animal which looks perfect for its breed if it's rubbish as a sheep, and as a parent and will bring nothing to the quality of your flock.  Here are some additional points to consider:

Teeth: we all know about checking that the front teeth are 'on the pad', and to see a sheep's age by the number of teeth, or if they are broken mouthed.  But how many people also check the molar teeth?  You are likely to lose a finger if you try to open a sheep's mouth wide enough to inspect the molars, and it would hurt the sheep too, so an assessment of the molars is done through the cheek wall, by touch.  First of all run your fingers along the line of the molars, top and bottom, to feel for any missing teeth.  Losing a molar does not usually happen in a younger sheep and once it does it tends to indicate that the sheep will not live long. Another sign of missing molars is green staining at the side of the mouth where cud has dribbled out. As you feel the teeth, also note if there are any spikes or protrusions, such as from overgrown or badly misplaced teeth, which would interfere with chewing.  Note also if there is swelling of the jaw or sensitivity or heat which would indicate an abscess.

Reproductive bits: with a ewe you would check her udder and teats are neat and functioning, no heat or swelling.  However, check also under her tail.  First make sure it really is a ewe and not a wether - that really has happened not just once, even in shows!  Then check that the vulva is a healthy light pink, with no smell or foul discharge, or tearing.
With a tup, yes check the 'ba' bag' or scrotum for two weighty evenly matched testes, but also get the owner to tip him onto his rear end so you can examine the penile sheath.  Again you are looking for a foul discharge which could be a sign of a sexually transmitted disease, perhaps with crusts formed around the sheath; these can cause mechanical damage to the penis by rubbing, and no tup will feel in the mood for love if that has happened.  Look too for any signs of abnormality which might indicate a disease or deformation, or an accident with the shears!  In fact with all male sheep this area should be regularly checked throughout the year, especially on long-wooled breeds.  When judging in the show ring, it doesn't seem to be the done thing to tip every sheep you look at, so you have to just about stand on your head to see underneath, or feel with your hand (the 1,001 st use of baby wipes, is to clean your hands after that bit of the check, to prevent spread of infection between sheep, and just in case you rub your eye or swipe your nose afterwards).  Don't be shy about this bit, if you are buying a tup for breeding then you need to know he is a fully functioning male.

Feet:  I am amazed that many judges don't check the feet on the sheep they are judging.  Yes, they look at whether the animal is down on it's hocks, and if it's standing on a hard surface you can see overgrown feet from the top, but if they are on grass then you really do have to lift each foot and have a look.  I have found feet in a terrible state on animals in a show and sale - a tup will not be able to perform if he has bad feet, plus it is a trait which might be heritable, so you would avoid that animal if you were buying him yourself.  As a judge you are essentially recommending any animal you place well as good breeding stock.  If you are buying a tup for your own flock, then introducing foot disease with a new animal is a real pain - I know this !

I have argued these points with other judges, but I stick to my guns that it is worth checking all these things before you buy, or place a sheep in your line-up.
« Last Edit: December 20, 2018, 12:17:47 am by Fleecewife »

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  • Joined Oct 2012
  • Fettercairn, Aberdeenshire
Re: What points might we miss when assessing a sheep?
« Reply #1 on: December 20, 2018, 11:26:35 am »
This looks like a very thorough description and sounds spot on.
I was always taught "teeth, toes and tits/ testicles" so your three headings are always what I look at for pre breeding or purchase examinations and when picking out anything to show.


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