Land and fencing for sheep

Sheep are very tidy grazers and can make a significant contribution to the good management of grassland. They prefer a short sward and nip the grass off between bottom teeth and a horny plate in the upper jaw – sheep don’t have top teeth at the front.

Multi-species grazing

Many people use them to clean up grazing after horses or cattle: cattle prefer long grass as they eat by wrapping their tongues round the grass and pulling it into their mouths; horses have both upper and lower incisors and nip the grass, like sheep, but they create latrines that they don’t graze and are very selective grazers thus create areas of long, rank grass.

Multispecies grazing also helps to reduce the burden of gastrointestinal worms; the worms are species specific so sheep can consume cattle or horse worms on grass with no ill effects and thus destroy the worms, and vice versa. This does not apply to Liver Fluke, though, as the same organism affects both cattle and sheep.

However, multispecies grazing can make handling more challenging – the rattling of the feed bucket will likely bring all the stock in the field not just the ones you want at that time.

Plants poisonous to sheep

Common plants poisonous to sheep include:

  • Ragwort
  • St John’s Wort
  • Rhododendron (and similar shrubs)
  • Water Dropwort
  • Yew
  • Hemlock
  • Water Horsetail
  • Bracken, acorns and oak leaves if consumed in quantities

Most sheep will avoid plants that are poisonous to them, unless they are forced to eat them by starvation. The main danger comes from partially wilted cuttings, perhaps dumped from a garden.

Fencing for sheep

Boundaries for sheep pasture need to be good. Hedges and walls will almost certainly need to be reinforced with stock fencing. Even a thick hedge will be browsed by sheep and once they can see through, they’re likely to try to get through.

Electric fencing isn’t as effective for sheep as it is for cattle and horses. The sheep’s fleece seems to insulate it from the shock and a determined sheep will simply push through strands of tape. You can get sheep netting for electric fences, which works better. Keepers of horned sheep usually avoid electric fencing in case an animal gets caught on it.

The best fencing for sheep is properly erected stock netting such as Rylock. Sheep are much less hard on fences that either cattle or horses, because they aren’t tall enough to reach over for grass in the next field, so a top line of barb or electric isn’t required.

The type of netting for sheep has smaller holes at the bottom and bigger holes higher up (remember to put it the right way up) – the smaller holes stop lambs getting through and adult sheep from getting their heads trapped.

Prior to lambing, always check your fences and gateways carefully. If a young lamb gets out and cannot find its way back to its mother, it will quickly die. Gateways can present a hazard particularly if vehicles have created ruts that are deep enough for a lamb to get under.

Rosemary Champion

About Rosemary Champion

Rosemary lives on a 12 acre smallholding in Angus, in the east of Scotland, where she keeps Ryeland Sheep, Shetland cattle and assorted poultry. She was destined to be a smallholder from an early age.

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