Sheep Terminology

As a very ancient craft, sheep-keeping has developed a language all of its own. This can be a bit bamboozling for newcomers. It is further complicated by regional variations of terms. We have listed a few below; we hope it helps. The language of wool is included in the Wool section.

Term Definition
Bottle lamb an orphan lamb reared on a bottle. Also pet lamb, poddy lamb, cade lamb.
Broken mouth a sheep which has lost or broken some of its incisor teeth, usually about six years old.
Cast unable to regain footing, perhaps because of lying on a hill or hollow or because of a heavy and / or wet fleece.
Clipping cutting off the wool. Also shearing.
Cull ewe a ewe no longer fit for breeding and sold for meat.
Crutching clipping the wool from the hind end of sheep to help prevent fly-strike. May also be done pre-tupping. Also dagging.
Dags lumps of dried dung stuck to the wool around the hind end of the sheep. May lead to fly strike.
Dagging clipping off dags.
Dipping immersing sheep completely in a chemical wash to kill external parasites. Largely replaced now with the use of pour-ons and injectable insecticides. See pour-ons.
Down breed a breed of sheep belonging to the short wool group.
Draft ewe a ewe to old for rough grazing on hill or upland and selected (drafted) out of the flock to be moved to gentler lowground grazing.
Drench an veterinary medicine administered orally usually by a drenching gun. For individual sheep, a special long-necked drenching bottle can be used.
Ear tag metal or plastic tag clipped permanently in the ear, carrying ID text or an electronic chip.
Ewe a female sheep that has had her first lamb.
Flushing providing improved nutrition in the few weeks before mating to improve fertility.
Flushing (eggs / embryos) removing unfertilised or fertilised eggs from a ewe, usually as part of an embryo transfer programme.
Fly strike infestation of wool, skin and eventually flesh by the maggots of the blowfly. See Health and Wellbeing section.
Foot rot infectious and painful hoof disease commonly found in sheep, particularly if kept on wet ground.
Gestation period length of pregnancy. In sheep, 147 days on average.
Gimmer a female sheep in her second year but before she has her first lamb. Also theave.
Greasy wool wool as shorn i.e. unwashed and still containing all the lanolin.
Hefting the instinct of some breeds, particularly hill breeds, to stay in a small local area (or heft) without the need for fences.
Hogg or hogget a young sheep of either sex from the January after its birth until it cuts 2 teeth at about 18 months old. Also teg, shearling.
Hoof shears tool for trimming hooves.
In lamb pregnant.
Ked species of louse that infests sheep. Melophagus ovinus.
Lamb a sheep in its first year.
Lambing the process of giving birth in sheep.
Lambing pen a small pen to confine a ewe with her newborn lambs to promote bonding.
Lambing percentage a measure of the number of lambs weaned in a flock compared to the number of ewes mated. This takes account of ewe and lamb mortality and should not be confused with the number of lambs born compared to the number of ewes giving birth.
Lanolin a thick, yellow grease in wool, secreted by the sheep's skin, to confer water resistance. Can be extracted and used for various purposes including cosmetics. Also called yolk, wool fat, wool wax or wool grease.
Monorchid a male mammal with only one descended testicle and one retained internally. Also called a rig.
Mule a type of crossbred ewe, usually a cross between a hill breed ewe and a Border or Bluefaced Leicester tup. May be called a Scotch Mule (from a Blackface ewe) or Welsh Mule, if from a Welsh Mountain ewe or other geographical term. Usually put to a terminal sire to produce fat lambs.
Mutton meat from an older sheep, gaining popularity because of its flavour.
Notifiable Disease one that, by law, livestock keepers are obliged to bring immediately to the attention of Animal Health. Foot and Mouth, for example.
Orf See Orf article in Health and Wellbeing section.
Pour-ons an externally applied medicine applied along the backline, usually to prevent external parasites. Spot-ons are similar but are applied as a spot on the back of the neck.
Raddle coloured pigment used to mark sheep for various reasons but often applied to a ram's chest at tupping time so that mated ewes can be identified.
Ram an uncastrated male sheep. Also tup.
Rooing removing the fleece by hand plucking.
Scab or sheep scab a type of mange in sheep caused by sheep scab mite Psoroptes ovis. This is a notifiable disease.
Scrapie a wasting disease of sheep, a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE, similar to BSE in cattle). Efforts have been made in the UK to breed sheep resistant to scrapie.
Shearing cutting off the fleece.
Shearling a yearling sheep before its first shearing.
Shepherd's crook a staff with a hook at one end for catching sheep by the neck or leg, depending on type.
Store a sheep (usually a weaned lamb) not yet ready for slaughter that is sold for further fattening.
Teaser a vasectomised ram i.e. has all the hormones but fires blanks, that may be run with ewes prior to the 'real' ram being introduced, to bring the ewes into season.
Teg See Hogg.
Terminal sire a tup, usually a down breed, used on ewes (usually Mules or other cross-breeds) to produce fat lambs for slaughter.
Top knot wool from the forehead or poll of a sheep.
Tup an uncastrated male sheep. Also ram.
Tupping mating in sheep or the mating season.
Wether a castrated male sheep.
Wool-blindness when excessive wool growth interferes with a sheep's ability to see normally.
Rosemary Champion

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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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