Livestock

Sheep's Teeth

As a grazing animal, the condition of a sheep’s teeth and mouth will directly affect its performance. Sheep have eight incisor teeth at the front of the lower jaw and none in the upper jaw; instead they have hard plate.

There is a space between the incisors and the molars, which are at the back of the mouth, on both sides and in both the upper and lower jaw. The plate and the incisors are used to nibble grass; the molars are used to chew the cud.

If you are buying sheep, or selecting those to keep for breeding, always examine the mouth carefully. The plate and the incisors should meet i.e. not be overshot or undershot and there should be no rough edges on the outside edges of the molars, as these can cause abscesses.

Sheep's teethHealthy teeth are essential for a sheep's general health

You can also tell the approximate age of a sheep by the teeth. A lamb is born with eight milk teeth at the front; a pair of milk teeth is replaced each year starting with the pair in the middle, so by the time a sheep is four years old, it is said to be full-mouthed. After this age, sheep can begin to lose teeth (broken mouthed).

Wobbly teeth cause more problems than missing teeth though, and in a small flock, older ewes can remain productive if they can be fed in such a way as to maintain their body condition. More important is the condition of molars – if they become rough, broken and stop the sheep eating properly, they cannot be improved and the animal needs to be culled.

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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