Starting with sheep

As with all livestock, there is a raft of legislation that applies to sheep keepers, whether you have one pet sheep or a flock of many thousands.

Furthermore, sheep are an ongoing commitment. They need to have access to shelter, food and water. They need to be protected from accidents, injury and disease – and if they suffer any of the three, they need prompt and effective treatment.

While hill sheep may be turned out to fend for themselves for much of the year, most sheep need to be regularly checked for health and wellbeing – at least once a day and more often at lambing time. If you cannot commit to this, please don’t get sheep.

Registering your holding and flock

Before buying sheep, you also need to deal with the legislative side. Detail will vary from country to country, so we suggest you contact your local Department of Agriculture.

In Scotland, the relevant agency is the Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Department (SGRPID).

In England, you need to contact the Rural Payments Agency, an executive agency of DeFRA.

From them, you will get a County Parish Holding (CPH) number. If you buy or rent agricultural land, it may already have a CPH number, so do check.

Having got your CPH number, contact the Animal and Plant Health Agency, an executive agency of DeFRA that was formed from the State Veterinary Service and a number of other related inspectorates in 2007 (it was also known as the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency or AVHLA until 2015) and they will provide you with a Flock Number and explain about movement licences and the other legislation you will need to know about. They will also send you their Sheep Welfare Guide.

Movement licences

If you move sheep from one holding to another, including to the abattoir, you must complete a movement licence.

In England and Wales this is form ARAMS-1, available from ARAMS (Animal Reporting and Movement Service). In Scotland, a Sheep and Goats Movement Document is available from the Scottish Animal Movement Unit (SAMU). Links to these documents can be found in the related sites section below.

This allows stock to be traced in the event of a disease outbreak. When you buy your sheep, the seller will complete a movement licence and give you a copy, so you will need your CPH number before buying. The licence must be retained for 6 years.

If / when you send your lambs for slaughter, you must complete a licence and either send it or take it with you (the abattoir will advise on what they want done) to the abattoir to be completed, then distribute copies as appropriate and keep a copy for yourself.

Flock Register

You must also keep an annual Flock Register of all sheep movements on and off your holding, including

  • the date of movement,
  • type of movement (birth, death, show, move on, move off)
  • the number of sheep
  • the holding to which they were moved (name or responsible person, full address and CPH number
  • name of haulier and vehicle registration number
  • the CPH number from which they came
  • lot number, if the sheep came from a mart
  • running total of sheep on the holding

A new register should be started on 1st January for the coming year, recording the total number of sheep on the holding on that day.

Movements must be recorded within 36 hours of them taking place. This record must be kept for six years and can be in written or electronic format. Animal Health may visit your holding and ask to see these records at any time.

There is a requirement to record an animal's individual number in the holding register in specific circumstances, such as movements to shows, for breeding exemptions (see Animal Health & Welfare guidance), for export, or where the 3 official tag limit will be exceeded.

Medicine book

You will also need an animal medicine book. These are available from agricultural suppliers. All medicines, including wormers, must be entered in the book at the time they are administered. Many medicines have a withdrawal period, during which the animal cannot be slaughtered for human consumption. Check each medicine before you buy it as some can have withdrawal periods of 56 days or so.

Sheep identification

By law, all sheep require to be identified. The regulations have changed almost every year since we started keeping sheep in 2007.

Sheep born before January 2008 will have one ear tag showing the flock number of the farm where they were born; if they are no longer on the farm where they were born, they may have a secondary (S) tag inserted.

Sheep born between January 2008 and January 2010 should have two matching tags (or a tag in one ear and a tattoo in the other).

Sheep born since 1st January 2010 must have a yellow electronic identification (EID) tag in one ear and a matching conventional tag (or tattoo) in the other.

Breed societies will have their own rules on identification so if you have registered breeding stock, make sure that the method of identification complies.

Vets, abattoirs and butchers

Three other things you should do before you buy any sheep are to make arrangements for veterinary treatment, do some research on how you’ll have them slaughtered, if you are planning to do so (including how you are going to get the sheep to the abattoir) and how you will have them butchered.

Not all veterinary practices treat farm animals, so do locate one that does before the sheep are on site.

It's unlikely that you will be able to (or will want to) have your sheep slaughtered at home - even if you can get someone to do it, the regulations are prohibitive. All abattoirs slaughter sheep, but the number of abattoirs has declined in recent years mainly due to the burden of legislation. If you have a local abattoir, please use it.

You will also have to make plans for butchering. You may want to do this yourself, and courses to teach you how to do so are now widely available, or you can use a local butcher. Sometimes, an abattoir will have a butchering service attached. Remember, if you intend to sell or give lamb or mutton to a third party, there are very strict rules around butchering and processing, so you may not be able to do it yourself at home.

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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