How Delicate are Sheep?

Cindy in SD

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I've been looking into getting a few sheep, but today I perused a list of plants that will kill them (allegedly) and I'm wondering how there are still sheep on the earth. It logically cannot be as bad as the internet lists make it out to be. 😳 Apparently even Ponderosa Pine will kill them (of which we have many, though most of our 12 acres are "grass").

Amongst the pasture forbs I find the occasional death camas (which I pull whenever I see them) and around some of the buildings are lambs quarter. I don't eat it; I don't like it. My cows didn't like it, and maybe sheep don't like it either. 🤷‍♀️ We have some native vetches as well. There are water hemlocks in and around the pond. I cut them down as soon as they pop their pretty heads up. They're endemic to the area.

It's mostly grass, I guess. White, purple, pink clover. No sweet clover. Maybe a little purslane. Mustards, a little. Yarrow, pussytoes... Lots of Canada thistle that I try to keep mowed. Tansy, which I actively discourage as well. Some burdock along the edges that I've made a point to machete down, as it gets miserably entangled in fur, even if it is (allegedly) edible. There are many more plants I'm forgetting or possibly haven't noticed. I can't see that it's reasonable to dig up our entire place and plant straight-on grass. Plus that sounds like something which would require a ton of glyphosate (a non-starter for us) to succeed, not to mention several years at least.

So, is it true that sheep are just wandering around looking for a chance to die (in this case by nibbling the wrong leaf?) If so, how is it that wild sheep still live in these parts? :idunno
 

secuono

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Not really.
They're just very good at hiding pain/sickness and people are lazy at knowing each sheep's cersion of normal.

Only had one just randomly drop dead with zero notice and no results from necropsy as to why.
Others I've noticed something was wrong and usually able to get them back on track.

Poisonous plants should be removed or properly fenced off. Many plants are fine if they only nibble a few bites, but some, like yew, needs to be found and cut out completely.

I'd say worms are the worst for sheep. Wet ground, raining a lot, surrounded by water, you'll be battling it constantly or you'll accept it and start strongly culling.
 

Cindy in SD

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I can handle the worming (at least I think I can), and we don't have yew here. We did have some chokecherries, but they died out several years ago and didn't come back. There are a few scraggly Juneberries (listed as toxic for sheep) that I could cut out. Only a few berries and the birds eat them green. I'm really just wondering whether I can have sheep at all, since so many of the plants on the list I read are growing here and not likely to stop doing so without (or probably even with) heroic measures. Like I said, I destroy the worst ones that I'm familiar with.

You don't realize the biodiversity in a pasture until you start collecting medicinals. Yarrow was on the bad list, for example, and it's scattered around everywhere.
 

Legamin

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I've been looking into getting a few sheep, but today I perused a list of plants that will kill them (allegedly) and I'm wondering how there are still sheep on the earth. It logically cannot be as bad as the internet lists make it out to be. 😳 Apparently even Ponderosa Pine will kill them (of which we have many, though most of our 12 acres are "grass").

Amongst the pasture forbs I find the occasional death camas (which I pull whenever I see them) and around some of the buildings are lambs quarter. I don't eat it; I don't like it. My cows didn't like it, and maybe sheep don't like it either. 🤷‍♀️ We have some native vetches as well. There are water hemlocks in and around the pond. I cut them down as soon as they pop their pretty heads up. They're endemic to the area.

It's mostly grass, I guess. White, purple, pink clover. No sweet clover. Maybe a little purslane. Mustards, a little. Yarrow, pussytoes... Lots of Canada thistle that I try to keep mowed. Tansy, which I actively discourage as well. Some burdock along the edges that I've made a point to machete down, as it gets miserably entangled in fur, even if it is (allegedly) edible. There are many more plants I'm forgetting or possibly haven't noticed. I can't see that it's reasonable to dig up our entire place and plant straight-on grass. Plus that sounds like something which would require a ton of glyphosate (a non-starter for us) to succeed, not to mention several years at least.

So, is it true that sheep are just wandering around looking for a chance to die (in this case by nibbling the wrong leaf?) If so, how is it that wild sheep still live in these parts? :idunno
The Interweb is a vast and critical authority on every possible worst case scenario that you could never imagine on your own….or with a few books from the public library. On the Interweb nobody knows if you are a PhD expert…or a 12 year old narcissist sitting in your parent’s basement giggling and trolling innocent readers….and with that explanation I will add my two cents…
Sheep are generally not ‘delicate’. In the wild they manage an 80% or so survival rate to adulthood….where they are hunted by man or beast and eventually succumb to age, the elements or starvation…and yet the species thrives where they are generally left alone!
In general they will avoid the plant that they shouldn’t eat by instinct. There are, of course exceptions to this…and stupid sheep…and you should eliminate what you can where you can of poisonous flora. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘native vetches’ but what we call ‘vetch’ is high in protein, a legume, and we plant it in our pasture on purpose to a very limited degree. The sheep love it but avoid it if it becomes deep and tangling and ’sticky’…too mature…Canada Thistle is a TREAT! Your sheep will munch on this while it is young and tasty and if it is not too extensive of a problem…just leave them to it! My sheep love it and I only pull or poison if it is in an area where the sheep don’t graze…yet. we have been hosting horses in the Summer and discovered that while keeping the pasture mowed nicely they find the weeds that are edible and spread the seeds literally throughout the pasture. Being nice to the horse owner cost me $5,500 in poisons, fertilizer, seed and diesel to completely wipe out a nasty invasive weed species (yep! I HONESTLY believe I killed it all with just 600 gallons of poison!…NOT!) and I’m hoping to revive the pasture for my own sheep and Winter feed harvest…that’s the plan. Occasionally poison is unavoidable if you have more acres than you can wander around in five Summers pulling every weed. We tried this method first and pulled over 7 TONS of this nasty weed….to very little effect on the following year’s population. Even if you are an organic farmer you have to have a starting point. We will not be using that pasture for two years until the soil tests negative for all traces of the poison….
In general sheep will avoid what they ought not to eat. But that is not always the case. There might sprout up a batch of nettles that your sheep find inviting and you will have bloat and sheep with sore mouths. They will only make the mistake once but if you can eradicate the nettles you are better off….
Try not to sow too many legumes in your fields as this is a rich diet that can cause bloat. Grasses of nearly all varieties are welcomed by your sheep until it gets taller than their eye level while eating…about 8-12”…then they will nibble the tops and never eat the stalks…they like the sweet tender stuff and tend to ignor the rough and pokey stuff..(like we do when not on a diet set by our spouse). If your pasture gets over grown and your sheep can’t keep up, just hook up your mower head and knock it down to 6” and your sheep will dive back in! In our neck of the woods we have a high water table and the grass grows faster than our herd can eat it so we are harvesting or mowing most of the year up through November.
Best of luck..your sheep will select their favorite diet and let you know what to pull…by leaving it in place for you to pull! Goats on the other hand may be a bit more indelicate in choosing their forage and you should keep some bloat/scours/constipation medication on hand for the inevitable! I find for a herd of sheep I generally must keep a dedicated refrigerator with about 20-odd vaccines, medications, injections, parasite remedies and keep up with their health and grooming and they do the rest! I think my average is about $1200 per year in medications and interventions for my small flock. Finally..if one of your sheep constantly gets itself into digestive distress by eating what it ought not….DON’T BREED THAT SHEEP! It will pass on genetics..and even when sound the ewe will teach the lambs what foods it enjoys….the problem manifests over generations if you breed it back!
 

Lizzy733

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We haven't had our sheep for long, but there are plenty of toxic list plants around that have not caused an issue. Wooly nightshade, elderberry, hydrangea... So far they've all left it alone, but this was their land first; we're the new additions here.

I have heard there really is a genetic element to it and also the more feral, the more forage smarts they have. Also heard it's best to leave the ewes to rear them so they learn from their parents what not to eat.

I would look into the toxicity of what you have and how much would constitute a dose large enough to cause an adverse reaction. It may be that some are only mildly toxic or require them to completely gorge themselves before something bad happens and can be managed over time.

I think as with all animals, early detection and early intervention is the key to keeping your flock healthy and happy for the long run. I'd recommend stocking up on medical supplies 'before' there's a problem. When one of my poor boys was badly flystruck after a recent cyclone, having pour-on, iodine, halters, leads and hand shears on hand was a boon.
 

Cindy in SD

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The Interweb is a vast and critical authority on every possible worst case scenario that you could never imagine on your own….or with a few books from the public library.

I've found this to be mostly true. I'm super excited to hear that your sheep love Canada thistles! :weee:weee:weeeVery reassuring. Thanks! We only have twelve acres and I have an interest in flora, so I know fairly well what's growing here. I was a bit disappointed, reading that looooong list, but now I'm excited!
 

Cindy in SD

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We haven't had our sheep for long, but there are plenty of toxic list plants around that have not caused an issue. Wooly nightshade, elderberry, hydrangea... So far they've all left it alone, but this was their land first; we're the new additions here.

I have heard there really is a genetic element to it and also the more feral, the more forage smarts they have. Also heard it's best to leave the ewes to rear them so they learn from their parents what not to eat.

I would look into the toxicity of what you have and how much would constitute a dose large enough to cause an adverse reaction. It may be that some are only mildly toxic or require them to completely gorge themselves before something bad happens and can be managed over time.

I think as with all animals, early detection and early intervention is the key to keeping your flock healthy and happy for the long run. I'd recommend stocking up on medical supplies 'before' there's a problem. When one of my poor boys was badly flystruck after a recent cyclone, having pour-on, iodine, halters, leads and hand shears on hand was a boon.
Thanks so much! What do you use the iodine for? I do have some, but it's for me. 😁 I'll have to get to the medical chapters in my "howtoraisesheepies" books. Reading those kinds of chapters caused me to put off getting chickens/ducks/turkeys/geese for a whole year, so I've been avoiding reading them. And I've yet to have any kind of widespread medical issues with any of my poultry. At some point though, one does have to pull one's head out of the sand.
 

Show Sebright

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You think if my lamb gets ahold of a leaf of creeping indigo it will drop dead? I’m getting him a muzzle that he can drink through while he is out but I was worried if some kid threw it in thinking the lamb will eat it.
 
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