We finally got some rain here in the desert. Crazy right? Okay, well it sprinkled for a while. It was enough to get the ground wet and the pig pens are nothing but mud…I need to go put some straw down.
We have lots of sheep here, mostly Navajo-Churro, a good desert breed. So what do we do for them here at Flip Flop Ranch? Well, not a lot actually. Sheep do really well in the winter generally, and here in southern california the winters are usually mild enough on them that they don’t need a lot of care.
We do have a shelter for them where they can get out of the wind and rain. Our sheep tend to stand next to it during inclement weather.
The most important thing you can do for your sheep is to shear them late enough that they have wool for the cold months. A sheep with enough wool will never be cold. This is especially important for breeds like the Navajo-Churro that are often sheared twice per year. If you are shearing in the fall make sure you shear early enough that their wool grows back in before the cold hits.
Beyond that, make sure you pick an appropriate breed for your environment. We picked a desert hardy breed that has been bred in the southwest for 400 years. Our english breeds do horribly in the summer. The Navajos do great, but due to their low lanolin oil, they are not as water proof and may need a bit of extra shelter in places with a lot of rainfall.
If at all possible, don’t keep your sheep locked up in a barn or shed unless you are willing to keep it immaculately clean and it has EXCELLENT ventilation. A sheep will rarely catch a cold or pneumonia out in a pen, but is almost guaranteed to get sick after a winter in the barn.
They are TOUGH muttons, don’t feel sorry for them. You will hurt them by coddling them too much.
Of course I am talking about southern california winters, which while they can be bad, don’t usually involve 12 feet of snow dropped in an overnight blizzard. If you are in a particularly cold area, you may need to coddle your lamb chops a bit. But remember that ventilation is key.
The lambing barns in Scotland, where cold wet weather is the rule in late winter and early spring (not to mention the rest of the year), have solid sides up to four or five feet, then slatted walls the rest of the way up to a very high roof with an open ridge. The ends are left open. There is lots of air flow and the sheep are bedded heavily in straw to keep them dry. Wind, rain and snow still enter the barn, but at sheep level it is dry and not drafty.” littlehats.net
First exception is the wind which can just DEVASTATE your animals, especially the lambs. Note this lamb shelter commonly used in Scotland has no roof. It is simply a windbreak.
The biggest exception to keeping your sheep outside is newborn lambs. The number one cause of lamb death is hypothermia so be VERY CAREFUL about lambing in cold weather. We still try our best to keep lambs outside, but if it is too cold, we bring the moms into the barn. This may also be helpful in getting the moms to accept the lambs, but that’s another post 😉 Lambs only need to be kept in the barn for about a day (3 tops is our rule) and then they can go back out, assuming there’s no blizzard.
A good rule of thumb for the barn is that if you are comfortable, it’s too warm for sheep. Go put on a jacket and suck it up, sissy pants.
Remember: You can keep your sheep healthy through the winter by keeping them OUTSIDE and blocking the wind. Don’t worry about rain and snow unless you have newborns.
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