Safety for Sheep and Shepherd

By Linda Poole, Regenerative Grazing Specialist

When NCAT’s Livestock Team recently held a series of webinars for people considering a new livestock enterprise, many folks indicated they were thinking of getting sheep. Sounds good to me! Sheep were first domesticated 11,000 years ago, and for centuries women and children tended sheep or goats while men managed larger, potentially more dangerous stock, such as cattle and horses. Today, sheep can be handled without a lot of expensive infrastructure, and well-socialized sheep are friendly, calm, and fun to be around.

But with their small size and cute-and-fuzzy-factor, it’s easy to underestimate sheep. It’s also a fact that they can maim or kill you. This is not intended to cause you to fear sheep; it is fair warning to respect them. Safety is especially important if you’re working sheep alone, without someone to watch your back or lend a hand if things start to go sideways.

Safety with sheep is a topic better suited to books than blogs, but by paying attention to these common-sense guidelines, shepherds can work more safely:

  • Source your sheep from a reputable breeder. Those cheap sheep on Craigslist or at the auction barn might harbor health or behavior issues that you just don’t need in your life.
  • NEVER turn your back on a ram, and this goes double during breeding season. Tame rams can be the worst, going from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde in an instant when their hormones surge during breeding season. Don’t play with or pet rams. Petting a ram is like feeding a bear – neither usually ends well for the animal.
  • Ewes can thump you, too, especially when they have baby lambs. Stay attentive to the body language of sheep around you.
  • Keep your head up and eyes open when you bend or kneel to eye level with sheep. This can invite a charge, and it puts you right where a sheep can inflict maximum damage.
  • Instill respect in your sheep. I train sheep to keep at least a few feet away from me unless I invite them in closer. My tool for this is a plastic grocery bag tied to the stout handle of a 6’ long leg crook. Working the flock, I hold the stick still beside my leg until I want the sheep to move off, then I gently wiggle the bag low to the ground. If I want more energy in the sheep, I lift the stick higher and give the bag a stronger shake. If necessary, I can use the stick as a prod to repel a disrespectful sheep. To catch a sheep, I herd it into a stout fence corner, and then use the crook to carefully catch its leg without ever getting my head down where I could get rammed.
  • Always be alert, fair, and firm. Practice low-stress stockmanship. Good stockmanship is essential to safety for sheep and shepherd!
  • Many old shepherds, myself included, have bad knees and sore backs from foolishly trying to block or catch a running sheep. Use your brain, save your body: set things up to keep sheep from stampeding in the first place. And if they do, step aside and let them go. Then start over, this time keeping things calm.
  • Working yards don’t need to be large or fancy, but they must have good footing, good visibility, and sound fences in a sheep-smart layout.
  • Implement biosecurity. Some diseases are communicable between humans and sheep. Good hygiene practices reduce the risk of passing diseases between species. If you develop an unexplained malady, tell your doctor that you raise sheep.
  • What’s your emergency plan? Do you have an escape route? Got your mobile phone? Does someone know where you are, when to expect you back, and what to do if you don’t show up?
  • One of the most useful references on safety for shepherds is (ironically) the Beef Quality Assurance Handbook. For sheep-centric information, consult the guide Safe Sheep Handling.

Small ruminants are wonderful creatures and can be the basis of a rewarding, fun, and profitable business — so long as you always think of safety first.

Roast Leg of American Lamb with Potatoes & Lemon

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 bone-in leg of lamb, about 5 pounds
  • 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 12 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 teaspoon + 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 pounds yukon gold potatoes, quartered
  • 2 organic lemons, cut into eighths
  • 3/4 pounds shallots, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 3 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine

DIRECTIONS

The night before cooking, use a paring knife to make 24 1-inch punctures around the leg of lamb. Rub it inside and out with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Place ½ clove of garlic inside each puncture. Cover and refrigerate the leg overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1 tbsp salt, oregano, rosemary, and ½ tsp black pepper.

Toss together the potatoes, lemons, shallots, 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, and ⅔ of the spice mixture in a large roasting pan.

Rub the leg of lamb with the remaining spice mixture, and place it on top of the veggies in the pan. Pour the vegetable stock, lemon juice, and white wine into the bottom of the pan.

Place in the oven and roast until the internal temperature of the lamb leg reaches 140 degrees F, about 90 minutes, using a metal ladle to spoon the pan juices over the vegetables every 30 minutes.

Remove and allow to rest for 10 minutes before carving + serving.

Lamb and Chanterelle Mushroom Phyllo Pie

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pounds ground American Lamb
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • 1 ½ cups chopped yellow onion 
  • ¼ cup cubed pancetta 
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic 
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ½ pound sliced fresh chanterelle mushrooms (or any mushrooms)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary 
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper 
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme 
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • ¼ cup port, or dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 ½ cups broth of your choice
  • 10 phyllo pastry sheets

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350F.

 Heat a large pot over medium heat, and add the lamb. Cook, stirring, until evenly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour off some fat, if desired. Add the butter, the onion, tomato paste, pancetta, mushrooms, garlic, rosemary, and spices, and cook until the onions are soft, and the flavors have melded, 5 to 7 minutes. Deglaze the pot with the port, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Sprinkle in the cornstarch, and pour in the broth. Stir, and simmer until thickened. Remove and discard the bay leaf, and allow it to cool slightly. Note: USDA recommends ground lamb be cooked to an internal temp of 160 degrees. 

 Brush a 9 -inch pie dish with olive oil, and layer sheets of phyllo pastry in the dish, turning it as you go, and brushing each sheet with olive oil until the phyllo has covered the entire dish. (Olive oil spray is great for this!) Pour in the lamb filling, and bring the overlap up, scrunching it around the edges. Brush the phyllo with olive oil, and bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm with your favorite sides! 

Welcome to Solace Farm

I am blessed to be a farmer and a shepherdess who shares my life with three generations here in the Pacific Northwest.  My days are filled with caring for my family, land and animals. Over the years I have been mentored by many knowledgeable and creative individuals and feel it is only right that I share the wisdom and skills that my life has grown around. 

My goal is to pass along my experiences in the hopes of brightening your day, encouraging your creativity, and possibly saving the lost arts of living a self-sufficient life in harmony with our world. 

I will cover many topics including Farming, Cooking, Gardening and the Fiber Arts to name a just a few. 

The products of our farm will be listed in our Farm Store and I hope to eventually to be able to put together some tutorials. 

Thank you for stopping by and spending a moment or two with me.

Selenium and Lamb Growth

Increased Selenium Dosage Boosts Growth and Immunity in Lambs

In a new study published in the Journal of Animal Science, Oregon State University (OSU) researchers show that maximum selenium levels permitted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may be too low for sheep to reach optimum growth and health.

Selenium is essential for cellular function in animals and aids development. Large selenium doses can be toxic, but too-low levels can impair growth and compromise the immune system.

“When sheep don’t grow to their potential or have weak immune systems, it can be a sign of insufficient selenium,” said Gerd Bobe, co-author of the study and an OSU professor. “Our research shows higher levels of selenium can result in healthier animals that grow bigger and that can improve returns at the marketplace for farmers and ranchers.”

A challenge is that the range between selenium deficiency and selenium toxicity can be narrow; current FDA regulations limit the amount of dietary selenium supplementation for animals grazing on selenium-scare soils to 0.7 mg per sheep per day or 3 mg per beef cattle per day.

In OSU’s experiments, pregnant ewes were given selenium doses up to five-times higher than the FDA’s allowed level – an amount of supplementation researchers determined to be not harmful to sheep. The element is carried into the bodies of offspring, helping young animals during development.

At the highest selenium doses, ewes gave birth to lambs that grew to be 4.3-pounds heavier than average after 60 days. Furthermore, survival was 15-percent higher in lambs receiving the highest amount of organic selenium supplementation. As farmers look to sell sheep at five to six months old, weight and health metrics are keys to profitability.

A new generation of OSU research is attempting to determine how much selenium and in what form is best for optimal growth and health of sheep and cattle.

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