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    Conducting Sheep Introductions At Your Animal Sanctuary

    two sheep stand close to each other
    Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals Media  

    This Resource Is Meant to Be Read In Conjunction With Another Resource
    Before reading our sheep-specific guidance, please read our detailed resource about preparing for resident introductions here. The following information is meant to supplement and build upon the important points covered within that resource.

    When compared to introductions involving some of the other species typically cared for at farmed animal sanctuaries, sheep introductions tend to involve a bit less tension and drama. This doesn’t mean every introduction will be an immediate success, but the odds are certainly in your favor! Below, we’ll talk about important things to keep in mind when preparing for and conducting sheep introductions.

    Planning For Sheep Introductions

    When conducting resident introductions, planning and thoughtful consideration is key! In addition to the considerations outlined in Preparing For And Conducting Resident Introductions, there are a few additional things to keep in mind when planning for sheep introductions. 

    Keep Disease Transmission In Mind
    In Preparing For And Conducting Resident Introductions, we mention the importance of considering the risk of infectious disease spread when planning resident introductions, but given the prevalence of contagious diseases such as caseous lymphadenitis (CL) and ovine progressive pneumonia (OPP) in sheep, it bears repeating here. When preparing for sheep resident introductions, be sure to consider the health status of your residents and work with your veterinarian to ensure all appropriate testing has been conducted. To learn more about preventing the spread of these common diseases, please refer to the links above.

    You Might Want To Let Young Lambs Mature A Bit

    If considering introducing a lamb to a flock of mature sheep, it’s typically best to wait until the lamb has matured enough to be weaned and is doing well on a forage-based diet. This can help ensure everyone continues to have their specific needs met in regards to diet, warmth, etc. There are of course exceptions to every rule, and there may be times when you feel it is in the lamb’s best interest to be introduced to a more mature sheep before they have been weaned, for example, if there is a female who you think may “adopt” them or an older lamb you think they’d get along with. However, housing individuals together who have significant differences in their dietary or housing needs will be more challenging, so be sure to consider how you will meet these needs. 

    It’s also important to remember that lambs are very vulnerable to parasitism because they have not yet developed any immunity to them. If parasites such as barber pole worm are an issue in your area, it may be wise to avoid moving them into a flock or onto a pasture where they are likely to be exposed to a large number of parasites before having time to build up their immunity. 

    Lambs are also more vulnerable to predation, so you’ll want to carefully consider if moving them in with your resident sheep flock is safe. In some cases, allowing young sheep to roam out in large spaces or to have outdoor access overnight may be too risky. Depending on your setup, you may be able to make modifications that allow you to introduce the lamb while still keeping them safe, for example, moving the flock to a smaller pasture that is not close to wild spaces, providing human supervision while out in the pasture, and/or closing them into a safe space overnight. 

    Make Sure Breeding Is Not Possible

    Remember that a male sheep can remain fertile for up to 6 weeks after being neutered. Do not conduct introductions until you are confident that breeding is not possible. If you’re not sure, check in with your veterinarian for guidance. Scheduling a new male resident’s neuter for as soon after their intake as possible (following your veterinarian’s recommendations) can help avoid a long delay between discontinuing quarantine and being able to conduct introductions.

    Also keep in mind that a recently neutered male may continue to exhibit ram-like behaviors after being neutered, particularly if they were neutered later in life. Older rams who were recently neutered may be more difficult to introduce to other males than someone who was neutered at a younger age. This doesn’t mean a male who is neutered later in life cannot be introduced to other males, but it may be more challenging than your typical sheep introduction.

    Be Especially Mindful Of The Temperature

    In Preparing For And Conducting Resident Introductions, we stress the importance of considering the weather when planning introductions, and this holds true for sheep as well. However, in addition to considering the temperature, if your sheep residents are woolen, also consider the length of their wool. An unseasonably warm day that is a welcome respite from colder temperatures for others, may cause an individual in full wool to be uncomfortably warm. If residents already appear to be uncomfortably warm, it’s not a good time to conduct an introduction. 

    Conducting Sheep Introductions

    Once you’ve done all your prep work and are ready to conduct the introduction, you might opt to start by housing sheep who are going to be introduced to each other in separate by adjacent spaces before fully integrating them (as described in Preparing For And Conducting Resident Introductions). However, this isn’t always necessary. Additionally, if you are introducing one sheep into a flock of sheep, you may find that housing them in a pen where they can see but cannot be with other sheep causes them distress, especially if the flock heads out to pastures that are out of visual range. Each situation is different, so you’ll want to think carefully about what will be most appropriate for the individuals in your care, and then closely observe their reactions so you can make adjustments as needed.

    Similarly, once you are ready to allow the sheep to be in a shared space with each other, it’s very important to closely monitor everyone’s reaction in case you need to intervene! In some cases, residents will simply sniff each other and settle in quickly. Other times, there may be a few scuffles as everyone figures out their place in the social hierarchy. Individuals may headbutt or even mount each other as they sort things out. As long as no one is being too rough or seems to be overdoing it, it’s generally best to let residents sort things out for themselves (so long as you have ensured they have enough space to move away from others if they choose and are not at risk of being cornered). However, if things get out of hand, you’ll need to break up conflicts quickly. While some headbutting, chasing, and mounting is not unusual, prolonged and/or excessive headbutting, chasing, or mounting may require intervention. 

    Additionally, if instead of head-to-head ramming, an individual is ramming another resident in their side or from behind, we recommend stepping in to separate or redirect individuals since this type of interaction could result in injury. In addition to watching for physical contact that could result in injury, be sure to also watch closely that residents are not exhausting themselves or showing signs of overheating. In some cases, you may need to separate individuals and try again later (or consider a different option entirely).

    The New Gang In Town
    If you are introducing multiple new sheep, this actually tends to improve the odds of an easy introduction to the flock.

    Things To Keep In Mind After Conducting Sheep Introductions

    Once you’re confident that everyone is settled in and is safe to stay together without supervision, there are still important things to keep in mind as everyone adjusts to their new living arrangements. 

    Overnight Accommodations

    First, be sure to consider overnight accommodations. If residents are closed inside overnight for their safety, is it safe to have everyone together or would it be best to give the new individual(s) their own safe space overnight to avoid potential conflicts they cannot escape from? Similarly, if your sheep residents are allowed to have access to the outdoors overnight, you may still opt to give the new individual(s) their own space to avoid them getting kicked out or choosing to stay outside so they can keep their distance from certain individuals. 

    It’s Not Just Overnight
    If there are other times when residents must be closed inside, for example, during dangerously cold or icy weather or in preparation for health checks, be sure to consider if any separations are needed to ensure everyone’s safety and well-being.

    Getting Used To Pasture Fencing

    Depending on your setup, it may take individuals some time to get used to your fencing and how to get to and from certain pastures. While residents who are used to the space may move from place to place with ease, an individual who is not familiar with the space will not yet know where gates are located. Sheep typically want to stick with other sheep and may feel more vulnerable if separated from the flock. An individual who inadvertently ends up on the opposite side of a fence as the rest of the flock may become panicked when they realize they have been separated from the flock and are unsure how to get to them. Therefore, it’s important to closely monitor residents while they get used to new outdoor spaces or new fence layouts so you can quickly reunite anyone who finds themselves separated from the rest of the flock.

    While following the guidance above (and the guidance contained in Preparing For And Conducting Resident Introductions) can help set you up for success, it’s important to keep in mind that every individual and situation is unique. Some introductions may take more time than others and some residents may simply never get along, so it’s always a good idea to have a plan B in mind! 

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