Notes on Care of St. Croix Hair Sheep from The Swan Ranch
Tips from a long-term St. Croix breeder.
Though the St Croix breed of hair sheep is known for its ease of maintenance, there are certain basic requirements for good results. They are resistant to some internal parasites, but not to lungworm or liver fluke, and so should be wormed at intervals according to needs. They shed on their own, but you can use a stripping comb or shedding blade or pluck the winter coat to hurry the process. They are hoof rot resistant but in the rare instance they do get it, they react well to treatment and it is not a huge problem. The following topics have been gleaned from our own and other’s experience. We hope they are helpful.
- Perimeter: woven wire, 36″ minunum, wood or metal posts, keeps sheep in and predators out.
- Cross-fencing: woven wire or electric. Try to keep fence lines clean.
- Moveable pens, jugs: hog panels, 36″ minimum, cut to size for jugs in barn, a panel is easily tied to a pasture fence to make a temporary jug.
- Catch pens: absolutely necessary, teach to come with grain or feed. A leg clique (a narrowed metal hook on a long wood handle) is useful in catching single animals from a group.
Working chute and tilt-table: necessary with more than a few head for vaccinating, blood testing, feet trimming, sorting,etc. We have a 3-way sorting gate which is very handy. Trim feet twice a year.
Barns and Shelters
- In California’s San Joaquin Valley with well-drained sandy soil, cool foggy winters, hot dry summers, the Swan Ranch got by with one 12′ x 14′ pen in a shed and shade trees in every paddock. In wetter western Oregon, we find we need covered winter feeding arrangements and barn shelter for some animals.
- In the Northern Sacramento Valley with heavier soil, Paul and Kathy Lewis needed a large barn for early lambing, but had no shade in their irrigated summer pastures, which were under intensive management for maximum nutrient availability.
- In West texas, Bill Hoag has barns for winter lambing, some shade available.
- In Canada, three-sided shelters were adequate with ewes often preferring to lamb outside in the snow.
- In every area, keeping lambs out of heavy mud and sheltered from cold windy conditions is important.
Adequate natural or irrigated pastures according to availability with supplemental hay, grain as needed. Offer sheep-mineral salt at all times. Cattle salt has too high copper content, which is toxic to sheep. Do not have plain salt sources as sheep will not get adequate minerals. Without correct minerals sheep will do and produce poorly. Keep sheep in good but not obese condition. Do not let milking ewes get too thin. Older ewes do well if teeth are kept floated. Some ewes care for twins at 12+ years just fine with good feed. Our 15 year old raised twins with free choice alfalfa plus some grain and pelleted feed. This was worthwhile for her unique genetics and excellent conformation which we wished to retain in our flock. A creep is useful to teach lambs to eat grain without getting trampled by hungry ewes.
Vaccinations and Worming
Ewes should be wormed and vaccinated approximately 30 days before lambing with Ivermectin injectable and Clostridium Perfringens Type C and D Tetanus Toxoid. The lambs are wormed and vaccinated at 6–8 weeks and then 10 days later and again at 6 months. Adults need an annual booster for Clostridium. At the Swan Ranch a nasal spray with Bovine Rhino vaccine solved a summer pneumonia problem. In other areas other worming and vaccination schedules may be needed. In wet western Oregon, Ivermectin Plus is used for the endemic liver flukes and Covexin 8 is preferred for vaccination. Consult your vet for local conditions.
St Croix lambs are sexually precocious. The record ram lamb fertility at Utah State was 100 days; therefore wean ram lambs by 90 days. Kathy Lewis had a young ewe lamb at 10 months. Separate ram and ewe lambs at 4 1/2 months (135 day) as you don’t need accidents to happen.
At the Swan Ranch we breed at 7 months to lamb at 12 months. Some prefer to wait until 18 months. Waiting much longer may make it harder for the ewe to conceive. St Croix ewes will breed back at 30 days, making two crops per year. The record at Utah was 18 days. We use the accelerated plan of lambing the ewe every 8 months, making a goal of 6 lambs in two years. We wean at approximately 2 months, turn the ram in for 30–45 days. Most, but not every ewe will follow the 8 month plan. One of our ewes insisted upon having triplets every January, thus fulfilling her 6 lambs in two years. In the hot climate we bred in April for September lambs. If we got a week of l00 degrees plus in May, it cut embryo survival to 20%. The Lewis Ranch in Northern California got a good crop of September and October lambs. Since they are a specialty lamb producer with 1200+ ewes, they time lambing from February through June. They breed some of their early lambers for fall lambs. Not stressing the ewe for the first 25 days has proved vital to embryo survival. St Croix ewes produce from 1–4 lambs. Yearlings usually have singles or twins, mature ewes usually have twins, with older ewes often having triplets or quads. On the whole we prefer a nice set of twins. Since we are purebred producers, we jug most ewes and their lambs for a day or two to tag them and make sure they mother their own lambs. Some ewes will steal other lambs. Ram lambs can be banded (wethered) at this time. Tails can be docked now also if you choose. Docking is not necessary but some people prefer the look.
St Croix rams are active breeders. Hot weather doesn’t bother them. A single ram in a pen will get cranky. A bred ewe or a wether will be fine for company. Rams will do well in a group. When putting them together you must squeeze them up to standing room only for 48 hours. They will get their smells thoroughly combined and not fight and break necks when released. We learned this the hard way. This is a dominance thing, just a part of nature. Avoid upsetting rams by keeping space between a group of rams and a group of open ewes showing heat. You don’t want rams testing fences and each other.
Most sheep raisers use either tattooing or tags for individual identification. For many years we used the small Roto Tags. Ordering them with numbers on one half and Swan on the other and in double sets so if an animal lost one it could still be identified. In 2004 we went with Premier’s new 2x tag. It is about 1 1/3″ in size and much more readable from a distance. It also seems easier to apply, though heavy for new lambs. We are using sheep paint to ID a ewe and her lambs until they are a bit older before tagging. A friend started using the “dot” system—1 dot, 2 dots, etc. in various parts of the sheep. It works well for up to 10 ewes at a time. We also keep some blank tags to replace lost ones. Sheep seem to find all kinds of ways to lose them on fences, feeders, chewing on each other. [Snapp tags work well in lamb’s ears, and don’t easily snag or fall out of the ear—ed.]
Most states now have a Premise ID program to connect with the National Scrapie Program that allows animals to be traced to their place of origin. All brood stock that leave your farm must have these tags (usually in the right ear). At the present time slaughter lambs do not need the tags as sheep do not show positive for the test until they are past two years of age. The tags are free from the state APHIS office. (Ask your vet or extension agent.)
We have sent lambs by air when they were small (30–40 lbs). They ride fine in dog crates with bedding. We have hauled sheep in pick-ups with racks, cab-high camper covers, small horse trailers and bigger double-decked ones. For trips up to 24 hours they don’t drink much water. For several-day trips, fill their buckets at least twice a day -preferably when you stop to eat or rest. With good bedding, hay-racks or feeders for pellets they will do fine. Maybe taking a day or two to rehydrate if they didn’t drink much. They will lay down quite a bit and seem to travel better than some horses.
When crossing state lines you must always have a health certificate with you for the state of destination. Each state has different requirements; most require a blood test for rams over 4 or 5 months old and no evidence of disease. Ask your vet in plenty of time to get the tests back before the sheep leave. The tests are not expensive in most cases.
Preparation for Exhibition
Bathe—horse shampoo for gray or palomino horse is handy for any staining. Soap, rinse, soap again and thoroughly rinse. Comb and brush to remove loose hair. Do not clip. Any sign of clipping or trimming the coat is illegal for showing St Croix. A damp towel is good for last minute wipes of eyes and nose. Trim feet a week before so if you cut a little deep, the hoof will heel and not be sore. Sheep halters, dog collars and goat neck chains are all good for leading and tying.
So you want to raise a few sheep? by Kevin Pond. An general introduction to keeping sheep.
Some practical breeding guidelines from Howling Oak Ranch. Some help in deciding which lambs to keep.
What is conservation breeding? by Karen Gerhart. Strategies for keeping rare breeds viable.
Learn more about a Coefficient of Inbreeding and software for calculating COI’s
Inbreeding: Its meaning, uses and effects on Farm Animals. by Vogt, Swartz and Massey. A technical discussion of inbreeding.