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Two lambs with an overlay stating ‘Backyard Biosecurity, it’s up to all of us’ and ‘Agriculture Victoria’
Edition 10: Sheep
In this edition:

In this edition we will cover some of the things you need to know to successfully manage a small flock of sheep.

Although sheep are smaller and appear easier to handle than cattle, there are still a number of factors to consider.

Sheep snapshot
  • An average female sheep weights around 50-70 kg, this varies with breed.
  • Rams will be significantly heavier and can be challenging to handle and dangerous without appropriate yards to restrain them in.
  • Lambs ideally weigh 4-6 kg at birth.
  • The gestation period is about five months.
Feeding and nutrition
Multiple sheep eating

It is important to ensure you are feeding your sheep adequately.

Sheep are ruminants. They have a complex digestive system that allows them to eat feed such as grass and hay which is unsuitable for non-grazing animals such as cats and dogs.

Like all animals, for good health, sheep need a diet consisting of the right amount of energy, fibre, protein and vitamins and minerals.

Energy requirements of the ewe vary through pregnancy and lactation. The cheapest and most easily fed sheep food is pasture, therefore the requirements of your sheep should match the available pasture you have, as closely as possible.

Supplementary feed

Depending on seasonal conditions and the number and type of sheep and their pregnancy status, you may need to supplementary feed your sheep with hay, grain and/or pellets. The graph below shows that there may be insufficient pasture particularly in the early months of the year or in Autumn if you are planning for autumn lambing. Grains and pellets need to be introduced gradually over a period of 7-10 days and stock monitored to avoid animal health issues such as grain poisoning (acidosis).

If you are purchasing stockfeed, ensure the supplier provides a Commodity Vendor Declaration (CVD), and inspect the stockfeed on arrival to ensure it matches what you ordered and is not damaged or contaminated. Store stockfeed in a manner that prevents contamination by livestock, vermin, feral and domestic animals, and other feed.

Matching feed requirements of lambing ewes and pasture availability

Graph showing energy available from pasture over a year, where lactation period shows the greatest amount of energy available.

This graph shows how pasture can meet the energy requirements of winter/spring lambing ewes (50kg). The data is based on a set stocked paddock of 8 DSE. With an autumn lambing, the feed demand and feed availability would generate a 'feed gap'.

Source: Sheep- the simple guide to making more money with less work. Sheep CRC 2012.

Multiple shee drinking water


Will you be able to provide adequate water for your sheep?

Make sure all your paddocks have a reliable source of water, and that the sheep can access it.

Cattle and horse troughs are unsuitable as lambs and smaller sheep will be unable to reach the water. The amount of water used by animals also varies depending on their breed, type, age and weight. Female stock will have an increased demand during pregnancy and lactation.

Water consumption is also affected by feed type, distances sheep are walking, availability of shade and the quality and temperature of the water.

In winter the water needs are much lower than in summer. For example, a mature sheep on dry feed in summer might use 8 to 10 L per day whilst the same animal on dry feed in winter might use less than 4L per day. For example, 10 adult dry sheep during winter would need 4 litres per head per day. This equates to 280 litres per week or 1,240 litres per month. To calculate the water requirements for your sheep visit the sheep water calculator.

Hand rearing lambs


If you are hand rearing young lambs that need milk, follow the instructions on the bag of milk replacer to make sure they are fed an adequate amount.  Ensure they have access to water and hay at all times.

Further information

The Agriculture Victoria Feeding Livestock website provides reliable, science-based information and specialist tools to help you plan and manage feeding of your stock. We’ve put all the key resources in one place for easy access, including our popular Drought Feeding and Management of Cattle and Drought Feeding and Management of Sheep books.

What you cannot feed your sheep

What is Restricted Animal Material (RAM)?
You must not feed any Restricted Animal Material (RAM) to your sheep.

RAM is any material that consists of, or contains, matter from an animal (including fish and birds). It also includes eggs, untreated cooking oils, poultry litter and other manures.

Why is the feeding of Restricted Animal Material to ruminants banned?

RAMs pose significant health risks to ruminant animals including risk of exotic diseases that are not present in our Australian herds.

Australia is free from bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and other Transmittable spongiform encephalopathy (TSEs).

The Ruminant Feed Ban, and its enforcement, serves to ensure that if the BSE disease agent were ever introduced to Australia it would not be able to be amplified and establish a cycle of infection.

Chicken, dog and cat foods, as examples, can contain RAM and must not be fed to your sheep. It’s important that you keep these feeds safely stored away from animals that are always curious to give all sorts of food a try!

Pastures that have been spread with poultry litter and other manures also need to be avoided for at least 3 weeks.


Stock feed labelling

Stockfeed products are required to include a statement on their packaging or invoicing whether they do or do not contain RAM. It is important to check labelling before feeding supplements to goats.

"This product contains restricted animal material - DO NOT FEED TO CATTLE, SHEEP, GOATS, DEER OR OTHER RUMINANTS".

For bulk product the labelling may be applied to an invoice. For feed or meal in bags a tag must be attached to the product.

Manufactured stockfeeds that do not contain Restricted Animal Material must be labelled: "This product does not contain Restricted Animal Material".

What are your responsibilities?

  • Ruminants, including goats, should not have access to feeds containing RAM, for example chicken or dog foods.  RAM and non-RAM feeds should not be mixed.
  • Pastures which have had manures and poultry litter applied must not be accessed or grazed by ruminants, including sheep, for at least 3 weeks after application.

Watch animation on ruminant feed ban

Handling and management
Two sheep walking through fence

Good fencing is important for confining your livestock to where they need to be, for managing grazing of pastures, and ensuring they do not access environmentally sensitive areas such as waterways.

Having suitable sheep yards is essential for the containment and management of your sheep. Sheep require regular management activities such as drenching, vaccination and foot trimming. Inadequate yards can be difficult to use and potentially cause injury to both you and your livestock. Functional sheep yards can be made from a variety of materials and portable panels can be very useful for small flocks.

A shed or area that can be used for shearing and crutching is also useful, particularly if you own non-shedding breeds.

To find out more about how to handle your sheep and other important management aspects to owning sheep download Meat and Livestock Australia’s A producer's guide to sheep husbandry practices.

Shearing and crutching
Pile of wool

If you have a sheep breed which requires shearing, then you will need to find a shearer to remove the fleeces at least every 12 months. Alternatively, there are breeds such as Dorpers, Wiltshire Horns, Wiltipolls and Aussie Whites which naturally shed their wool each year.

However, first cross or second cross variations of these breeds with wool breeds such as Merinos will still need to be shorn as they will not shed the fleece like a pure-bred sheep.

Sheep must be dry for shearing. You will need to provide cover for your sheep before shearing during wetter periods of the year. If you do not have a shed, perhaps a feed shed or garage.

Crutching is needed between annual shearings, otherwise the long wool around the crutch and tail becomes soiled with dung and urine, attracting blowflies when the skin becomes scalded.

Health and disease
Multiple sheep

Good, high-level control of parasites and disease is the best long-term strategy for healthy sheep. Along with good health management, pay close attention to biosecurity when buying sheep or moving sheep around different properties. This will minimise the risk of introducing parasites and diseases to your flock and save time and money in the long run.

Ensure you keep animal treatment records and have a plan for when vaccines are due and coordinate with other livestock husbandry activities such as shearing, marking, weaning etc.

Common diseases which sheep owners should be aware of and monitor for are

Internal parasites
Internal parasites or worms are one of the most important health challenges for the Australian sheep industry. Worm resistance is widespread and the challenge is to make effective drenches last as long as possible.

It is important that everyone with sheep has a worm management plan. An effective plan is simple and will save a lot of money, effort and heartache.

The essential elements of a worm management plan include:

  • Worm testing. It is cheap and easy to do. Without regular testing, you won't know whether you have a problem, whether your worm management plan is working or whether you have an emerging drench resistance problem on your property.
  • Grazing strategy to create safe or low contaminant pastures for weaners and lambing ewes.
  • Maintaining good nutrition during periods of poor pasture growth.
  • Building worm resistance in the flock.
  • Biosecurity measures for new sheep arrivals on the property or any outbreak of worm disease in your flock (a sure sign that your worm management plan has failed).
  • Minimising the risk of drench resistance developing on your property.

It is strongly recommended that you routinely do a worm test before you drench your sheep.

Wormboss has a wealth of knowledge on worms, their life cycles and on-farm management practices you can undertake to reduce the effect of worms.


Two people vaccinating a sheep

Vaccines are an effective way to prevent and eliminate animal health issues and avoid preventable diseases. Selecting the right ones for your sheep and making sure you administer them correctly can help to prevent disease and welfare issues in your animals.

Check out this Short Cuts video from the Agriculture Victoria's Red Meat Value Chain team for tips on how to vaccinate with care to prevent carcase damage.

Things to consider include:

  • Seek advice from your animal health professional such as a vet or consultant. Use vaccines wisely, do some partial budgets to see which ones will benefit the health of your flock and be the most cost-effective for your production system.
  • Consider the range of suppliers and treatment combinations available, seek advice if you are unsure.
  • Develop an Animal Health Plan to keep you on track for when vaccines are due and coordinate with other livestock husbandry activities such as shearing, marking, weaning etc.
  • Check the labels to ensure you use and store vaccines correctly. Remember to keep records of what you use and when, to maintain your Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) accreditation.

Diseases of sheep that can be managed using vaccines include:

Not all vaccines are the same, different vaccines have different requirements. Incorrect vaccination techniques can harm the sheep. Most vaccines are administered under the skin (subcutaneous) or via a dermal scratch.

You can purchase vaccines and drench from your local vet and some local farm supplies store. Make sure you store your vaccines according to the manufacturer’s instructions and maintain good hygiene practices.

If you are unsure or don’t feel up to administering drench or vaccines yourself, speak to your local livestock agent or vet for assistance.

Protecting Australia’s livestock industries

All livestock owners also have a duty to help protect Australia’s valuable livestock industries from exotic animal diseases, that is, diseases that we do not have in this country. More than 70 percent of Australia’s livestock products such as meat and wool are exported overseas. Those overseas markets are vital for the social and economic well-being of our livestock industries.

Australia is extremely fortunate to be free from many exotic animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease, lumpy skin disease and mad cow disease, which are found elsewhere in the world. An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease would result not only in potentially serious impacts to the health and welfare of many livestock, but also the immediate closure of most export markets which would have a devastating impact on our farmers and rural communities. We encourage you to learn about the symptoms of these important diseases know what to do if you have any concerns about your livestock.

Keeping Australia free from these diseases is a top priority for Agriculture Victoria. Having a Property Identification Code (PIC) is an important way that you can help us to be prepared and manage emergency animal diseases. PICs are also used to support livestock owners during emergency relief and recovery activities.

Anytime you see something you are unsure of when it comes to your sheep health, contact your local vet, your local Agriculture Victoria office or telephone Agriculture Victoria on 136 186. If you suspect a case of an emergency animal disease, report this immediately to the Emergency Animal Disease Hotline on 1800 675 888. More information about emergency animal diseases can be found on the Agriculture Victoria biosecurity website.

Rules and regulations
Close up of someone's hand filling out a form

Apply for, update or amend a Property Identification Code (PIC) online


Victorian law requires people to have a Property Identification Codes (PIC) for the properties on which they intend to graze or keep any number of livestock.

Register for a free Property Identification Code (PIC). Update your PIC if you make changes to livestock on your property, change your phone number or email address or sell your land or relocate.

Use National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) tags


In Victoria all cattle, sheep and goats must be tagged with an approved electronic NLIS tag before leaving a property. This includes animals being given away or kept as pets. The use of electronic NLIS tags is currently voluntary in dairy and miniature goats.

Record livestock movements on the NLIS database


When cattle, sheep and goats are moved between properties with different PICs, the person receiving the livestock is required to register the movement on the NLIS database within 48hrs. Visit property to property movements of livestock for more information.

Movement Documentation


A movement document such as a Livestock Production Assurance National Vendor Declaration (LPA NVD) or a similar document must be completed by the owner or person responsible for the husbandry of the livestock when they move. For more information see: Movement documentation

Become Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) accredited


Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) is industry’s on-farm quality assurance program. Producers must be LPA accredited to access sheep, goat and cattle LPA NVD forms.

Update your farm biosecurity plan

Remember to review and update your biosecurity plan.

Your farm biosecurity plan is a tool to help identify key risks on your farm and document how you will manage them. Farm biosecurity planning is not a one-size-fits-all process. Every farm is different with each facing a unique set of challenges and risks and business owners having different levels of tolerance of those risks.

There are no right or wrong answers when developing a farm biosecurity plan – the only bad biosecurity plan is the one you don’t have.

Visit Agriculture Victoria’s Farm biosecurity plan templates webpage for more information.

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Further information

Contacting Agriculture Victoria

Call 136 186 from anywhere in Australia for the cost of a local call (except for mobiles and public telephones).

If you are deaf, or have a hearing or speech impairment contact the National Relay Service on 133 677 or

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