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Husbandry & Management

Keeping Portlands is generally very rewarding, but all livestock can have problems too. You should consider these points before you try to keep sheep.


Time and dedication.

Do you have the time to check sheep every day and plan for husbandry tasks? Could you cope with caring for sick animals? Cover will be needed for holidays or illness.


Sheep are not cheap lawnmowers but complex animals needing careful health management.


Before buying sheep go on a short course at your nearest agricultural college to learn the basics, or learn via local smallholders groups. Sheep are prone to some devastating ailments if not managed properly. It is ESSENTIAL to be familiar with the more common types of problem such as blowfly strike, foot rot and deficiency diseases, and to carry out routine preventative treatments like vaccinations.



Sufficient well-drained grazing is required. Overgrazing will lead to health problems for your flock.


Supplementary feeding and mineral block licks to provide trace elements are needed.


Fresh water must always be provided - sheep will not drink stagnant or stale water. If there is no suitable stream then water troughs must be cleaned out and replenished regularly.


Security and fencing

To keep your sheep in and dogs out the grazing needs to be well fenced.


The Portland is a horned breed and so can become entangled in poorly strained wire or netting. (Electric netting should not be used, and electric wire fencing must be inspected regularly.)


A smaller fenced or hurdled area where you regularly feed the sheep is needed for inspection of the flock.



A field shelter or a good thick hedge allows sheep to escape the worst of the weather.


A dry, clean weatherproof building is desirable for early lambing and sick animals, and for storage of hay, straw and feed.


Help and advice

Do you have friends or neighbours who can land a hand if needed? Is there someone close by with experience of keeping sheep whose help you can enlist?

 You should find a Vet to advise on healthcare before you get any sheep.


How many sheep can you manage?

Sheep naturally flock together in large groups and will be stressed if kept alone- a minimum of three is ideal for a first flock.


Do you have facilities to keep a ram, or will you be able to share, hire or borrow one?



This skilled task is needed every year and good shearers get booked up early - who will shear for you?


Marketing Government regulations

What will you do with surplus animals?
Contact DEFRA for current rules on biosecurity, transport etc before you get any livestock . You must also have a Holding number.


Essential equipment: 

  • Foot shears

  • Dagging shears

  • Hurdles (at least six)

  • Water and feed troughs

  • Hayrack

  • Footbath

  • Feed storage bins (or dustbins)

  • Trailer (if you will need to move your sheep)

  • Drenching and dosing equipment

  • Lambing kit & First aid kit

  • A crook and halters will make handling sheep easier


Animal husbandry suppliers will have catalogues of other useful equipment and gadgets.


Basic items for First Aid


  • Antiseptic (purple) spray,

  • Antibiotic spray (eg Terramycin) – available from your Vet

  • Disposable rubber gloves

  • ThermometerCotton wool for cleaning wounds etc.

  • Scissors

  • Bowl

  • Disinfectant




Two months before lambing

  1. Condition score ewes to determine whether extra concentrate feed is required for any individual

  2. Check that feet are in good condition and footbath if necessary – turning at this time is not advisable but may be required


Four weeks before lambing

  1. Inject ewes with Heptavac-P plus booster (to encourage production of high quality colostrum containing plenty of antibodies)

  2. Check contents of lambing box - the lambs needing the most care often arrive early, so be well prepared in good time.

  3. Disinfect housing sheds and prepare pens

  4. Feeding – to maintain ewe condition, support lamb development and colostrum supply. Depending on condition start feeding 4-6 weeks prior to lambing with 16% protein ewe pellets, beginning with 1/2lb each / day and rising to 1lb / day at lambing and for 2-3 weeks afterwards. Don’t overfeed as this can create too much milk and the risk of mastitis; in the case of ram lambs it may also result in too much horn bud growth and a difficult lambing


As soon as possible after lambing and the lamb is on its feet, check teats of ewe are clear and treat lamb’s navel. Pen the ewe separately with her lamb to allow bonding. Some hours later check that the lamb has sucked colostrum from both sides, and that the ewe has cleansed. In the single lamb situation there may be a tendency for the lamb to suck one side only so check a day or so later to see that both sides of the udder are soft.


If the lamb is slow to get up and may not have sucked, check temperature and follow instructions for hypothermic lambs (a very good section is contained in Eales & Smalls’ ‘Practical lambing and lamb care’ – see below for details).


Ewes should be wormed and their feet checked and trimmed before turnout. Check with your vet for a recommended wormer – cydectin can be useful at this time to reduce worm counts on pasture before the lambs begin to graze.


Lambing kit

  • Navel dressing (iodine + 10% phenolate/ antibiotic iodine* spray or dip)

  • Towels

  • Colostrum (powdered substitute or frozen)

  • Stomach tubes (and the knowledge to use them)

  • Lubricant gel (this is also antiseptic) or soapflakes

  • Thermometer

  • Source of heat – infra-red lamp/ hairdryer or fan heater/ Aga slow oven

  • Torch

  • Notebook (with pen attached)

  • Thermos for hot water (disinfecting lambing ropes, for making up colostrum or even coffee)Lambing rope/aid

  • Disposable gloves (normal and arm length)

  • Disinfectant handcleanser (eg Hibiscrub)

  • Nailbrush

  • Straw, hay, fresh water, feed

  • Buckets

  • Old warm clothes and waterproofs

  • Elasticator and Rubber rings

  • Ear tags & applicator (check DEFRA requirements for double tagging)

  • Halters


Desirable extras

  • Prolapse retainer or harness

  • Syringes and needles*

  • Antibiotic injection/intra-uterine pessaries*

  • Beecham scour formula (of Effydral*)

  • Lamb stimulant (DopramV drops*)

  • Feed bottles & teats + ewes milk replacer (eg Lamlac)

  • Adopter crate

  • Head restrainer for ewe

* available from your vet


Sources of Lambing advice:

  • A friendly neighbouring farmer who may be called on for advice through your first lambing difficult

  • Consult your vet before lambing so that they know you are inexperienced, and will be able to offer advice on equipment and techniques such as stomach tubing

  • A lambing course at your local agricultural college.

Books: (not an exhaustive list)

  • ‘The complete book of raising livestock & poultry’ Katie Thear and Alistair Fraser. Pan, ISBN0-330-30158-6

  • ‘Practical lambing and Lamb Care’ FA Eales and J Small, Longman, ISBN 0-582-21004-6

  • ‘A Manual of Lambing Techniques’ Agnes Winter and Cicely W. Hill, Crowood, ISBN 1-86126-574-3

  • ‘The Veterinary book for Sheep Farmers’ David C. Henderson, Farming Press, ISBN 0-85236-189-Ω

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