The Shepherd’s Toolbox: Supplies to have on-hand before you need them

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Fall and early Winter, when the seasonal workload lessens, is often a good time to focus on our sheep supply inventory. We usually think of this when getting ready for lambing, but as shepherds we should always be prepared throughout the year for emergencies, mishaps, and unforeseen circumstances. Having some key supplies on-hand can prevent undue delay in necessary treatment and management of your flock. Following is a list of important items shepherds should have on hand, including basic handling equipment.

Support Network

Veterinarian – Probably the most important “tool” is a good working relationship with a veterinarian. It’s best to establish a relationship with a veterinarian before one is needed. Delayed treatment can result in prolonged injury, illness, or death. Building a trusted relationship between shepherd and veterinarian should begin well before lambing season. Schedule a farm visit/consultation and be prepared with questions regarding protocols for common problems and what medications or supplies are recommended.

County Extension and/or conservation district – These groups are a valuable resource and can provide support with pasture management, nutrition, manure management, fencing, water resources, etc.

Equipment & Facilities

Crook – A crook is very handy when attempting to catch an individual animal. Neck and leg crooks are available.

Fence panels – Portable sheep fence panels can be used to build pens for various uses. Metal or wood can be used, as long as they can be moved easily. Even sections of hog panels can be used in a pinch. You frequently don’t need a permanent pen, just the ability to set one up, preferably in shade, when needed.

  • Catch pen – Catching sheep in an open field is nearly impossible and stressful for both the sheep and shepherd. Having the ability to confine the animals in a small space makes the job much easier and safer.
  • Chute
    – A step beyond a catch pen, a chute allows you to line up a group of sheep and work more quickly when giving routine vaccinations, checking eyes, etc.
  • Isolation pen – All new arrivals and any animals that show signs of a contagious disease, such as CL, should be quarantined, preferably in a pen where surfaces can be disinfected as needed. Ideally this would be in a separate building, or in an area of the main barn well separated from the resident animals. You can use an animal that you are planning on culling as a companion for sheep in isolation.
  • Sick Pen – It’s handy to have a pen available to separate sick animals or those needing ongoing treatment. Animals with suspected infectious disease should be housed in an isolation pen. Since sheep are flock animals, they can be incredibly stressed when kept alone. Your pen should be big enough to hold a companion animal or located within sight of the rest of the flock.

Halter – A means to secure an animal is important. This can be with done with a rope halter, special sheep halter, neck rope or collar and lead. Animals should not be left tied up unsupervised as they can injure or strangle themselves.

Headgate for ewes – Useful if a ewe rejects a lamb, or to aid in grafting an unrelated lamb.

Mineral feeder- Loose mineral should be available to sheep at all times. A special feeder keeps the mineral clean and dry.

Water tanks/automatic waterers/buckets – Sheep should always have access to fresh, clean water. This is especially important for lactating ewes, when feeding hay, and in hot weather.

Basic Supplies

Drench gun – Used to administer liquid oral meds, specifically dewormers, they are available in various sizes from 10cc to 60cc. It’s good to have several in different sizes on hand.

Hoof trimmers – The frequency of hoof trimming is dependent on climate, terrain, nutrition, and genetics. Most shepherds trim at least once per year. It’s important to inspect hooves regularly for overgrowth, splitting or signs of infection. The hooves of ewes and breeding rams should be inspected and/or trimmed a few weeks prior to breeding. A tilt table or hoof trimming deck chair can facilitate hoof trimming by restraining the animal.

Latex gloves – Disposable gloves reduce the risk of transferring bacteria from sheep to human and from human to sheep. They are especially important when treating open wounds or suspected infectious diseases and when assisting with lambing or collecting fecal samples.

Marking crayon – Marking sticks or chalk are handy to temporarily mark animals when sorting, treating, or collecting samples.

Needles– It’s useful to have several sizes of needles; 20g and 18g are common. Smaller gauges are larger needles and work best with thicker medications like antibiotics, while higher gauge needles are smaller and work well with vaccines.

Plastic boots – Disposable plastic boot covers are an inexpensive way to enhance biosecurity for visitors to the farm or when visiting other farms. Disinfectant boot wash is an alternative.

Scale – A hanging lamb scale can be used to weigh newborn and young lambs. A livestock scale is useful for weighing older lambs and adults. Having accurate weights is important for calculating medication and deworming doses and for monitoring growth.

Syringes – It’s useful to have several sizes of syringes, such as 3cc, 6cc, and 12cc for various medications.

Thermometer – Normal rectal temperature for sheep is 102.5 degrees F. There is variation between animals and during extremely hot or cold weather. Consult your veterinarian for temperatures that are concerning and may require treatment.


Betadine/Triadine – Helps disinfect and dry naval cords and can be used as an antiseptic for minor cuts/scrapes.

Bottles/nipples – Used to supplement colostrum and/or milk when a ewe’s milk flow is inadequate or absent. They are also used to feed orphan lambs. Pritchard teats are smaller and widely used on very young lambs and fit many beverage bottles.

Calcium supplement – Available in oral paste or sterile liquid for IM/IV use. Consult your veterinarian for treatment protocol and dosage.

Castrating tools – Used to castrate lambs. A ring expander with “o” rings is used on young lambs 2-7 days old. The ring acts as a tourniquet to stop the blood flow to the scrotum, which will slough off in 7-14 days. An emasculator can be used to crush the spermatic cords on somewhat older lambs.

Colostrum replacer and/or supplement – It is important that lambs receive adequate colostrum within the first few hours after birth as they lose the ability to absorb the antibodies in colostrum after 24 hours. Colostrum replacer and supplement are different products for different uses and having some on hand is cheap insurance. Replacer is designed for use when the ewe has little or no colostrum, while colostrum supplement provides supplemental immunity and nutrition to the newborn lambs of ewes who have colostrum but not enough.

Ear Tags – Used to identify individual animals. Lambs are usually tagged at or around birth. Blank tags with handwritten ID’s are needed when an animal loses their original tag. Official USDA Scrapie tags are necessary for any animal leaving the farm and require a State Premises ID.

Feeding tube/catheter tip syringe – When lambs are weak and unwilling or unable to nurse, a feeding tube can be used to get colostrum into the lamb quickly. The ewe can be milked directly into most 60cc or 120cc catheter tip syringes. If lambs are really cold, you should warm them up before tube feeding. Never try to tube feed an unconscious lamb.

Lamb puller and/or OB leg snare – Aids in delivery of large lambs or malpresentations.

Lamb sling and scale – A handheld scale is used with a lamb sling or cradle for birth weights on newborn lambs. Most can be used on lambs up to 40-60 lbs, although a larger sling may be necessary.

Lime – Garden lime neutralizes urine ammonia in wet bedding/soil and is especially useful in lambing jugs to prevent respiratory problems in newborn lambs.

Lubricant – Protects delicate tissue by reducing friction from hands and gloves and makes dry lambs easier to pull with less tissue damage to the ewe. It is useful when cleaning off and replacing prolapses and collecting fecal samples. KY-Jelly or OB lubricant can be used and is usually available from farm supply stores. Soap should not be used as a lubricant as it can dry out sensitive tissue.

Milk replacer – Milk replacer is used for orphan lambs or to supplement lambs from large litters. It does not have the same nutrients as colostrum replacer, and the two should not be used interchangeably.

Nutri-drench or similar concentrated vitamin and energy supplement – This is especially useful for weak or cold lambs and can even be used for older animals stressed by pregnancy toxemia, parasites, or any condition where the sheep is off feed.

Panels to create lambing jugs – Panels can be metal or wood but should be light enough to move easily. A 5’x5′ pen is sufficient for most situations. Be sure the openings are small enough that a lamb can’t squeeze through or get a head caught.

Prolapse harness – A vaginal prolapse is a protrusion of the ewe’s vagina through the vulva. When properly fitted, a prolapse harness prevents the ewe from straining and pushing out the prolapse again. Success is best achieved if treated early when the prolapse is small. Although a ewe should be able to lamb past a prolapse harness, it’s best to remove when the ewe is in labor.

Propylene glycol – Emergency treatment for twin lambing disease (pregnancy toxemia). Consult a veterinarian for treatment protocol and dosage.

Towels – Clean towels in various sizes can be used to dry off hands and wet, chilled newborn lambs when needed or to improve grip when pulling slippery lambs.

Warming devices – A way to warm chilled lambs, such as heat lamps, coats (either purchased or cut from old sweatshirt sleeves), warming box or warming bottles. Each method has its own pros and cons.

Therapeutics and First Aid

Antibiotics: (currently available over the counter):

  • Penicillin G Procaine injectable – Used for treatment of pneumonia, mastitis & other bacterial infections.
  • Oxytetracycline injectable – Used for treatment of respiratory infections, hoof infections, pinkeye, and other bacterial infections.
  • Terramycin ophthalmic ointment – Used for treatment of pinkeye and other bacterial eye infections.
  • Prescription Antibiotics – Several broad-spectrum antibiotics are available by Rx only.

Anti-inflammatory (Banamine, Prevail, Meloxicam) – Treatment for pain, inflammation, and fever reduction (requires prescription).

Antiseptics – Livestock supply stores provide a variety of antiseptic sprays, solutions, and ointments for use on sheep. Use as directed.

Bloat Treatment – Most common in bottle lambs. A premixed bloat treatment can be purchased; or use a baking soda & water mixture given via feeding tube.

Dewormers – There are three common classes of anthelmintics (dewormers): benzimidazoles or “white dewormers” (Valbazen, Safeguard); macrocyclic lactones (Ivomec, Cydectin); and imidathiazoles (levamisole, Prohibit). For more information on parasitism and proper use of dewormers see

Dextrose – For administration of fluids/carbohydrates and as a sterile solution for the administration of IV medications.

Leg splints – Purchased splints can be used or you can use tongue depressors or pipe insulation sleeves and PVC pipe (cut in two pieces) with cotton padding depending on the size needed.

Sharps container- All sharps (i.e., needles, scalpel blades, etc.) must be disposed of properly in a puncture-proof and leak-proof container. These can be purchased at Walmart or a farm supply store. A hard plastic household container, such as an empty bleach container, can be used. For more details on proper disposal see


  • Vitamin B Complex, Vitamin A/D, Calcium – Used to correct nutritional and vitamin/mineral deficiencies.
  • Thiamine (Vitamin B1) – For thiamine deficiency and treatment of polio in sheep (requires prescription).
  • Selenium – For prevention of selenium deficiency in sheep and lambs (requires prescription).


  • CD&T vaccine – For vaccinating healthy sheep and lambs against enterotoxemia and tetanus. An annual booster is usually given to adult ewes during the last month of pregnancy. Lambs are immunized at 4-8 weeks old and again 2-4 weeks later. Adult rams should be given a booster annually. Consult your veterinarian for recommended vaccine against clostridial types endemic in your area.
  • Other vaccines are available for sheep – These include pneumonia, abortion agents, CL, and others. Not all farms need to use them, but they can be beneficial on farms that have problems with these diseases. Again, consult your veterinarian for advice.

Vet Wrap – Used to wrap and stabilize leg injuries or to secure dressings.


Marking Harness and Crayons – Marking crayons make visible marks on the ewes to indicate which have been mounted during breeding. Crayons can be used on all the rams, changing to a different color after 15-17 days to identify any ewes that are cycling a second time. Another option is to only use the marking harness on the cleanup ram to identify open ewes. In smaller flocks, it’s possible to write down the ear tag numbers and calculate estimated lambing dates.

Raddle Paint – Serves the same purpose as a marking harness and works well on smaller ram lambs. Can be purchased pre-mixed or as a powder to combined with an oil, then rubbed onto the ram’s brisket. It needs to be applied every 2-5 days, so you’ll need a way to catch the ram to reapply.

Finally, always have a plan to humanely euthanize sheep that are beyond help or lambs with severe birth defects. Include a plan to dispose of the carcass safely and legally.

By: EAPK Communications Committee


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