Transporting Sheep Safely
November 16, 2021
Summer is often the busiest time for transporting sheep since the buying and purchasing of new animals is at its peak. It is also the season for hauling animals to sales, shows, fairgrounds and livestock markets. Unfortunately, it can also be the most stressful time for animals with long trips, escalating temperatures, and crowded conditions. This article attempts to address some of those concerns and provide a plan for preparing for the trip, ways to reduce stress and keep animals healthy during transport, and how to handle new arrivals to maintain biosecurity on your farm.
First and foremost, do not load or transport animals that are lame or that you suspect are sick or carrying a contagious disease. Inspect hooves carefully for drainage and odor, and check for lumps, scabs or hair loss prior to loading. Consult your veterinarian for preventative antibiotic treatment for shipping fever and/or Thiamine and B vitamins for stress, especially when hauling sheep over long distances or during hot weather. When travelling out of state, be sure to arrange a veterinarian visit for a certificate of veterinary inspection. Some states, shows or sales may require testing so be sure to allow adequate time to get results back.
Except for short local trips, it is advisable to always carry a container of water. The amount depends on the length of time on the trailer and the number of sheep being hauled. You never know when you’ll be stuck in traffic or experience a breakdown. Having water available could be lifesaving. Keep it secure and covered while moving to prevent spillage that may cause slippery surfaces. Most sheep won’t eat while they’re moving, so providing hay is probably not necessary for short trips. On longer trips, having hay available to nibble on during stops or overnight helps maintain rumen function and relieves stress. It’s also a good idea to take along a halter or two to restrain or secure an individual animal if necessary.
There are multiple options for hauling sheep. A livestock trailer offers excellent safety and flexibility. Since sheep are considerably shorter than horses and cattle, a trailer specifically designed for sheep offers the best ventilation. Another option is a two-horse trailer. However, some may not provide enough air movement during hot humid weather. Options for the bed of a pickup include specially built livestock haulers or a pen made out of panels with a tarp or shade cloth for wind and sun protection. For one or two young lambs, an extra-large dog crate may suffice. Sheep should never be hauled in an enclosed utility or U-Haul-type trailer or tied down in the bed of a truck.
In general, the recommended space allowances for sheep on a trailer with divided compartments is 4.5-5 square feet per ewe and 2.5-3 sq ft per 80-90 lb lamb. In warm weather and for long trips, more space will be required. Severe heat buildup can result from over stocking in hot humid weather. When trailering only a few sheep, partition the sheep to the front of the trailer to prevent animals from being tossed around and getting injured while driving on hilly or winding roads, or in the case of sudden stops. Allow a minimum of 12-15″ of headroom. Separate animals by size to avoid crushing injuries to smaller, more vulnerable lambs.
Trailers should be well ventilated, ideally with a closed front and shaded top. In cold weather, more protection from the wind is necessary. Signs of temperature-related stress are animals that are shivering (cold/wet weather) or panting (hot/humid weather). Although it’s good practice to stop and check on the animals every couple of hours on longer trips, avoid extended stops in hot and humid weather, and never leave a loaded vehicle parked in the sun. When high heat and humidity are forecast, travel at night or early morning if possible. If you had a hard time loading animals (chasing around, stressing the sheep), park the trailer in a shaded area and offer water for about an hour to give them time to settle down and rehydrate before you start driving.
Sheep need to have soft bedding and secure footing for safety and to reduce stress – a slippery metal floor (pickup bed, crate) won’t do. Trailers and pickup truck beds should be clean and free of debris that could lead to injury. A rubber mat or layer of straw will allow the animals to lie down comfortably. In an open-air container, lightly wetting down bedding material will reduce the risk of sawdust or shavings blowing around and getting into eyes or becoming inhaled. Fresh bedding may need to be reapplied on longer trips. In an open pen or trailer, shade cloth or a well secured tarp can provide protection from sun/rain and cut down on wind while still offering good ventilation.
When loading animals, separate mature rams and ewes with a secure partition to prevent unwanted breeding and possible injury. Ideally, heavier weights should be partitioned in the area closest to the hitch. If multiple stops/deliveries are anticipated, load animals so the first ones to get off are in the most convenient location for off-loading.
Every farm should have a biosecurity plan. At a minimum, have a designated area to quarantine new additions and sheep returning to the flock. The most common illness among new arrivals is upper respiratory infection or pneumonia. Preventive or early treatment is often effective in reducing the risk of severe illness. Purchased diseases like hoof rot, sore mouth, and CL can often be observed prior to loading. Look for lumps or abscesses around the jaw and neck area and signs of infection in and around the eyes, nose, and mouth before loading. Protecting your farm and animals from infectious diseases should be your number one priority. Ask sellers about disease on their farms. Be sure to ask about CL vaccinations, as vaccinated animals can have false positive tests on CL blood tests. Biosecurity screening for CL, Johne’s and OPP is a good practice before introducing new animals to the flock.
New arrivals should be quarantined for at least two weeks and preferably 30 days. Ideally, quarantined animals should be kept in a separate barn or pasture, or different area of the main barn to avoid shared air space and nose to nose contact with the rest of the flock. They should have separate feed and water containers. Observe animals in quarantine closely. Use good sanitation (handwashing, shoe covers etc.) to avoid spreading disease agents to the rest of the flock. Sheep are flock animals and being alone is very stressful. When quarantining a single animal, put a friend in with them. A same sex lamb that you are planning on sending to market anyhow can help relieve a lot of stress. Having a sight line to other sheep can also be calming. Check hoofs carefully, trim and treat for hoof rot as a preventative measure. To avoid introducing resistant parasites, deworm new animals with all three classes of dewormers and hold on dry lot or in the barn for 48 hours to allow eggs to pass before turning out onto pasture.
With proper planning and attention to animal stress and comfort, transporting your sheep will be as stress-free as possible and you’ll arrive home with healthy sheep.
California Department of Food & Agriculture – Biosecurity and Risk Assessment
Ontario Ministry of Ag, Food & Rural Affairs – Avoiding Heat & Cold Stress in Transported Sheep
By: EAPK Communications Committee
Roxanne Newton and Kathy Bielek
Thank you to EAPK member Jared Blankenship, Blankenship Family Farm, for suggesting this topic.