Feb 092012

Learn to talk like a real farmer

If like me you call your sheep ‘boys’ and ‘girls’, and struggle when you talk to a farmer or staff at the agricultural feed merchant.  Then here is a few of the terms relating to sheep adapted for smallholders from the website Farm Direct:

Bagging Up

This is the common term when a pregnant ewe is getting near her time for lambing and is starting to expand her udder with milk.  They drink a lot of water at this time.

Baler Twine

This is the twine used to bind square bales of hay, a popular thing with smallholders who have livestock. At first the twine accumulates over the winter as it is removed to access the hay, and slowly over the summer the twine disapears. Not by magic, but by necessity.  Baler twine is the handiest thing you will have around the smallholding and is used (always on a temporary basis you understand) in a myriad of ways.  Every farmer has baler twine somewhere holding together hurdles or as temporary hinges, or woven through holes in livestock fencing.  There are 101 uses of baler twine and some day I will list them all.  In the meantime I urge you not to throw away your baler twine, it will come in handy at some point.

Cast or ‘draft’ ewe

These are older hill sheep that are sold on for continued breeding in less harsh, lowland conditions. These can sometimes be a cheap way for a smallholder to start in sheep (make sure you check udders/teats and teeth first though).

Cull ewes

These are female sheep that  have reached the end of their productive life on the farm. They can often be sold for slaughter as mutton.


Wool clogged with dung. Usually forms teardrop shaped pendants dangling under the tail and around the anus of sheep. If allowed to remain dags may become infested with fly strike maggots which in some cases may go on to infest the flesh of the living sheep. A dirty bum can be linked to worms which should be treated.  


Is the process of trimming away dags.  An unpleasant job if the dung has had time to ferment.

Feed Blocks

High energy feed blocks can be a convenient, palatable source of energy and minerals, particularly during periods when grass supply is limited or of poor quality. Blocks are labour saving and can provide a source of energy and protein during tupping or lambing. They tend to be expensive per unit of energy or protein compared with concentrate and there may be a large variation in the amount each ewe consumes. Always check the ingredient list and energy content of feed blocks, as there can be a wide variation in their quality.


Fodder or forage is a mixture of planted vegetation that’s used to feed livestock. Fodder can be grown outside in fields (e.g. turnips or swede) where you turn out the sheep to eat the fodder whilst it is still in the ground or indoors through a hydroponics system that is then harvested.  The final option is to harvest fodder (e.g. comfrey leaves and dry).

Fodder beet

A type of sugar beet grown for feeding to cattle or sheep especially in winter.


Is plant material that animals consume as food; e.g. hay is a stored forage. For a good article on what sheep need in winter forage click here.  Alternative forage or fodder to hay includes; comfrey leaves.  Brassica fodder crops such as kale, forage rape, grazing turnips, stubble turnips, swedes and new rape/kale hybrids.


An adult, female sheep that is not in lamb when others are. Often she has been kept away from the ram because of problems at a previous lambing. Gelt ewes are fattened for sale to the meat trade at a time when lamb is in short supply.


A female sheep that has been weaned but not yet sheared. i.e. about 6 months to 15 months old and has not yet borne a lamb.  See also hogg.

Grass ley

Grass that is sown in the expectation that it will only last for a limited period before being ploughed up. There are short-term leys (1 or 2 years), medium-term leys (up to 5 years) and long-term leys (5-7 years). Beyond that the land will probably be permanent pasture.


Dried grass used for animal feed.  It is cut, left to dry in the field and then baled. It is fed to livestock through the winter when fresh grass not available. Smallholders will often use this as they can get it in small square bales that are easier to handle and store.

smallholder sized hay bales

However this is the most expensive way to feed your sheep.  If you have the storage facilities it is cheaper to get a round bale which is the equivalent to 10 square bales.

hay bale

 Sheep will eat between two and four percent of their body weight per day in dry feed, such as hay, and are very efficient at obtaining the most nutrition possible from three to five pounds per day of hay or other forage. They require three to four hours per day to eat enough hay to meet their nutritional requirements. See ruminants for more info. Sheep can get eye infections such as Pink Eye from hay debris at feeding time, mouldy hay can also cause toxoplasmosis.


The acclimatising of a flock of hill sheep to ‘their’ part of the hillside. A hefted flock is worth more to a farmer than one that has not been acclimatised as they roam far less and are easier to manage. (Breeds such as herwicks or ryelands are better at hefting than escape artists such as shetlands).


Male or female sheep from weaning to first shearing. 


Meat for sale as hogget is a sheep of either sex having no more than two permanent incisors in wear.


Meat for sale as lamb is  a young sheep under 12 months of age which does not have any permanent incisor teeth in wear.

Scottish Lamb


Listeria bacteria thrive in soil and can be picked up at harvesting if the hay/silage crop is cut too low or there are a lot of mole hills in the field. They are a particular problem of high dry matter, later cut silage which is more difficult to consolidate to exclude air. These forages often have low sugar content, leading to poor fermentation and a high pH. This allows the bacteria to multiply throughout the bale, even at low temperatures.
Affected ewes have drooping faces and drool, and walk in circles as a result of
abscesses in the brain. Listeriosis also causes abortions in pregnant ewes and presents a risk to pregnant women.  Most cases occur four to six weeks after eating affected silage.


An infection of the udder. If left untreated it can severely damage the ability of a sheep to produce milk. A ewe who has suffered from mastitis may become a cull ewe.


Meat for sale as mutton is a female (ewe) or castrated male (wether) sheep having more than two permanent incisors in wear.


Orf is a painful skin disease of sheep and goats.  The disease is caused by a virus which only grows in the surface layers of the skin, but the virus will only cause an infection if the skin is already damaged. Therefore any cut, scratch or graze, no matter how seemingly insignificant, may predispose an animal to infection. Even rough food or pasture with nettles, gorse, and thistles can increase the chances of becoming infected. Humans can be infected with this affliction.  Read more here.


Sheep from upland areas of Britain are regularly sent for the winter to lowland areas where feed is more available and the weather less harsh. They return to the uplands before lambing in the spring. The owner of the sheep pays the owner of the lowland farm a certain amount per sheep.

Parturition or Gestation

Parturition is the act of birth. For a link to the table click here this enables you to calculate roughly when your lambs are due from the time of mating (if you raddled your ram and then checked every day) or the earliest date from the time that the tup went in with the girls.  Although we found that first timers can go about a week early so it is not entirely set in stone.  


Fitting rams with a harness that contains a paint block. The paint leaves a mark on the rump of each ewe with whom the ram mates. Lack of a mark tells the farmer which ewes should remain longer with the ram. Sometimes thick paint is applied directly to the ram’s chest rather than using a harness. This wears off more quickly and must be renewed regularly.


Overturned. A heavily pregnant, broad backed ewe may roll over and be unable to right herself. She is rigwelted or couped. This causes a lot of problems – right your sheep as quickly as possible.


A sign that sheep are ready for shearing. The previous winter’s greasy wool is lifted away from the skin by new wool that is much easier to cut. The Rise is seen as a yellowish line. Shearers may ask you if your sheep are on the rise yet – that is- ready for shearing.

Rough grazing

Grazing on natural, unmanaged grass and other vegetation growing on mountain slopes, moorland etc. 


An animal (they are all herbivores) that ‘chew the cud’. Examples are cattle, sheep and deer but NOT horses. They digest more of a plant than ‘single stomached’ animals by having a ‘rumen’ (the first of several stomachs) where the plant material they have eaten are fermented by micro-organisms to produce proteins and sugars the animal can digest.                                                                                               

Wikipedia says “One of the most significant differences in hay digestion is between ruminant animals, such as cattle and sheep; and non-ruminant, hindgut fermentors, such as horses. Both types of animals can digest cellulose in grass and hay, but do so by different mechanisms. Because of the four-chambered stomach of cattle, they are often able to break down older forage and have more tolerance of mold and changes in diet. The single-chambered stomach and cecum or “hindgut” of the horse uses bacterial processes to break down cellulose that are more sensitive to changes in feeds and the presence of mold or other toxins, requiring horses to be fed hay of more consistent type and quality.”


A young sheep between its first and second shearing. Sheep are normally sheared once a year.


Grass or other crops that have been cut, allowed to wilt but not completely dry out, and are then preserved in plastic wrapping or in a large mound or pit (called a clamp) from which all air is excluded. Silage is fed to livestock through the winter when fresh grass is not available. Not popular with smallholders because it only comes is large wrapped round bales that are very heavy and difficult to handle by hand. (Also watch that the seal has not been damaged during delivery which allows it to go off).  Also you need a sufficient number of sheep to eat the bale before it goes off.   Something in between hay and silage is haylage and also sold in this way.                                                                                                                      

Beware -big bales of silage made from salvaged hay crops could be very low in feeding value. Silages that are poorly fermented with a high pH can present a high risk of listeriosis when fed. When feeding silage, reduce wastage by offering only what the sheep will eat daily – do not allow silage to go stale.

Poorly made silage has a noticeable, usually disagreeable smell. Animals will not be keen to eat it and there will be a high degree of wastage. Some silages can be dangerous to feed.  Problem silage can have the following indicators

  • Rancid, fishy odour. Slimy, sticky texture
  • Mouldy silage with a musty odour
  • Smells of vinegar
  • Sweet smelling 
  • Ammonia odour
  • Smells like tobacco or burnt. Looks olive green.

For more information on making silage and analysing silage click here.


Animals bred for meat production sold before they are ready to be killed. A farmer breeds them and rears them through their early life when they are at greatest risk from disease but because they are small they need relatively little food. They are sold at market as stores to someone who has plenty of feed available and specialises in fattening them.


Is the stem and leaf residue left from the harvest of small grains, typically oats, wheat, and rice. Although sheep will consume some of it, it’s generally used as a bedding material. It’s very absorbent. 

Stubble turnip

Winter fodder or forage for sheep.


A teaser is often a vasectomised ram or whether that is put in with the ewes before a ram to stimulate them to ovulate for breeding. Using a teaser helps to synchronise pregnancy and therefore lambing.


A male intact sheep. Another word for a breeding ‘ram’.

Unfinished/store lambs

Butchers will only buy lambs that have reached a certain weight and level of fatness. How long it takes a lamb to grow to this size varies according to breed, birth weight and food available. Some lambs finish sooner than others. On hill farms where there is not enough outdoor feed for lambs, any remaining at the end of the year may be sold as stores, to be finished on lowland farms during the winter and spring.


A castrated male sheep often used as a companion to a ram and as a teaser. 


A slang term for a female sheep.


 February 9, 2012  post archive, sheep Tagged with: , , , ,
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