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Preparing for that Big Sheep Show Trip

Originally published in the Summer 1995 issue of The Fiberfest Magazine.

The Fiberfest Sheep Show in Kalamazoo, Michigan, is practically in our backyard, but over the years we have traveled long distances to attend other sheep shows. They have included the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, in West Friendship, Maryland, a 12-hour trip for us in the month of May; the Wool Market in Estes Park, Colorado, a 24-hour jaunt in June; and the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, a 15-hour trip in November.

This is not meant to be an article on how to fit a sheep for show. That information should come from your individual breed organizations. Every breed and fleece type is prepared differently. My experience is with fitting and showing the coarse and open-fleeced Karakul. Hopefully, this article will give you some hints and tips to help in preparing your sheep and make traveling with them--as well as showing them--a fun and rewarding experience.

We show sheep to promote our breed as well as our own individual breeding program. Preparation should begin several months before the event; showing sheep should not be a last-minute decision.

Two to three months prior to the show

Halter training and handling should begin when the animals are young. Remember that sheep are creatures of habit, so they should be accustomed to being haltered, tied, led, and handled even by strangers.

If you plan to attend several shows, vaccinate against Sore Mouth (Ovine Ecthyma vaccine). Be sure to allow enough time for the scabs to heal.

One month prior

An inspection by your veterinarian will be necessary if the show is out of state. Be sure to check with your veterinarian and obtain the necessary inspection, laboratory tests (if required), interstate travel papers, and state entry permits.

Two weeks prior

Have your vehicle and trailer serviced, be sure to check all the tires, lights, and wiper blades.

Shear the bellies. In a long-wooled sheep with three to four inches of fleece, the sheared belly will not be evident, but the sheep will be more comfortable traveling, especially during the hot summer months, and the sheep will be easier to keep clean.

Pick out by hand the large hay and straw pieces in the fleece. A livestock blower/dryer works well to clean and brighten a fleece without drying or destroying the lock character. Washing or brushing wool sheep breeds can destroy the lock and crimp character as well as remove the natural lanolin and luster.

One week prior

Trim feet now so sheep won't be lame at the show if you happen to trim too close--this is also a good time to use a de-wormer. Stand back and look at the animal and the overall impression, make necessary adjustments to the fleece.

If at all possible, fit your sheep at home so they just need a little touch-up at the show. Hours spent with sheep up on a trimming stand at a show can be stressful to the animals as well as to visitors trying to get down the aisle. A show can be much more fun when you can talk to people and relax.

One to two days prior

Wash legs and hooves, if needed. Start adding calf-electrolytes to the drinking water.

Day of departure

Give the animals a little hay and allow them to eat quietly while you finish loading the equipment.

The travel vehicle should ideally have enough room for the animals to lay down in without getting stepped on. It should also have adequate ventilation and security. If you use straw bedding, be sure to wet it down well first, so it doesn't blow around and get in the fleece.

What to take

Sheep should eat and drink while traveling, so as not to upset the delicate rumen balance. Several small feedings are preferred over one or two large feedings.

Take as much of your own hay as you can carry. Hay differs in other parts of the country and can be distasteful to your sheep. You could use pelletized hay, but first make sure your sheep are accustomed to it and will tolerate it. Perhaps you could use the pellets as hay extender, but since sheep are ruminants they do need to chew. Wooden apple crates make good portable hay feeders.

Also, if at all possible, leave the grain at home. Normally sheep can get along just fine for several days without it and you won't be so apt to get an unexpected bout of diarrhea or loose stools. If you must take grain, be sure to store it separately from the sheep or locked up so they can't possibly get into it while in transit or you will have a worse diarrhea problem.

Regional water differences can also be a problem. If you have well water and the show has chlorinated water, the sheep may not drink, and then may become dehydrated. Since it is not practical to take your own water supply, try adding a capful of calf-electrolyte powder to the drinking water a day or two before leaving, while traveling, at the show, and for a day or two after returning home. The main ingredient in calf-electrolyte is glucose or sugar. A small amount added to the water can act like a Gatorade for sheep, but more importantly, it makes all water taste the same.

At the show

If you travel a long distance, plan to arrive a day or two before the show. Take care of your animals first. Spread the bedding, unload the animals, water and feed a little hay, and let them rest. Several small feedings of hay are less stressful than one large daily feeding, and the fleeces will stay cleaner.

Sometimes the animals are required to stay at the show for longer than a day or two. If this is the case, try to exercise the sheep. Rams especially tend to get restless when confined. Halter the animals and take them for a walk or even jog with them. This helps them loosen up, get used to the surroundings, and most importantly, allows their legs, tendons, and pasterns to stretch and relax.

Always remember what type of impression you are making on the public. Keep your sheep clean and the pens well-bedded. Pens dirty with manure and urine, feces in the drinking water, as well as wool clippings, straw, hay, and manure in the aisles can reflect unfavorably on you and your operation. Smile and have fun!


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