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Other name(s): Rambouillet Merino; French Merino
Scientific name: Ovis aries
Country / Place of origin: Spain
History: The Rambouillet is a direct descendant of the Spanish Merino Sheep. A flock of Spanish Merinos were given to the French government by the King of Spain in the late 1700s. These sheep were taken to Rambouillet near Paris where they are still raised. The Rambouillet breed was further developed in Germany and the United States, and extensively used to improve the quality of lamb production as well as fine wool. Rambouillets are found in Europe, North America, and Australia.
Current Uses: Fine wool and meat.
Appearance: Rambouillets are large sheep with white wool that is about 3 inches long and averages 8-18 pounds on a 55% yield. Rambouillets, considered dual-purpose sheep, are known to have a strong herding instinct. They are favored for being rugged and long-lived.
Average weight: 200 - 250 lbs.
Lifespan: 10 - 20 years
Grooming: Wool sheep require shearing at least once a year. Otherwise, they become stressed and susceptible to ailments. Hand-shearing is possible but professional shearing is recommended to minimize injury. Freshly shorn sheep should be protected from extreme changes in temperature, and given extra feedings, for at least six weeks, especially during cold months. Pet sheep also need to have their hooves trimmed regularly.
Diet: Lambs start with their mother’s milk and a light diet of pasture grass at two weeks old. After weaning the lambs from ewe’s milk at six weeks old, they can start eating dry feed of grains (wheat, oats, barley, cottonseed, corn), soybean and peanut hulls, and hay. The main diet of sheep is fresh grass and other forage and pasture vegetation. The pasture must be fertile and large enough to support the grazing of sheep for about seven hours a day (morning and afternoon). Fresh water must be constantly available, especially during the warm months and if the diet is mostly dry hay. Supplements are recommended, and must be given in the middle of the day to balance the sheep’s food intake.
Housing: Sheep are grazing animals and do well living their entire lives outdoors. They get sufficient exercise and fresh air out in the field. They do need shelter from bad storms and unusually hot days. Many sheep keepers install field structures to provide shade, for example, hutches, domes, carports, and makeshift sheds. A common shade structure is a hoop house, like an open hangar or a greenhouse, which has a metal arched frame covered with tarp or other heavy-duty fabric.Some sheep owners keep their flock in a barn or similar enclosure to protect them from predators. These enclosures must have very good ventilation because moisture and poor air conditions lead to the sheep’s poor health. For warmth and comfort, bedding material should be provided. The best bedding is absorbent, clean, and dry. Some options are straw, wood shaving, sawdust, corncobs, dried corn stalks, peat, hemp, paper, and alfalfa hay. Preference is determined by cost, availability, convenience, and type of sheep. Wool sheep will not appreciate sawdust because it gets in their fleece. Paper is highly absorbent but difficult to manage in the field.
Health issues: One of the most common ailments among sheep is a viral skin disease called soremouth or “orf.” Ringworm or “club lamb fungus” is a rash also common among sheep. And much like “mad cow disease,” sheep can have a similar neurological ailment called “scrapie.” Sheep health issues should be addressed by a qualified veterinarian. Good health is promoted by sanitary habitat conditions and proper nutrition.
Behavior / Temperament / Activity level: Sheep are herd animals that rely on staying together as a flock to protect themselves from predators. They are highly sensitive to predators because they are basically “prey animals.” They sense the presence of threat from several hundred feet away (they are able to twist and turn their ears to detect potential danger) and instinctively flee instead of fight or attack. While fleeing, sheep run in a winding pattern to be able to see what is behind them.As domesticated animals, sheep make good pets because they are docile and easily connect with humans, especially lambs that are bottle-fed. Miniature breeds and sheep that have hair instead of fur make ideal pets. Raising pet sheep is a popular project in the 4-H youth organization.
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