Dictionary Corner

Get to know the different words used by sheep farmers

Anthelmintic: a drug for the control of parasitic and intestinal worms.

Antibiotic:  a drug for the control of bacterial infection.

Artificial Insemination (AI): the process whereby semen is placed into the uterus artificially.

Banding: the use of rubber bands for castration or docking.

Barren: ewes that are have not conceived after being tupped, and are usually sold as a result.

Body condition score (BCS): a physical assessment of sheep, found by pressing your hand over and around the backbone in the loin area, behind the ribs. The score is given from one to five, one being thinnest, five being fattest. At breeding time, depending on breeding and environment, ewes should score 2.5 - 3.5 and rams 3.5 - 4.

Bolus: an object placed in the reticulum of the rumen, remaining there for some time or permanently. Used for long-term administration of medicines, or as a secure location for an electronic marking chip.

Broken-mouthed: a sheep which has lost or broken some of its teeth, usually after the age of six.

Cade: an orphan lamb that is hand-reared by the farmer using special milk (made from milk powder) and fed using a bottle and teat. Farmers try to avoid this, as it is far better for a lamb to be reared by a sheep than a human, and every effort is taken to find an mother to adopt a lamb - see foster lambs.

Cast: a sheep that is on its back and is unable to get up again unassisted.

Cast ewe: an older breeding ewe (also known as a draft ewe) which is sold off a hill farm to farmers on lower ground where the terrain and weather is less challenging.

Castrate: the removal or altering of the testicles to render a male sheep infertile, most commonly through banding, takes place during the first week of life for minimal pain and discomfort.

Colostrum: the first milk produced by a ewe that has just lambed, contains all the antibodies that a new-born lamb needs to survive so is vital for the lamb in the first few hours of life.

Concentrate: an artificial feed that is high in energy and highly digestible. Often given to sheep when they are housed for lambing, or as a supplement if grass quality is low.

Continuous grazing: livestock remaining on a grazing unit for a continuous period, whilst there is sufficient grass available and time allows.

Creep feeding: the provision of supplementary feed to weaning lambs.

Cross-bred: a sheep that has one breed as a mother and a different breed as a father. Cross-bred sheep benefit from 'hybrid vigour' (sometimes called heterosis) see hybrid vigour below.

Crutching: the removal of wool from around the tail and between the back legs of sheep.

Cud: food that is regurgitated to be chewed again, a typical trait of ruminants.

Cull ewe: a ewe that has reached the end of its breeding life, usually because of old age, but sometime due to a health problem. Cull ewes are sold into the food chain as mutton - see mutton - but are sometimes traded first so a farmer can help the ewe gain weight before slaughter.

Dags: clumps of dried faces stuck to the wool of a sheep, removed by crutching in order to prevent flystrike.

Dam: mother.

Dipping: immersing sheep in a medicated plunge or shower dip for the removal of external parasites. Pour on solutions are more often used now.

Dock: the removal of most of the tail of a lamb during the first week of life, most commonly through banding.

Draft ewe: see cast ewe.

Drench: liquid, oral veterinary medicine, usually an anthelmintic, administered using a drenching gun.

Dressing percentage: the percentage of the live animal that ends up as a carcase.

Driving/Droving: walking sheep from one place to another.

EID: electronic identification, plastic ear tags containing an electronic chip.

Ear tag: plastic or metal tag in the ear, contains some form of identification, usually a number and/or electronic chip.

Embryo transfer: the process by which fertilised embryos are artificially inserted into the uterus of a surrogate mother.

Ewe: an adult, female sheep of any breed. A typical ewe produces a single or pair of twin lambs once per year. Ewe is often pronounced ‘yow’ in the North of England and Scotland. 

Fat lambs: a traditional term for lambs that are finished and ready for slaughter, see finish. They are heavy enough to enter the food chain, but the weight and grade will differ depending on the system and market they are catering for.

Faecal egg count (FEC): scientific test of faeces to determine the worm burden of an animal.

Finish: Finish is the amount of meat and fat that a grown lamb has to make it perfect for the different cuts of meat we are familiar with on our dinner tables. A 'finished lamb is one that is the right weight, conformation (shape and meat cover) and fatness for processing. A more tradition term for this is a 'fat lamb', which does not mean that the lamb is fat, but that it is heavy enough to go into the food chain. Lambs will be finished at different weights and grades depending on the market being catered for.

Fleece: the wool covering of a sheep.

Flock: a group of sheep, often in the ownership of one person.

Flushing: providing especially nutritious feed in the few weeks before mating to improve fertility, or in the period before birth to increase lamb birth-weight.

Flystrike: infestation of the wool, skin and eventually flesh with blowfly or botfly maggots, rapidly causing injury or death. Usually (but not always) occurs where the wool has become contaminated by dung or urine, or at the site of an injury.

Fodder crops: also known as forage crops, these are great ways to feed sheep during the autumn and winter when the grass does not grow. Types of fodder crops include stubble turnips, sugar beet and kale.

Footrot:  a painful and infectious bacterial hoof disease commonly found in sheep (also goats and cattle), especially when pastured on damp ground.

Foster lamb: If a ewe dies when giving birth or, more commonly, has more than two lambs and not enough milk to feed them all a 'spare' lamb - see cade lamb - is fostered onto an adoptive mother. There are many different ways of 'fostering on' lambs, but a common method is to identify a ewe that is about to give birth to a single lamb and ensure the adoptive lamb and the birth lamb mix together in all the birthing fluids. Then, when the ewe sniffs and licks the lambs (part of the natural bonding process), she will think both lambs belong to her.

Gimmer: a female ewe lamb that will be kept as a breeding female rather than being sold for slaughter. A gimmer typically becomes a ewes after her first shearing.

Grazier: someone who fattens sheep on grazing land, often rented from other farmers and land owners.

Hay: grass that has been mowed and dried, used as feed.

Heft: an area of land occupied by a given flock. Amazingly, sheep know their heft even if it does not have physical boundaries and do not stray beyond it. Hefts are traditionally in the uplands of the UK.

Hirsel: a traditional word for a piece of ground and flock looked after by a shepherd.

Hogg/Hogget: a lamb that is getting past one year of age. Hoggs can be male or female and are usually destined for slaughter, although farmers in some parts of the UK will call ewe lambs selected for breeding hoggs too.

Hybrid vigour: a genetic phenomenon from crossbreeding which results in an increase in such characteristics as size, growth rate and fertility in the cross-bred animal over those of its parents. Hybrid vigour is a natural occurrence that is utilised in all types of agriculture, be it growing crops or rearing livestock.

In lamb: term for a pregnant ewe. Ewe’s are pregnant for five months.

Lactation: the period during which a ewe is producing milk, mostly in the six weeks after lambing.

Lamb: both a sheep up to one year old (after which it will generally be referred to as a ewe lamb or hogg); and meat from young sheep (four to 18 months) processed for human consumption.

Lambing: the time period when a flock of sheep give birth. This can be indoors in a shed or farm building, or outdoors, and is usually in the spring. Some flocks lamb early or out-of-season if the farmer is producing lamb for a specific market.

Lambing percentage: the average number of lambs reared in a flock compared to the number of ewes mated, essentially a measure of lambing success and multiple births. For example, an average of one lamb per ewe = 100% (hill flock); two lambs per ewe = 200% (lowland flock).

Lanolin: the natural grease found in wool.

Mastitis: infection of the mammary glands causing inflammation.

Micron: a measure of the fibre diameter of wool.

Mixed grazing: grazing two or more species on the same piece of land, most commonly sheep and cattle, to utilise the grazing behaviours of both species and lower the burden of gastrointestinal worms.

Mule: a cross-bred sheep, fathered by a longwool breed by a hill breed mother. Examples include the Scotch Mule, North of England Mule and Welsh Mule.

Mulesing: a controversial practice, illegal in many parts of the world. Traditionally used in Australia, cutting off wrinkles in the crutch area of Merino sheep to prevent flystrike.

Mutton: meat from a sheep that is older than a lamb and, therefore, has a different taste and texture. Mutton is usually produced from ewes that have reached the end of their productive life, but mutton is typically used to refer to meat from any sheep older than two years. It is available all year around, but the best produced from October to March due to the nutritious summer grass See www.makemoreofmutton.org.uk

New season lamb: The UK lamb production cycle runs on an annual basis, and the first lambs sent for slaughter at the beginning of then new cycle (usually to coincide with Easter) are called 'new season' to differentiate them from 'old season' lambs born in the previous annual cycle that have been reared more slowly (see store lambs) and not yet sent to slaughter.

Oestrus: period of ‘heat’ during which the female is fertile and receptive to the male.

Old season lamb: Once lambs from the next year's lamb crop start being sent to slaughter (see new season lamb) lambs from the previous year's lamb crop are called old season lamb to differentiate them. Old season lambs will have been 'stored' over winter (see store lambs) so farmers can supply the market before next year's lambs are big enough. The incredibly diversity of farm types and lambing times means UK lamb can be sourced for our dinner plates all year round, despite what the supermarkets say when they put imported lamb on their shelves instead!

Ovine: from the Latin genus Ovis for five species, including sheep. Ovine is a term for something that relates to or resembles a sheep.

Parturition: the act of giving birth, or lambing.

Pedigree: a pure-bred animal (see pure-bred) that is registered with a breed society and listed in a flock book as a breeding animal with all its parentage and performance details. The best pedigree animals are chosen by farmers each year to breed the best offspring and continue developing a sheep breed to be the best it can be. Pedigree animals are often exhibited at agricultural shows, competing to catch the eye of the judge as the best representative of that breed.

Polled: without horns.

Pour-on: an externally applied medicine, usually along the backline of a freshly shorn sheep to control lice or other parasites.

Progeny: the offspring of an individual.

Prolific: abundant production of offspring, a trait that can be selected for, usually in lowland ewes.

Pure-bred: a sheep that has a mother and father of the same breed. Pure-bred are often, but not always, registered as pedigree (see pedigree).

Raddle: a device strapped to the chest of a ram and marked with a coloured pigment to show which ewes he has served.

Ram: a male sheep; also known as a tup. Rams can have horns or no horns, as can ewes. Horns can indicate breed as well as gender and don’t always mean a sheep is male.

Rotational grazing: scheme by which animals are moved from one grazing paddock to another.

Rumen/Ruminant: ruminants are defined by their four stomach chambers, the main one being the rumen. Ruminants are able to regurgitate their food to chew it again (see cud). Ruminants include sheep, cattle and deer, and the other stomach chambers are omasum, abomasum and reticulum.

Shepherd: A person in charge of the management, health and welfare of a sheep flock. A shepherd can be the farmer who owns the sheep, or an employed or self-employed person charged with caring for the flock.

Shearling: A young sheep between its first and second shearing (called a yearling in some parts of the UK). Older sheep are sometimes referred to as two-shear, three-shear and so on as an indicator of age. More traditional names include a twinter (two-year-old) and thrunter (three-year-old).

Shearing: Adult sheep have to be shorn every year, usually in early summer, to ensure they do not become to hot and bothered by blowflies. Shearing does not hurt the sheep, and is similar to human getting their hair cut. Some farmers will shear their own sheep, but most use a contractor. These contractors are highly training and incredibly fast, taking as little as two to three minutes per sheep. The world record for shearing adult female sheep in 731 in 9 hours, and the world record for shearing strong wool lambs in 867 in 9 hours, both set in 2016.

Sheepdog: a highly trained dog used to control and herd sheep flocks, usually a Border Collie.

Sire: father.

Staple: a measure of the length of wool.

Stocking density/rate: the number of animals grazing a particular unit of land for a length of time.

Store lamb: Lambs grow very quickly in the early weeks of life, but this slows down as they get older and as grass growth begins to drop off in the winter months. Farmers who do not have enough grass on their farm to get lambs to the right size and shape (see finish) will sell their lambs as 'store lambs' to go to other farmers who have more grass or the right kind of land to grow fodder crops to feed store lambs through the autumn and winter.

Straw: the cut stems of wheat, barley or oat crops, baled and used for winter bedding.

Strip grazing: confining sheep to an area of grazing for a short period of time before moving them to another area. Areas are usually marked with moveable electric fencing.

Stun: the process by which an animal is made senseless immediately before slaughter, usually by an electric current or penetrative captive bolt.

Teaser:  a ram that is infertile but placed among ewes to encourage the onset of oestrus.

Teg:  a sheep in its second year, also known as hogg/hogget.

Tup: a male sheep; also known as a ram. Tups can have horns or no horns, as can ewes. Horns can indicate breed as well as gender and don’t always mean a sheep is male.

Tupping: when a ram mates with a ewe.

Udder: milk secreting organ on the underside of a female sheep. Ewe’s have two teats, so are ideally adapted to rearing twin lambs.

Weaning: removal of lambs from their mother’s milk onto solid feed, often by creep feeding.

Wether: a male lamb that has been castrated. This is done at a very young age to minimise discomfort.

Withdrawal period:  specific time period after a veterinary medicine has been administered, during which meat or milk from the animal must not enter the food chain, preventing drug residues in products.

Yearling: A young sheep between its first and second shearing (called a shearling in some parts of the UK). Older sheep are sometimes referred to as two-year, three-year and so on as an indicator of age. More traditional names include a twinter (two-year-old) and thrunter (three-year-old).

Zoonoses: a disease that can be transmitted from animal to human and vice versa.