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Start your own flock

Want to start your own sheep flock? Be it half a dozen ewes or several hundred, the same principles apply. The first part of this article provides information on keeping yourself legal in terms of sheep movements and identification, and below there is more general information and suggestions of things to think about before getting sheep:-

The information here is provided as a guide and a starting point for finding information relevant to where you are in the UK and the type of enterprise you wish to establish.

Keeping things legal: To become a sheep keeper you need to obtain several things before and during taking ownership:

1. County Parish Holding Number (CPH). To register sheep, you must first obtain a CPH number for the land where the animals will be kept. This is issued by the Rural Payments Agency (or DAERA in Northern Ireland). 

2. Movement licence. When you first bring sheep on to your holding (and every subsequent movement thereafter) the move must be reported to the relevant authority. You can do this on paper or electronically in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. For information on movement reporting in your region, follow the links below.

3. Flock Number. Once you receive your CPH number, your animals can be moved to your holding under a general licence. You’ll then need to register your flock with Defra by contacting the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), using your CPH number as a reference. Click here to find contact details for the APHA in England, Wales and Scotland. 

4. Holding Register. As a sheep keeper you must obtain a Holding Register for your flock and keep this updated. The register, includes your holding details, tag replacements, all sheep and goat movements on and off your holding, date of identification and deaths, annual count of animals on your holding as on 1 December each year, and individual records of sheep and goats born or identified after 31 December 2009. These can be a hard paper copy, for example a Defra-approved template can be found here but you can use an alternative that suits you (such as an online spreadsheet) if you prefer - just as long as it incorporates all the information and is clearly legible should you be visited by an inspector. Sheep keepers in England can use the Livestock Information Service online holding register which will automatically update when a movement is reported electronically. 

5. Eartags. All breeding animals require an electronic tag in one ear and a visual tag in the other, with alternative rules for lambs going to slaughter (not being kept as breeding animals) in England, Scotland and Wales.

6. Veterinary/Medicine Book. As with your holding register, you can record the information in a way that best suits you and is clearly legible for an inspector. Click here for an approved list of what to record. Medicine usage can be recorded online using a farm management software app, alternatively the Animal Health Distributors Association (AHDA) publish an Animal Medicines Record Book at a small cost. 

Click here for information relevant to Northern Ireland.

Sourcing grazing land: Land for sale or rent can be sought from various estate agents/land agents or specialist magazines. Places to investigate are livestock markets, farmer groups and other local contacts. Don't forget that some people living in the countryside with small amounts of land next to their house may well be willing to pay for the service of someone grazing the land and keeping it in good condition. Approaching arable farmers may also be an option for temporary grazing or flying flocks scenarios. See NSA report: The benefits of sheep in arable rotations for more details

Sourcing stock: Sheep can be sourced from either private or livestock sales. To assist in the control of disease, purchase sheep where the health status is known and documentation is provided. Collect from the vendor as much information as possible on the recent history of the flock, flock management and what treatment/vaccinations the animals have received. Be sure to follow quarantine procedures when brining in any new or returning stock to avoid ‘buying in’ or bringing in disease. See below ‘Newly purchased sheep' for more details on this'. 

Breed selection: In the UK the sheep industry is largely stratified with particular breeds occupying specific environments to which they are adapted. It is important to select a breed suitable to your location and business requirements. You can find out more about breeds and cross-breeds commonly found in the UK here. 

  • The hills: Hardy hill and mountain sheep are largely kept as pure breeds. Income is usually surplus female lambs and wether lambs sold as stores to upland/lowland farms to be fattened. Also older ewes that have lambed several times are transferred to the milder climate of lower areas where they are crossed with longwool breeds to produce Mules and half-breds.
  • The uplands: In upland areas there are again specific breeds. These and older draft mountain ewes are crossed with the longwool breeds, resulting in a wide variation of half-bred or mules. Income is usually ewe lambs sold to the lowlands to be crossed with a lowland/terminal sire breed, and surplus female and all wether lambs sold as stores for fattening in the lowlands. 
  • The lowlands: In the lowlands, the mules and half-breds are crossed with lowland (terminal) sires to produce lambs that can be fattened on summer grass. Slower growing lambs join the store lambs that have arrived from the hill and upland areas to be fattened on root crops over the autumn and winter months. Income is usually finished lambs and maybe breeding ewes and pedigree terminal sires. 
  • Closed flock systems: While this stratified system is well tried and tested and forms the majority of UK sheep production, there are also many sheep farmers who operate ‘closed flocks’. The principle here is to implement a breeding policy that allows breeding stock to be retained alongside other stock that are sold. This can be done by either using different rams for different purposes, or breeds that are suitable for both breeding and meat or wool production traits.

Newly purchased sheep: On arrival onto the farm holdings all sheep should undergo a minimum six-day isolation period where they should not come into contact with other sheep, or where they do all sheep are kept as an isolated flock. Now is the ideal time to check identification is correct and sheep are in good health. The gold standard is a four to six-week quarantine period to protect against disease.

Worms and sheep scab: The quarantine recommendation for the yard on arrival differs depending on the risk status of the farm. Strategies should be developed in conjunction with a vet or animal health advisor. See Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep (SCOPS), quarantine advice for internal and external parasites page for full details

Liver fluke: When buying in sheep, liver fluke quarantine treatment strategies should be considered based on the risk posed by the incoming sheep and the risk status of the farm. Strategies should be developed in conjunction with a vet or animal health advisor. See Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep (SCOPS), fluke quarantine page for full details

Lameness: Foot related diseases can be easily spread throughout the flock, so prevent bridging these issues in through quarantine procedures.  Ideally understand foot health before buying the stock by discussing this with the vendor.  The five-point plan has been developed to help reduce lameness in sheep. See AHDB ‘lameness in sheep page for information on quarantine, treatments and prevent. There is also a better returns booklet available here and further NADIS website. 

Flock Health Plan: Meet with your vet or animal health advisor as soon as possible to establish a flock health plan, so you can time other treatments (such as footbathing or vaccination for clostridial diseases) with your quarantine treatments and subsequent worm and fluke control. The Register of Sheep Advisers (RoSA) is a network of well-rounded professional advisers working within the UK sheep industry. The register provides you with appropriate advice from recognised professionals. Find your local RoSA adviser here. 

Housing: During winter months, or extreme weather conditions, certain breeds of sheep may be housed in barns with open fronted pens or in-by fields provided there is good natural shelter such as hedges. The sheep maybe housed for approximately three to four months depending on weather conditions, the availability of forage and health of the soil. Bedding should be of deep-bedded straw or of alternative bedding materials such as wood shavings. For stocking density and access to water and feed spaces, please use the Defra code of practice:

Type of SheepStraw-bedded floor (sq.m)
Lowland ewes during pregnancy (60-90kg per head)1.2-1.4
Lowland ewes with lambs up to six weeks of age2.0-2.2
Hill ewes (45-65kg per head)1.0-1.2
Hill ewes with lambs up to six weeks of age1.8-2.0
Lambs up to 12 weeks of age0.5-0.6
Lambs up to 12 months of age0.75-0.9











Grassland: When grassland is capable of supporting livestock the sheep will be turned out to pasture. Typical stocking densities on productive grass can be approximately six to 10 sheep per acre. However, the stocking density will vary according to climate, topography and grass quality (both farm specific and seasonal variations). Grassland management should incorporate strategies to improve soli health and reduce your reliance on parasite treatments by using methods (where appropriate) such as rotational grazing alongside faecal egg counting and appropriate worming regimes to avoid parasitic burden and risk of wormer resistance (more on this on SCOPS website here). Discuss this with your vet and/or adviser. 

Nutrition: During winter months the sheep’s diet should be considered and grass supplemented with one or more than one of the following: good quality hay, haylage/drier silage, fodder beet or other roots, concentrates/cereals and mineral licks. During summer months, generally, grazing grass is all that is required. Access to water must be provided at all times. 

The diet is dependent upon season, stage of productivity, availability of feed and individual requirements. It is advisable to body condition score (BCS) the sheep on a monthly basis, thus allowing the weight and condition of the sheep to be closely monitored. The feed rations maybe altered accordingly to maintain the required optimum body score (see here for more details on optimal BCS). Condition scoring is the process of evaluating the animals muscle:fat development. The scoring system is considered good husbandry practice and provides a guide to the health status of individual animals. More detailed information in 'feeding the ewe

Routine Treatments: It is sensible to acquaint yourself with common ailments in sheep, but the list below suggests the priorities

  • Vaccines: Vaccination is a key tool for the protection of the flock and the prevention of disease in sheep. The National Office of Animal Health (NOAH) launched its livestock vaccination guidelines in 2022. The guidelines encourage discussion between vets and farmers to help apply effective vaccination strategies on-farm, catalysing change to ensure the benefits from livestock vaccination are realised. Vaccines to prevent lameness, abortion, pasteurellosis and clostridial diseases are recommended under category one, with orf, ovine johnes disease and mastitis part of category two. To preserve high standards of sheep welfare and flock performance and productivity, every flock should be considering category one vaccines by default and working through risk assessments with their vet to justify not using them in certain circumstances. See guidelines, chapter four. 
  • Internal parasites: Parasite control in sheep has changed in recent years in light of the increasing resistance problem of parasites to modern wormers (also known as anthelmintic resistance). Advice for worming has been discussed above in the quarantine section, with links to the SCOPS website. Routine worming is no longer advised as this is increasing anthelmintic resistance to current available wormers. Faecal egg counts (FECs) should be conducted to monitor the worm burden in sheep and understand the need to treat sheep. Advice is different for sheep of different ages. Speak with your vet and adviser to understand the requirement to use a wormer. When administering any wormer animals should be weighed, drench guns should be calibrated and the correct technique used to ensure effective administration. More detailed information on SCOPS website here. It is recommended to adopt dosing strategies which preserve susceptible worm populations. See SCOPS page for full details. Speak with your vet for recommendations based on FECs and flock history.   
  • Faecal Sampling: Current recommendations advise regular dung sampling to monitor faecal egg counts (FEC). See SCOPS page ‘Using Worm Egg Counts’ for details
  • Foot care: It is imperative that the animals receive a high standard of health care at all times and the importance of good foot care is crucial. Having quarantined incoming animals for footrot, prevent future problems by moving water troughs and feeding areas around the field, considering the use of hydrated lime at gathering areas and gateways, using a mobile handling system/mobile pens to prevent animals gathering repeatedly in the same area, and consider vaccination as part of a strategy to eradicate footrot. There are various different substances for footbaths. The manufacturer’s instructions must be adhered to, as different products will attract different recommendations. The use of a large calendar or diary to mark treatment days for various groups is highly recommended See section above on quarantine for five-point plan. 
  • Shearing: Apart from wool-shedding breeds, sheep require shearing annually between May-August and this should only be performed by competent personnel. If you possess more than four adult sheep, the Wool Marketing Scheme requires you to register with the British Wool to market your fleece wool – go to There may be alternatives to marketing your wool such as private or specialist sale e.g. rare breeds fleeces, but British Wool should be consulted as to statutory requirements.
  • General health checks: Whether the animals are out at grass or housed, all animals should be inspected a minimum of once a day and whenever performing routine husbandry tasks.

Disposal of dead stock: Any animal found dead on the farm or euthanised on site must be disposed of by approved methods. Carcases should be stored securely and must be taken to or collected by an approved knackerman, hunt kennel, incinerator or renderer, either by private arrangement or under the National Fallen Stock Scheme at the earliest opportunity. Find out more about your legal requirements here.

Animal Health and Welfare: Find out about your legal animal health and welfare requirements here.