So you’re buying sheep from across the country. What’s involved from the time you agree to purchase sheep until your new sheep arrive at your farm? Well the rules vary a lot but here are the basic things you will need to deal with.
Every livestock shipment requires paperwork. A bill of sale is mandatory and then depending on where the sheep are coming from and going to there may be additional requirements.
Shipping Within Your Own State
In general as long as both the origin and destination premises are within the same state there are really few restrictions. If there is a current disease outbreak you may need a vet permit and some counties are occasionally under quarantine for one reason or another but by and large you can select your sheep, load them in the trailer and head home without any additional paperwork.
Shipping Between States
This starts adding a variety of additional steps. First off no matter what the origin and destination state is you will be required to get a veterinarian health certificate at the origin. These certificates must include the number of head, sex, breed and age of each sheep on the shipment and include the official federal flock scrapie ear tag information as well. The person selling the sheep and the person buying the sheep must be identified with a physical premises where the sheep will reside. The method of shipment is specified and if it’s by a commercial hauler or anyone who does not own the sheep that person’s name is also on the certificate. That is the minimum requirement.
However here’s where it gets interesting. Depending on the destination state you may be required to have additional testing done on the sheep. Some states require you to get an import permit prior to the sheep leaving the origin. Some states will require scrapie genotyping at Codon 171. Nearly all states will require rams older than 1 year of age to have a brucellosis test within 30 or 60 days of shipment. Some states will only accept health certificates written within 10 days, some give 2 weeks and some 30 days. Some states require or forbid certain vaccinations. Some states require dipping or pour ons for external parasites like ticks and sheep keds while some forbid that. Some states have specific statements about certain diseases that must be written on the health certificate.
These regulations change so you cannot depend on them being the same. The only way to know for sure is for the origin veterinarian to contact the state veterinarian at the destination once a sale is planned and find out what is required. This needs to be done as soon as you are certain you will be buying sheep because of the various date restrictions on testing. We’ve had cases where animals had to have two negative tests done 30 days apart before they were allowed to be shipped so starting the process 60-90 days before shipment is ideal. Some tests require 5-10 days to complete and that can also affect shipping dates. Even if the regulations change during the time between when the vet first calls and when the sheep actually ship you are required to comply with the new regulations. We’ve had this happen several times and it usually resulted in scrambling and additional costs to complete the new requirements in time for the sheep to ship.
Typically here at our farm the minimum is around $200/shipment if there is no additional testing to be done. That covers the vet fee to come out to the farm and individually inspect each sheep to verify the federal tag number. The vet then writes the health certificate and files it with all the state and federal officials. If an import permit number is needed that is also usually included. What that does not include is any testing, vaccination or parasiticide treatments that might be required.
Shipping to Canada
This is probably the most complex shipment and will usually take at least 3 months from the time you’ve selected the sheep. The general procedure is the Canadian flock applies for an import permit providing all the identification details on the sheep that are coming. This permit is then sent to us here and we apply for an export permit from the USDA. This requires a vet visit to verify that all sheep are tagged with federal scrapie tags, that they are tattooed per the Canadian requirements and that all health certificate information is in order. This then goes to the USDA headquarters for final approval which can take several weeks. Once that is done we get paperwork back and then have to do another vet check with a final travel health certificate. International certificates are only good for 14 days so the timing is critical. It is usually the case that we get final approval with very little time to spare. Since the certificate also says what day the sheep will ship you can see that it takes a lot of coordination to get everything approved and sheep shipped.
Because we are an export qualified flock in the US scrapie program the receiving Canadian flock does not have to do as much once the sheep arrive there.
While you are working through the process to get the required paperwork for your sheep shipment you must also deal with the actual transportation.
The best is for the buyer to come to the farm and pick up the sheep in your own trailer. The trailer needs to have plenty of ventilation and be covered. We ship sheep so that every sheep in a given pen can lie down. We bed the trailer with hay and provide additional hay for the trip. The buyer needs to have buckets so that the sheep can be given water during the trip. We do not recommend taking the sheep off the trailer until they arrive at their final destination even if the trip takes several days. As long as there is plenty of room and you provide plenty of clean hay and water they will travel safely. Do not use wood shavings as bedding when shipping sheep. They can eat the shavings, get impacted and will die. Do not use hay they are not used to either as that can also cause digestive upsets.
Separate the sheep by sex and by size. Don’t try to ship weanling lambs with adults unless they have been kept that way at the origin farm. Always separate rams from ewes during shipment and always ship sheep with at least one buddy. Never try to ship a single sheep at a time. You can ship a single ram in a trailer with ewes as long as he is separated from them by welded wire or trailer panels but can see and touch noses with the other sheep. Often we suggest shipping the ewes in the main part of a horse trailer and 2 rams in the tack room compartment.
Pickup trucks with camper shells or specific sheep hauling inserts can be used as well. We’ve even had sheep shipped in dog crates in vans and in the back seat of a car when the trip was short.
Commercial transporters can be a good choice but they must understand that Black Welsh do not flock and that they cannot unload the sheep until they are at the final location or they will never get them loaded again. Our sheep have never seen a herding dog and using one will cause a panic and result in injured sheep. We have successfully shipped sheep with horse transport companies as long as the trailer dividers go to the floor. Most commercial haulers charge based on a combination of loaded mileage from origin to destination, a per head fee and a price for the space. The horse hauling companies we have used typically charge a fixed price per mile per horse stall and that can be a good choice as you can get 4-5 ewes in a single stall or 2-3 rams.
If you are getting sheep from us keep in mind that our farm is up on top of a mesa with a dirt one lane road that has bends that many large rigs cannot negotiate. We can haul sheep down in our small trailer and load them elsewhere on the final truck or trailer rig but that requires more time to arrange and some additional costs.
When They Arrive
Now that you new sheep are at your farm what do you need to do?
First, have a small contained area with regular welded or woven wire fencing for them to go. Do not use electric fences or nets initially. Your sheep have been on the road for a while, they are stressed and dealing with strange people, food and smells. Give them time to acclimate. We like to suggest that you keep your new sheep separate from the rest of your flock for 30 days. You may wish to deworm them if that hasn’t been done within a few weeks of their travel. It’s also not a bad idea to have your own vet come out and just check the sheep soon after arrival to be sure everyone is ok.
Generally they travel well but they can get sick during the trip. Often it’s just the stress of the trip and exposure to the new pathogens in the new location. Given time and food they will be fine.
Try to slowly change them over from the hay they came with to whatever hay or pasture you generally feed. Our sheep have never had grain so I recommend that if grain is a normal part of your feeding regime that you start very slowly.
We are committed to ensuring that we are selling and shipping health productive sheep and want to make sure your new charges get to your farm safely so that they are ready to perform for you.