Free range sheep farming is one of the common practices among many Nigerians, who engage in it as a source of livelihood because of its minimum investment requirement.
One of the advantages of keeping sheep is their strong herd instincts which makes them exceptional ranch animals as they keep together in their flock thus making them easier to manage.
Mallam Musa Rabo Danhassan, an animal scientist and a full time animal breeder and farmer, advised that for anyone going into sheep production, he/ she needs to decide whether the animals to be kept are for breeding or fattening purposes.
Mallam Musa noted that there are about four indigenous breeds available in Nigeria, including ‘Uda’ which are characterised by black or brown coloration from the forehead anterior to their mid-section while their back is and they have white long large and pendulous ears.
The ‘Balami’ breed which he said was just like Uda but instead was 100% all white with large droopy ear and pointed nose, adding that they are also very tall and have dew lap at their neck region.
He further stated that the ‘Yan Kasa’ breed which are commonly found across the northern part of the country were either pure white, spotted black, spotted brown or pure brown. He described them as having erect ears and smaller than Balami and Uda.
Lastly, he said the West African dwarf sheep were smaller breeds found in the southern part of the country.
Mallam Musa added that there was an imported exotic breed found in some places in Nigeria which are very large with big and broad tail that could touch the ground. The Sudanese breed, he noted, can be short horned or hornless and produces higher quantity of milk.
When keeping sheep for breeding, he advised that the ram to sheep ratio for optimum breeding was 1:7 or 1:10, but for lower income farmers, they can start with one ram and one sheep.
The animal scientist pointed out that it takes between six and eight months for ewes to reach full maturity whereas rams attain full maturity from 10months to 12 months.
Rabo stated that sheep have a gestation period of 115 to 120 days, giving birth to 1-2 per lambing although they can, but rarely give birth to three.
In terms of shelter, he advised that the flock should kept in an open ventilated housing because they don’t tolerate wetness and they need to be protected from scorching sun as such need to be kept under shade during the rainy season.
In keeping sheep, “the farmer need to deworm the animals at least three times in a year using anthelmintic drugs, the drugs should be administered at the interval of three to four months. The dosage to be issued is depending on the size of the animal,
Other good management practices to ensure a healthy flock include vaccination against the Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR) disease once a year, although there may be other vaccinations they are hardly available in the country,” he said.
The breeder affirmed that in sheep breeding, there was no recommended quantity to feed the animals, however there was need to constantly provide feed and especially water.
Mallam Musa mentioned feed of sheep to include grasses, wheat offal, concentrates, groundnut cake and haulms including leguminous grasses like cowpea haulms and stalk of cereals. He, however, added that some farmers also add poultry litter to the feed of their flock.