North Country Cheviot Sheep

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Other common names: Hill Type Cheviot; Hill Northies; Caithness Type Cheviot; Border Type Cheviot

The basics:
North Country Cheviot Sheep are a breed which were created from the Cheviot Sheep which were found in the Cheviot Hills, on the border of England and Scotland. According to the American North Country Cheviot Sheep Association "In 1791 Sir John Sinclair brought 500 "long hill" ewes from the Cheviot Hills near the English border, to the counties of Caithness and Sutherland in the north of Scotland. He named these sheep "Cheviots", after the hill area from which they originated. Later on , another hill breed was introduced into the ranges of central Scotland. Thus the Scottish Blackface created a definite separation between northern counties of Caithness and the Sutherland, and the border region in southern Scotland. Most authorities speculate that both English and Border Leicesters may have been introduced into the North County Cheviots at this time. The result was a larger sheep, that had longer fleece, and a sheep that matured earlier. Currently the North Country is about twice the size of its southern relative."

Today there are three distinct types of North Country Cheviot: those that developed on the hard and rugged hills of Sutherland are known as the Hill Type or Hill Northies; the more fertile, productive ground of Caithness has produced a bigger and heavier sheep, the Caithness Type; and the Border Type.

Appearance / health:
The North Country Cheviot has a striking, alert look with erect ears. The head is brilliant white and woolly. The body is completely covered with wool and is long, deep and white. The Roman nose has black nostrils. The eyes have a black line around them. Both sexes are polled (hornless). The neck is short and strong. The legs are covered with short, white fiber. In general, the wool is fine, white and free from kemp. Wool grades from 50 to 56 count.

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:
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.

Housing / diet:
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.

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.

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