General Principles of Sheep Management in Nigeria


General Principles of Sheep Management in Nigeria

Recent estimate of sheep production in Nigeria puts number at about 22 million. The production objective for raising sheep is essentially for meat supply and for some socio-cultural interests.

Breeds of sheep found in Nigeria seem to be more adapted for meat rather than wool.

The socio-economic importance is reflected from a survey which indicated that out of about 82 per cent households found to keep livestock, 67 per cent own sheep. 

Each household has between 3 to 10 sheep. Production of sheep is mainly forage-dependent and represents an important segment of the Nigerian national livestock resources.

Its numerical strength implies widespread distribution in all ecological zones of Nigeria, where sheep demonstrate adaptation to the environment, hardiness, profligacy.

These characteristics enable sheep to generate diverse animal products, employment and form a commodity for internal and sub-regional trades in Nigeria and West Africa.

At the end of this article, you should be able to describe origin and distribution of sheep, identify breeds of sheep in Nigeria and their relative productive performance, explain principles of sheep production, describe methods of stocking and other general principles of sheep production and explain and possibly apply feedlot fattening of ram as a source of generating income.


What are the Breeds of Sheep in Nigeria Breed?

General Principles of Sheep Management in Nigeria

Characteristics for Selecting Sheep There are four main breeds of sheep in Nigeria. These are the West Africa Dwarf, Yankasa, Uda and Balami. All are hairy types. 

The West Africa Dwarf sheep is a small, short-legged animal found in the humid zone of southern Nigeria.

Animals vary in coat color but black predominates. The males have horns while females are hornless. 

It is the smallest of the Nigeria breeds, with a mature body weight of 18 to 25 kg. Because the breeds thrive in areas that are heavily infested with tsetse fly, it is considered to be tolerant to trypanosomiasis. 

The Yankasa sheep is the most numerous and is found throughout the Guinea and Sudan savanna zones. It has a predominantly white coat colour, with black patches around the eyes, ears, muzzle (nose and mouth area) and hooves.

Mature rams have curved horns and heavy, hairy white mane. The females are hornless. It is a fine-looking breed, hardy and of medium body size. The adults reach weights of 30 to 40 kg. It adapts well to intensive production and has a relatively high growth rate.

The Uda sheep is a large, long-legged breed with a convex facial profile, found in the Sudan savanna zone, especially in the North-western part of Nigeria. It has a characteristic pied coat colour pattern of an entirely black or brown head and fore quarters and white hind-quarters.

The ears are large, long and droopy. Mature males have horns white females are normally hornless. The breed is particularly abated to extensive grazing and is renowned for its trekking ability. Mature animals weigh 35 to 45 kg.

The Balami sheep is the biggest of the Nigerian sheep breeds and is found mainly in the drier Sudan and Sahel Savanna zones. It has an allwhite coat. Mature weights of 40 to 50 kg are common. 

Experience has shown that the different breeds of sheep are adapted and perform best in their specific ecological zones. Because of the variations in the amount of rainfall, temperature and relative humidity, all of which indirectly affect performance, farmers are advised to raise those breeds that predominate in their ecological zones.

Thus, while the Yankasa and Uda are suitable for the Guinea and Sudan zone. The West African Dwarf and Yankasa breeds should be raised in the humid Forest and Derived Savanna zones.

Stocking and Production Practices for Sheep

General Principles of Sheep Management in Nigeria

1. Procuring Foundation Stock for Breeding: Ideally, foundation-breeding stock should be purchased from reputable sheep breeding farms or government Livestock investigation and Breeding Centers LIBC so as to be certain of their purity, high genetic quality and freedom from diseases.

Unfortunately, such sources are too few at present and where they exist, the number of breeding animal available for sale is limited. This leaves the open market as the main source of breeder stock for farmers. In purchasing animals from the market, major consideration must be given to the animal’s health, age and physical appearance.

The behavior and posture of an animal are reflections of its health status. Age can be determined from the number and size of teeth.

Therefore, the farmer is advised to:

a. Buy animals that are free from obvious diseases such as catarrh, diarrhea and skin diseases. Also ensure that, animals are free of ectoparasites such as fleas and ticks on their bodies.

b. Avoid animals with physical defects such as lameness. Walk the animal around to find out, blindness and malformations.

c. A lean or stunted animal should be avoided. Buy only alert, finelooking and active animals with bright eyes and fine coat.

d. Ewes (female sheep) should be between 1.5 and 3 years of age.

e. A -1.5 to 2 year-old sheep has two broad (big) central teeth, a -2 to 2.5 year-old has 4, while those aged about 3 years have 6 big teeth.

f. Buy in small batches from many markets in different localities so as to have animals that are as unrelated as possible and to have genetic variety in your foundation stock.

2. Initial Health Precautions: A number of health precautions should be taken before introducing newly purchased animals into your farm of flock. These precautionary measures are aimed at preventing the introduction of diseases into the farm and also to improve the chances of survival of your newly purchase stock.

It is good husbandry practice to have an isolated area away from your main flock where newly purchased stock can be quarantined for a month before introduction into the main flock.

Adequate feed, water and shelter should be provided in the quarantine area.

Recommended treatment for a one month quarantine period are as follows:

1st day: Give prophylactic antibiotic treatment for 3 days

4th day: Give broad spectrum anthelmintics and coccidiostat treatments. Coccidiostat treatment should continue for 7 days.

7th Day: Give tick-bath against ectoparasites.

28th day: Repeat treatment with anthelmintics and also repeat the tick-bath. Trim overgrown hooves 

30th day: Animals can leave quarantine to join the main flock .

In the humid zones of Southern Nigeria where PPR (pests des petit ruminants, a disease of sheep and goats also known as “kata”) may be a problem, the following vaccination schedule should be included in the quarantine procedures outlined above: Recommended treatment for a one month quarantine period are as follows:

1 st Day: Give prophylactic treatment with hyper-immune PPR antiserum (raised in cattle) subcutaneously (4 ml for full-grown adult).

10th day: Give TCRV vaccination against PPR (one cattle dose) subcutaneously in the neck region above the shoulder.

Of course initially, when starting a sheep farm you will certainly require assistance from a veterinarian or trained personnel to carry out these procedures but except for the vaccination you will be able to carry them out routinely yourself from then on.


System of Sheep Production

General Principles of Sheep Management in Nigeria

Intensive sheep production aims at obtaining two lambing per year and achieving high growth rates. Breeding and reproduction management should therefore receive proper attention.

This involves the adoption of a number of simple, yet highly essential practices based on knowledge of the reproductive physiology of sheep.

To start with it is good husbandry practice to separate male and female lambs after weaning and to raise them in separate opens or buildings this will prevent indiscriminate breeding and facilitate breeding during specific periods of the year.

Male lambs attain breeding age at about nine months while female lambs attain breeding age between five to eight months however rams should not be used for breeding until one and half year of age when they would be more efficient in serving more females due to greater development of their sperm reserves.

Likewise, female lambs should also not be bred until they are nine to twelve months old when they will be big enough to carry a pregnancy with less difficulty it is good practice to replace breeding rams with newly selected ones after each breeding season or at the least ewes may however remain in the breeding flock for four to six years to lambs by older ewes.

Rams to be selected for breeding should preferably have been born as twins (only one member of a twin pair should be selected to high body weight at weaning and six months. 

A minimum of six rams should be used in a flock of one hundred ewes to minimise inbreeding.

Breeding ram should be given better feeding from at least six lambs by older ewes. Rams to be selected for breeding should preferably have been born as twins (only one member of a twin pair should be selected to minimize inbreeding) and should be from among those that attained high body weight at weaning and six months.

A minimum of six rams should be used in a flock of one hundred ewes to minimise inbreeding. Breeding rams should be given better feeding from at least six weeks before they are intended for use. 

The estrous cycle in sheep is 16 to 17 days and the duration of estrus is one to two days. Means that the ewe will accept to be mated by a ram for only one to two days in each cycle of 17 days this is the estrus or heat period.

Ewe will normally ovulate (that is, produce an egg) shortly after the onset of oestrus (about 16 hours later) when breeding the whole flock by introducing rams for a period (flock mating). 

The breeding rams should be left with the ewe flock for six to eight weeks (equivalent to about three oestrous cycles) to ensure that all ewes are bred. They should be withdrawn after this period.

Rams should be joined to ewes for breeding as from two weeks after lambing the ewes will still be nursing their lambs at this stage but this does not prevent them from getting pregnant if lambing extends over several weeks the ewes can be separated for rebreeding in batches according to their lambing dates.

Ewes may be synchronised for breeding about two to three weeks after lambing, using progestagen sponges. Synchronisation helps to reduce the spread in breeding dates and slightly shortens the rebreeding interval (period from lambing to subsequent conception) of ewes.

The treatment is simple and consists of vaginal insertion of one progestagen sponge per ewes for 12 days within two to three weeks after lambing.

In order to improve ovulation rate breeding rams should be introduced to the treated ewes two-day before the sponges are withdrawn, mating will not commence until after the sponges.

Oestrous is usually spread over four days after sponge removal. Non –pregnant ewes usually return to oestrus 16 to 21 days after sponge withdrawal. Gestation period or pregnancy duration in sheep is about five months or 152 days.

Ewe failing to lamb on two occasions, those weaning lambs of poor weight and old ewes (above seven years) should be culled (that is, removed from the breeding flock).

Nutrition exerts a big influence on reproductive performance in sheep. Under-nourishment during late pregnancy may cause pregnancy toxemia (a metabolic disease), low birth weight of lambs and poor lamb survival. 

Under-nourishment during lactation and rebreeding may result in depressed lactation, delayed oestrus, lowered ovulation rate and poor fertility.

Poor nutrition at this period also increases lamb and ewe mortality rates up to weaning, and in addition, results in lowered weaning weights in lambs that survive. Under good nutrition and management, at least 80 per cent of ewes mated should lamb with about 25 per cent of the ewes producing twins. 

Identification of individual animals facilitates many breeding operations such as selection of replacement stock and in the culling of unproductive animals.

Metal or plastic ear tags are ideal for this purpose but where these are not available, wooden tags with numbers painted on them may be hung around the animals’ necks. Such identification helps proper record keeping.


Sheep must be adequately fed for optimum performance. Poor feeding is one of the major factors limiting productivity. Essentially, feeds contain energy, protein, fibre, minerals, vitamins and water Energy is present in feedstuffs in the form of carbohydrates, fats and oils.

An animal must have sufficient energy to maintain its body functions and produce meat and milk. Grains, molasses and brewers dried grains are good sources of energy. Proteins are essential for the repair of worn out tissues and the building of new ones. Young and nursing (milking) animals in particular need proteins.

Oil seed cakes wheat offal and legume hays (harawa) are good sources of protein. Fibre is made up of cellulose. High fibre feeds are commonly known as roughages .Ruminants extract energy from fibrous feeds. Minerals and vitamins are essential for body functions and health of animals.

Although all feedstuffs contain some amount of minerals and vitamins nevertheless mineral salt licks, bone meal and local rock salts are major sources of these nutrients and should be added to locally compounded feeds.

Water is essential for the maintenance of body temperature and functions therefore water must always be available to animals. The most commonly available feedstuffs for livestock in Nigeria are roughages (grasses legumes, browse plants and crop residues), oil seed cakes (cottonseed cake, groundnut cake and palm kernel cake), molasses wheat offal rice bran, dust (local bran) and brewers dried grains. Roughage is the cheapest feed for sheep being ruminants this can be derived from rangelands (natural vegetation), sown pastures fallow lands and crop residues.

For an intensive sheep production system, pasture establishment is a good investment, as a well-established and well managed pasture will provide good quality feed (fresh grasses and legumes or hay). 

This will considerably reduce the amount of concentrate supplements and hence the production cost. A well-established and well-managed pasture can support 25 to 40 sheep per hectare under grazing in the wet season and 5 to10 sheep per hectare in the dry season.

The quality of pasture deteriorates considerably during the dry season, often requiring supplementation with concentrate feed. The amount of concentrate to be utilized will largely depend on the quality and quantity of roughage available. 

A rule of thumb guide is to allow the animals to graze for at least 6 hours daily or be given 1.5 kg of good quality hay per head per day. In addition, the animals should each receive 0.2 to o.5 kg concentrate supplement per day.

Ewes in late pregnancy and nursing animals should receive the higher level of concentrate. Concentrate feeds for ruminants are now marketed country-wide in 25 or 50 kg bags. It may however be cheaper to compound your own concentrate feeds.

Examples of 3 formulated rations are given in the section on feedlot fattening of sheep. 

Sheep require two to six litres of water per day, depending on age, physiological status, and type of feed and ambient temperature. Both water and mineral salt licks should always be available to the animals.


Housing, Equipment and other Facilities

Housing is an essential requirement for intensive sheep production. Apart from providing overnight shelter and security for the animals it also provides protection against rain and cold. Housing also enhances close supervision of the flock.

In short, provision of housing leads to an overall improvement in the performance of the animals.

Sheep houses need not be elaborate and can vary in type from a low mud-wall building with thatched roof, through corrugated iron walled building, to brick or block housing.

Such housing should be located on well-drained soil and should be well ventilated to avoid dampness. The floor can be cemented or made of rammed earth. The floor should be easy to clean and should be covered with suitable bedding material such as straw or wood shavings, which can be changed from time to time. The building may be divided into pens.

Floor space requirements for lambs and adult sheep are about 0.4 and 1.7 m2 respectively. In addition, floor space should be provided for feed and water troughs. There should be a minimum of three pens, one each for male and female sheep, and a sick pen. 

Ideally there should be more pens per building or more than one building, with separate one for males, females and weaners.

A store and a hay barn could form part of the building. Alternatively, the hay barn could be a separate structure. A run (enclosure) made of chainlink wire, waist-high, may be constructed in front of the pens, divided into at least two sections for males and females if housed in different pens in a single building. Water supply can be from a well, tap, and bore hole or river. It should be clean and in sufficient quantity.

Feed and water troughs should be provided in every pen, either built-in or moveable type. A rectangular feed trough measuring 4 x 0.3 x 0.15 m is adequate for 10 adult sheep. Simple feed troughs could be made by cutting a drum lengthwise into two halves.

If cut drums are used, the edges should be made blunt to avoid injuries to the animals. Large plastic basins are better as water troughs as age unlike metal drums they do not corrode.

A foot-bath is required for the prevention and treatment of foot-rot, a very common problem with sheep on wet grounds. The most common type is the walk-through type which is a shallow, long receptacle. Where a small number of sheep is involved, a bucket of basin may be used.

A dip is an essential structure in a sheep farm. The walk-in, short-swim type is the most common.

In this type, the animal enters the vat through a walk- down ramp into a deep section of the vat which contains the dipping solution, and swims out. Dip vats are best made with concrete. A vat measuring 6 x 1.2 x 0.75m has a capacity of about 2000 litres.

It is necessary to put a roof over the vat to prevent rain from diluting the chemical. 

In small-sized flocks, a 200-litre drum opened at one end can be used. The animals are immersed, one at a time, in the dipping solution contained in the drum for about 30 seconds. A knapsack sprayer can also use.


Routine Health Management

Routine flock health management is very important in an intensive sheep production system if mortality is to be kept at a reasonably low level. 

Advice in this regard should be sought from the nearest veterinary department of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Significant common diseases of ruminants in different parts of Nigeria are as follows:

• South-west zone: PPR (or kata), pneumonias (viral and bacterial), trypanosomiasis, helminthiasis, coccidiosis, bacterial infections and ectoparasites.

• South-east zone: PPR, pneumonias, trypanosomiasis, helminthiasis, ectoparasites, bacterial diseases and coccidiosis.

• Northern zone: pneumonias, trypanosomiasis, helminthiasis, ectoparasites, bacterial diseases, ectoparasites, skin disorders and coccidiosis.

The most basic health precautions are provision of adequate nutrition and maintenance of pen hygiene. Animals on low plane of nutrition are more susceptible to diseases than well-fed ones. Sheep pens should be cleaned at least once a month and periodically disinfected.

Overcrowding should be avoided. Sick animals should be transferred to a sick or isolation pen for proper veterinary care to reduce chances of infecting other animals. Newly purchased animals should be properly quarantined before introduction into the main flock. PPR, which is a major disease especially in the southern parts of the country can effectively be controlled though vaccination.

 Helminthiasis and ectoparasites can be controlled by routine deworming and tick baths. Their importance varies from farm to farm depending on grazing management as well as between seasons. 

These diseases are more prevalent in the rainy season. Routine deworming with anthelmintics and tick-baths with acaricides should be carried out once in three months during the dry season depending on the severity of the problem.

The farmer should ensure that lambs receive colostrums from their dams after birth. The navels of newly born lambs should be swabbed with iodine tincture.

Coccidiosis tends to become a problem in newly weaned lambs and should be treated against as advised by a veterinarian.

In general, it is good practice to do the following:

1. Maintain environment sanitation especially in pens

2. Adopt good internal and external parasites control measures.

3. Observe the flock closely early in the morning and at other times for early detection of sick animals

4. Isolate sick animal and seek prompt veterinary attention for diagnosis and treatment.

5. Keep proper health records and have animals that died autopsied.

6. Keep newly purchased animal under for 30 days if possible before introduction into the main flock

7. Provide mineral salt licks and clean water in pens always.

8. Ensure that animals are receiving adequate and balanced ration.

9. Where pastures have been established rotational system of grazing between paddocks should be enforced to avoid buildup of parasites on pastures.

10. Trim hooves and horns when necessary.


Feed Lot Fattening of Rams

A major attraction of intensive sheep production is the opportunity it offers for large scale production of rams especially for sale during festivals when they can be sold at very high prices.

Before ‘rushing into the business however, there is need for careful planning if the venture is not to fail. Important points to consider include source of rams, healthcare, housing, feeding and the market.

All these must be properly taken care of.

Rams for fattening can come from the farm flock or may be purchased on the open market at a time when prices are relatively low.

For best results rams should be fattened for 3 to 4 months before sale. The buying periods can be timed accordingly. When buying rams from the open market the relevant precautions listed in section 2 should be observed.

In particular a festival ram should have well grown horns and be free from any deformities which may affect its subsequent market value. The rams should be between 1 and 4 years old. There is generally a good market for large grown animal. Avoid very young and very old animals.

After purchases, the rams should be quarantined during which time they should be de-wormed, given tick bath and treated against coccidiosis.

Feed supplies and feeding practice considerably influence the weight gains of animals and consequently the profit margin.

Therefore it is essential to feed animals adequately both in terms of quality. Feedlot rams should be fed good quality grass or legume hay at daily rates of 1 to 2.5 kg, depending on size of ram and type of hay, plus 0.2 to 0.5 kg of a concentrate mixture.

Three examples of suitable fattening concentrate rations for sheep are as follows:

A.  Maize 25%

Cottonseed cake 25%

Wheat offal 30% Brewers dried grains 20%

B.  Wheat offal 40%

Cottonseed cake 25%

Brewers dried grains 25%

Molasses 10%

C.  Wheat offal 35%

Palm kernel cake 30%

Brewers dried grains 25%

Molasses 10%

Where labour costs are low rations may be given in equal installments two or three times daily otherwise the rations can be fed ad libitum.

Where rams for fattening are to come from the farm flock weaned lambs should be kept in groups and fed high quality chopped hay (preferably legume) ad labium until they weigh above 20 kg each thereafter they should be transferred to the feedlot pen and fed as described above.

Feedlot rams should be washed with soap and groomed to make them more attractive to buyers, about four days before sale.


Conclusion on General Principles of Sheep Management in Nigeria

The study content has shown that different breeds of sheep are adapted and perform best in their native ecological zones. Production therefore must need to follow the dictates of the climatic environment.

In the alternative, sufficient provisions in terms of adoption of appropriate stocking and production procedures must be in place to raise a profitable flock. These procedures have been stated and packaged to offer theoretical and practical knowledge required in this level of animal production course. 

Sheep in Nigeria are categorized into four, namely the West African Dwarf, Uda, Balami and Yankasa. 

The body features, native ecological zone, body size, height at withers, shape and size of certain body parts are their distinguishing characteristics.

Production performances vary with their genetic inheritance, management system, feeding and other production practices applied to harmonize genetic potential and performance. 

Principles underlying the production practices are mentioned in course of stating the procedures to enable student grasp the study content and apply appropriately.

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