Publication - Advice and guidance

Welfare of sheep: code of practice

Published: 23 Apr 2012
Agriculture and Rural Economy Directorate
Part of:
Farming and rural

The aim of this code is to help people responsible for sheep to look after these animals properly.

35 page PDF

445.0 kB

35 page PDF

445.0 kB

Welfare of sheep: code of practice

35 page PDF

445.0 kB



Schedule 1, paragraph 2 of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 (S.S.I. 2010 No. 388) requires that:

  • animals kept in husbandry systems in which their welfare depends on frequent human attention must be adequately inspected at least once a day to check that they are in a state of well-being
  • animals kept in systems other than husbandry systems in which their welfare depends on frequent human attention must be inspected at intervals sufficient to avoid any suffering

Schedule 1, paragraph 5 states that any animals which appear to be ill or injured:

  • must be cared for appropriately without delay
  • where they do not respond to such care, veterinary advice must be obtained as soon as reasonably practicable

Schedule 1, paragraph 7 of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 (S.S.I. 2010 No. 388) states that a record must be maintained of:

  • any medicinal treatment given to animals
  • the number of mortalities found on each inspection of animals

Schedule 1, paragraph 8 states that the record referred to in paragraph 7 must be retained for a period of at least three years from the date on which the medicinal treatment was given, or the date of the inspection, as the case may be, and must be made available to an inspector on request.

20 Shepherds should be experienced or trained and be competent across the range of health and welfare skills which should include vaccination; drenching; prevention of footrot and treatment of lame sheep; prevention and treatment of internal and external parasites including scab and fly strike; tail docking; and castration. It is particularly important that shepherds have competence in the skills required at lambing time.

21 A written health and welfare programme for all animals should be prepared for each flock. This should cover the yearly production cycle. It should be developed with appropriate veterinary and technical advice and reviewed and updated annually. The programme should include sufficient records to assess the basic output of the flock and should address as a minimum, vaccination policy and timing, control of external and internal parasites, and foot care. Pasture management should form an integral part of disease control and especially so in the case of internal parasites and footrot where total reliance on drugs is better to be avoided.

22 Particular attention should be paid to sheep, including rams, which are to be introduced into an established flock, since diseases can easily be spread. Such sheep should be segregated for at least four weeks and inspected and treated, if necessary, for diseases such as sheep scab or footrot. Newly introduced ewes should again be segregated about four weeks before lambing and lambed separately, preferably after the main flock, to avoid the introduction of infectious abortion agents at this time.

23 Before introduction of rams to a flock at tupping time, ewes should be checked for fitness (especially for lameness, teeth, udders and body condition) and any ewe which is sub-standard should be culled together with any known to have suffered reproductive problems in previous seasons. This is particularly important for animals expected to live under harsh conditions. Rams should also be checked for their suitability for breeding.

24 Records must be maintained (see box before paragraph 20 of any medicinal treatment given and the number of mortalities found in each inspection. Where equivalent information is required to be kept for other purposes, such as for medicine records or sheep identification, these shall suffice.


25 The health and welfare of animals depend upon regular supervision. Shepherds should carry out inspections of the flock at intervals appropriate to the circumstances in which sheep are kept and pay particular attention to signs of injury, distress, illness or infestation (e.g. sheep scab, fly strike, lameness and mastitis) so that these conditions can be recognised and dealt with promptly. Frequency of inspection will depend on factors which affect sheep welfare at any particular time, e.g. housing, lambing, fly strike, adverse winter weather conditions etc.

Condition scoring

26 Sheep farmers and shepherds should be aware that the use of condition scoring can contribute significantly to good husbandry. Condition scoring is an easy technique to learn and allows the body reserves of individual sheep to be assessed quickly. The information gained enables high standards of husbandry to be achieved and can prevent a welfare problem from developing. This technique enables the identification of animals requiring special care. For example, a condition score of less than 2 for lowland sheep, and 1.5 for those on the hill, in a significant number of the flock can indicate inadequate management and the need for positive steps to rectify the situation.


27 Lameness in any animal is usually an indication of pain. Lameness in sheep is one of the most common signs of ill-health and discomfort. It has clear adverse welfare implications and also affects the performance and production of both ewes and rams. A significant percentage of sheep with chronic lameness may be indicative of poor overall welfare standards within the flock.

28 Good stockmanship, including frequent and thorough inspection along with correct diagnosis and implementation of a suitable programme of prevention and treatment, will help to reduce the incidence of lameness.

29 Lameness can originate in the feet or joints, although in adult sheep the foot is the most common site. A flock programme of footcare should be part of the written welfare programme referred to at paragraph 21. An effective footcare programme will include regular inspection of sheep feet. It may also necessitate regular and careful paring, treatment of infected feet and footbathing with a suitable solution which is maintained at the manufacturer's recommended dilution and, where appropriate, vaccination. If footrot is a major cause of lameness or if normal treatments are unsuccessful, veterinary advice should be sought.

30 Footparing is a skilled procedure and can damage feet if carried out incorrectly or excessively. If in doubt, specialist advice should be sought.

31 If a chronically lame sheep does not respond to remedial treatment it should be culled and not left to suffer. As such animals cannot be transported in a way which avoids further suffering, they should be slaughtered on the farm (see paragraph 37). In addition, sheep that cannot get up without assistance or sheep that can bear weight on only three legs when standing must not be transported. Sheep that can bear weight on all four feet but are slightly lame should not be consigned to market or on any journey which is likely to exacerbate the injury, however slight.

External parasites

32 Where external parasites, such as those causing scab or fly strike, ticks or lice, are likely to occur, sheep should be protected by dipping or the use of an effectie preventive chemical agent. Where sheep are clinically infected with such external parasites effective treatment must be given without delay.

Internal parasites

33 Internal parasites should be controlled by grazing management and/or anthelmintic treatment administered at appropriate times based upon the life cycle of the parasite. Advice on appropriate timing, and steps to avoid the development of anthelmintic resistant worms should be sought from a veterinary surgeon or specialist adviser.


34 Injured, ailing or distressed sheep should be identified and treated without delay. Where the shepherd is able to identify the cause of ill-health, he or she should take immediate remedial action. When in doubt, veterinary advice should be obtained as soon as possible.

35 Provision should be made, and used when necessary, for the segregation and care of sick or injured animals. Unfit sheep (which includes infirm, diseased, ill, injured animals) should be removed from flocks.

36 If an unfit sheep does not respond to treatment, it should be culled or humanely killed on-farm. To cause or allow unnecessary pain or unnecessary distress by leaving a sheep to suffer is an offence.

37 In an emergency, it may be necessary to kill an animal immediately to prevent suffering. In such cases, the animal should be destroyed in a humane manner and, where possible, by a person experienced and/or trained both in the techniques and the equipment used for killing sheep.

38 If animals are killed or slaughtered on-farm, other than in an emergency, the operation may only be carried out using a permitted method and in accordance with current welfare at slaughter legislation.

It is a general offence under the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 (SI 1995 No. 731) as amended by the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) (Amendment) Regulations 1999 (S.I. 1999 No. 400) to cause or permit any avoidable excitement, pain or suffering to any animal during slaughter or killing (regulation 4(1)). The general offence applies in all cases, but the detailed provisions in respect of the method of slaughter or killing do not apply when an animal has to be killed immediately for emergency reasons (regulation 13(2)).

When an animal is slaughtered or killed on-farm this must be done using a permitted method. The animal could be:

  • stunned using a captive bolt pistol, concussion stunner or electrical stunner after which it must be followed by bleeding - or pithed - without delay (regulation 14 and Schedules 5 (Part II) and 6). If the animal is stunned and bled the operation must be carried out by a slaughterman licensed for these operations (Schedule 1), unless the owner is slaughtering an animal for his own consumption
  • killed by a free bullet (Regulation 15 and Schedule 5 Part III); the animal should be killed with a single shot to the head

N.B. The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 (as amended) will be repealed when Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing comes into effect on 1 January 2013.

39 An unfit sheep may only be transported if it is being taken for veterinary treatment/diagnosis or is going to the nearest available place of slaughter and then only provided it is transported in a way which is not going to cause it further suffering. Further advice can be found in a DEFRA booklet which gives guidance on the transport of casualty farm animals (see Appendix).

Article 3 of Council Regulation (EC) No. 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport and related operations, states that:

No person shall transport animals or cause animals to be transported in a way likely to cause injury or undue suffering to them.

In addition, the following conditions shall be complied with:

(a) all necessary arrangements have been made in advance to minimise the length of the journey and meet the animals' needs during the journey;

(b) the animals are fit for the journey;

(c) the means of transport are designed, constructed, maintained and operated so as to avoid injury and suffering and ensure the safety of the animals;

(d) the loading and unloading facilities are adequately designed, constructed, maintained and operated so as to avoid injury and suffering and ensure the safety of the animals;

(e) the personnel handling animals are trained or competent as appropriate for this purpose and carry out their tasks without using violence or any method likely to cause unnecessary fear, injury or suffering;

(f) the transport is carried out without delay to the place of destination and the welfare conditions of the animals are regularly checked and appropriately maintained;

(g) sufficient floor area and height is provided for the animals, appropriate to their size and the intended journey;

(h) water, feed and rest are offered to the animals at suitable intervals and are appropriate in quality and quantity to their species and size.

Annex 1 states that:

However, sick or injured animals may be considered fit for transport if they are:

(a) slightly injured or ill and transport would not cause additional suffering: in cases of doubt, veterinary advice shall be sought;

(b) transported for the purpose of Council Directive 86/609/EEC if the illness or injury is part of a research programme;

(c) transported under veterinary supervision for or following veterinary treatment or diagnosis. However, such transport shall be permitted only where no unnecessary suffering or ill treatment is caused to the animals concerned;

(d) animals that have been submitted to veterinary procedures in relation to farming practices such as dehorning or castration, provided that wounds have completely healed.

Dosing and vaccination equipment

40 Care should be taken to ensure that all equipment used in dosing, vaccination and treatment is maintained to a satisfactory standard. Equipment used for any injections should be frequently cleansed and sterilised to avoid infections. Ideally, disposable needles should be used. Dosing gun nozzles should be of a suitable size for the age of the sheep. Hazardous objects such as needles should be disposed of safely in accordance with current legislation.

41 Where necessary, the shepherd should receive training in the use and maintenance of equipment used for dosing, vaccination and treatment.


Email: Pam Kennedy