Showing Wensleydale Sheep

Some hazards to be aware of before, during and after taking your sheep to shows.

When you are showing sheep they should be an advertisement for your flock and for the breed.

They should be:

  • Healthy
  • In good condition
  • Clean – free of vegetable matter in the fleece
  • No evidence of diarrhoea around the rear end.



Diseases can be spread by direct or indirect contact. Sheep with obvious disease should NEVER be presented at shows even though it may be very disappointing to have to pull out at the last moment. Consult your vet if in any doubt.

During the show it is often possible for sheep to have nose-to-nose contact with adjacent pens.  Putting up sheeting inside the pen sides is a good precaution. Better still, if you are able to leave an empty pen either side (often not possible I know).

Common diseases which can easily be spread (not an exhaustive list!) include:

Footrot and CODD – both very infectious diseases causing lameness. The bacteria which cause them can survive on grass so can be transmitted to healthy sheep. Trimming feet is now not advised for treating these types of lameness. For show purposes, feet can be tidied up by carefully trimming excess horn but be very careful not to cut too deep causing bleeding.

Orf – a virus disease causing scabs around the mouth and lips. Very infectious to other sheep and to people.

Sheep scab mites (Psoroptic mange) and lice. – cause itching, rubbing and wool loss. Easily spread by direct and indirect contact. Need veterinary diagnosis to determine differentiation and correct treatment.

Ear mites – caused by a subspecies of the sheep scab mite, adapted to living in ears. Cause head shaking, rubbing, ear haematomas and cauliflower ears. Can be treated with injectable avermectins (not oral); dipping does not control. Ask your vet for advice.

Leg mites( Chorioptic mange) – cause irritation of lower legs, nibbling, rubbing of legs against fences and troughs and scaling of lower legs, scrotum and udder. Very common, no recognised licensed treatment. Consult your vet.

Maedi visna – a viral disease affecting the lungs. Well recognised accreditation scheme using blood testing to identify flocks free of infection. Spread by droplets of nasal secretions. Accredited free animals should never be mixed with untested animals.

Pulmonary adenomatosis (Jaagsiekte, OPA) – another viral disease, causes tumours in the lungs. Currently no blood test to show presence or absence of the disease. Ultrasound can be used to aid diagnosis but only once the animal has lung tumours present. Spread by nasal secretions and droplets.

Caseous lymphadenitis – a bacterial disease which causes internal and external abscesses, particularly in the lymph nodes of the head and neck. Can be spread by contamination with pus from a burst abscess.

Pink eye (Infectious ovine keratoconjunctivitis) – several bacteria can cause eye infections which are often difficult to treat. Spread by contact with eye discharges.

Body condition

Show sheep should be in good bodily condition, preferably condition score 3-4. Excessively overweight sheep rolling in fat are likely to be unhealthy. Sheep that are too thin will be a poor advertisement for your flock and the breed generally.

Feeding – over-feeding or sudden changes in diet commonly cause scouring (see below) or worse still, rumen dysfunction, so make any changes gradually. Overfeeding or prolonged feeding of high levels of concentrates can also lead to two particular problems:- (1) Copper toxicity is not particularly common in Wensleydales (Texels are very susceptible) but care needs to be taken to feed only concentrates formulated for sheep. Cattle concentrates should NEVER be fed to sheep as the copper content is too high. (2) Urinary calculi causing urinary obstruction in males are also possible if rations are not correctly formulated.


Fleeces – should be clean and open easily to show ringlet formation. Avoid feeding hay above head height as hayseeds etc will fall into the fleece and spoil it. Show sheep can be prepared by washing in clean running water a week or so beforehand. Do not use shampoo and do not rub the fleece, just allow water from a hosepipe to flow through the wool, or use a clean dip or a suitable stream if you have one (as was done in days gone by). Wensleydales should never be brushed.

Faeces – Wensleydales are quite prone to loose faeces or scouring even if worm control is good. Over-feeding with concentrates in the run up to a show or commonly during a show will precipitate this so do not make any sudden dietary changes. Lush grass can also be a cause. Sometimes there is no particular reason! If a sheep has a dirty rear end it should be cleaned as soon as possible.  Try not to trim too much wool off as this will spoil their appearance. Use running water from a hosepipe to wash away any faecal material.


Which vaccines are used will depend on the disease situation or risks in a particular flock and should form part of a health plan. However all flocks are potentially at risk of clostridial diseases which often kill without warning so use of a clostridial vaccine is strongly recommended. Animals need a primary course of two injections 4-6 weeks apart then annual boosters given 4-6 weeks before lambing. This protects the animals themselves and in pregnant ewes protects lambs via the colostrum. Don’t forget rams too.

After a show…

Show sheep should preferably be kept separate from the rest of the flock for a couple of weeks at least so that, if the worst happens and they have picked up any disease, spread may be confined (but some diseases have much longer incubation periods). Reduce concentrates slowly and give access to grass. Keep a close eye for any lameness or other deviation from normal.


Professor Agnes Winter FRCVS

7th April 2019