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Fact Friday: Sheep Teeth

A subject that comes up quite often here is our sheep teeth, and you might wonder why? So, we thought it was about time we brought you a well overdue Fact Friday and an explanation! But to begin with, assuming you’re not all ovine dentists, a little background.

Adult sheep have 32 permanent teeth which are divided into two sections. They have eight incisors in the lower front jaw and twenty-four molars. Sheep have no teeth in the front part of their upper jaw, and this instead consists of a dense, hard, fibrous pad that aids in grabbing and chewing grass. They also use their tongue to wrap, tear and chew on fibrous vegetable materials.

At birth, lambs usually have no teeth. Within a week after birth, their milk teeth appear in the front lower jaw and by two months, eight in all, have erupted. These temporary teeth are replaced by permanent incisors, which appear in pairs, starting with the two central teeth, followed by one on either side at intervals, until the eight temporary teeth have been replaced. During this time when their teeth are growing, sheep are referred to by the number of permanent incisors they have, such as two-tooth, four-tooth, six-tooth, eight-tooth or "full mouth" at around three to four years old.

The next stage after full mouth is known as "broken mouth" as their incisors will now start to spread out, wear down, break, or even fall out. This is just natural wear and tear through constant chewing of fibrous grasses, and eventually, we see what is known as a “gummer”. These sheep have no incisors left at all and are simply left with their molars, and yes, you’ve guessed it, their hard gums.

These are the sheep who are quite a topic of conversation at Brockswood as now that many of our residents are reaching old age, we are now altering many of our care routines to take these individuals into account. These sheep would very likely be culled in some settings where individual care would not be possible, but here we will simply alter their diets and care plans. We keep a close eye on the body condition of each of these sheep to ensure none are losing weight and are still able to take in both the right amounts of food, but also the same levels of nutrients. This can involve feeding separately, moving into smaller groups, feeding shorter fibres, making up mash feeds, and providing supplements, as well as health checks from both us and our veterinarians.

You will have met many of these sheep and not even know anything was different about them!

It is just one of several issues we are working with as our residents grow older, making us think outside of the box, as many of these animals simply don’t live this long outside of sanctuaries. There is a little research as a result and so we are amazing residents here who have a lot to teach us!

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