Sheep have become a popular animal to raise. They are generally gentle, easy animals and are well-adapted to outdoor conditions. Sheep can be raised through grazing, which makes their food costs low to non-existent. They have multiple uses and are raised for a variety of reasons. Let’s discuss what you need to know to raise sheep.
1. Decide The Reason For Raising Sheep
There are many reasons that sheep are growing in popularity. They are mild-mannered, calm, and mellow. This makes them a great project to teach kids responsibility and it makes them a good pet. Sheep produce many by-products, including meat, wool, and milk.
Additionally, in the United States, they are also being used as an environmentally friendly way to control landscaping.
- Teach Responsibility: Kids learn responsibility by having other living things dependant on them. They learn to put their own wants and needs after the needs of another. 4-H is one program that helps to teach kids the skills needed and provides them with an outlet for success.
- As A Pet: Sheep are calm and docile. They can recognize and remember individual human faces for years. They love and bond to human owners and recognize their voices. They can be trained to obey different commands. Rams are not a good pet because they get aggressive. Sheep can even recognize and respond to emotions.
- Self-Sufficiency: Not all sheep raisers want to make a profit. Some want to have quality lamb meat, wool, or milk available for their family for a fraction of the market cost. Raising sheep is an ideal way to meet this objective.
- Income: Sheep profit margin is more narrow than some of the other farm animals. Often hundreds of sheep are needed to cover set costs of owning sheep and increase the profits.
- Milk: Sheep milk has a much higher fat content than goat or cow milk. This makes it ideal for cheese making because it produces more cheese per volume than other types of milk. It freezes well and can be helpful for those who can’t drink cow’s milk.
- Meat: Sheep meat sells for a premium. Often sheep raisers sell the rams or yearlings for meat. Some breeds of sheep are more ideal for meat sheep than others.
- Wool: Sheep produce different types of wool. Some farmers raise specialty sheep and grow premium wool. Those types of wool sell for a premium. Other farmers sell wool for textile manufacturing or other types of products such as carpet.
- To Sell the Lambs or Sheep To Other Farmers: Most sheep raisers will sell additional lambs and rams to other farmers. These young lambs can then be raised for a specific purpose. The profits from selling your herd’s offspring bring in additional profit.
- To Control Grass And Weeds: Sheep have become very popular in the United States as an environmentally friendly way to control landscaping. They contribute manure back into the soil, enriching it. They trim and eat the grass down to about 2 inches from the ground, making them a great mower. Sheep are better than goats at keeping a lawn healthy, but goats are better for weed control.
2. Choose The Type Of Sheep You Want
Sheep varieties are broken down into many categories:
- Hair sheep and wool
- Fine wool and carpet wool sheep
- Milk sheep and meat sheep
- Purebreds and crossbreds
- Highly reproductive sheep and less-reproductive sheep.
Choosing the right type of sheep can be overwhelming. Instead of becoming overwhelmed with all the different choices. If you are just getting started, then start with the basics. First, do you want to shear your sheep annually?
If you choose a wool sheep, you will need to sheer your sheep every year. That isn’t too hard, but it will take time to learn and will take time each year. A hair sheep shed on its own and doesn’t need to be sheared.
Secondly, decide if you want milk, meat, or wool sheep? It is often possible to have sheep with two focus products. You might be able to get wool and milk. Or meat and milk. Choosing your primary purpose will help you to determine what breeds to focus on.
If you choose wool as your main purpose, you might want to focus on a premium wool sheep. But, if you choose milk or meat, then you can choose a sheep that is ideal for those products and then decide if you also want wool.
Third, decide if you want to sell your lambs and ewes at a premium. This makes a difference in whether you want to purchase a purebred or registered sheep.
If you are a new sheep raiser, then it is probably better to become more experienced and educated in raising sheep before you start purchasing purebred sheep. It can be very expensive to lose purebred sheep to issues caused by inexperience.
Questions To Determine What Kind Of Sheep To Raise:
- Do you want to shear your sheep annually
- Do you want milk, meat, or wool production as a primary product?
- Do you want wool or hair sheep?
- Do you want to sell live sheep at a premium?
|Wool: Long & Fine||Meat: Wool & Hair||Milk|
|Leicesters – Long||Corriedale – Wool Large||Awassi – shaggy wool|
|Coopworth – Long||Dorset – Wool Medium||East Friesian – more difficult|
|Cotswold – Long||Polypay – Wool Many lambs||Lacaune – great for cheese|
|Lincoln – Long||Columbia – Wool Large breed|
|Perendale – Long||Hampshire – Hair Large breed|
|Merino – Short||Katahdin – Hair Low maintenance|
|Debouillet – Short||Romney – Hair|
|American Cormo – Short||Suffolk – Hair Most popular in the U.S.|
3. Know How Much Land Sheep Need
Generally, 4-5 sheep can fit on an acre of land. In some cases, as many as 10 sheep can fit on land with good healthy grass for grazing. That’s between 0.20 and 0.40 acres of land per 1-2 sheep.
The exact number depends on the type of grass and how healthy and hearty it is. If you have strong grass that is kept up and watered frequently, then you can fit more sheep on an acre. If you have pasture or natural grass, then it is better to opt for 5 sheep in an acre.
|City Lot||Country Pasture|
|0.20 – 0.40 Acres||1 Lamb. Supply additional feed||1 Lamb|
|0.50 – 0.60 Acres||2 Lambs||3-4 Lambs if all pasture grass|
|0.75 -1.0 Acres||3 Lambs||5-7 Lambs|
Generally, city lots can support fewer lambs than a country pasture. Part of this is due to restrictions usually found in cities. It is also because often a city lot includes other things such as sidewalks, houses, and other structures that don’t benefit the lamb.
Sheep need much less land than other animals such as cows or pigs, which makes them a great option for many urban homesteaders.
If you aren’t planning to grass-feed your sheep, then you can keep sheep in smaller areas. You will need to supply their food, but they will be happy with less space. An ewe needs 12-16 square feet of space in a pet. The following space requirements are recommended in a penned setting:
|Number and Type of Sheep||Space Needed Per Sheep For Good Health|
|Ewe||12-16 sq feet|
|Lambing ewe||16-25 sq feet|
|Ewe and lambs||16-20 sq feet|
|Feeder Lambs||8-10 sq feet|
4. Set Up Protection Fencing From Predators
Many predators can kill or maim your sheep. If you live in the city, these predators can be neighborhood dogs, coyotes, or other animals. In the country, you may see wolves, foxes, cougars, bobcats, or other animals. It will depend on where you live.
Take precautions before you purchase your sheep to make sure that they will be safe. There are two major steps that you can take to protect your sheep: build a fence to keep out predators and employ a guard animal.
Fencing should generally be at least 6-8 feet tall and have no larger than 6 in gaps in the fence. If foxes are a major predator in your area, you will need even closer fencing and should not have gaps more than 3 inches wide.
Most predators can climb or leap so high fences are much more effective than shorter fencing. Other predators will dig to gain access under the fence. You can prevent access by burying the fence at least 6-12 inches underground. Electric fencing is often used as a deterrent for predators. It doesn’t kill the predator but teaches them that they can’t enter a specific area.
Check out this article for more information on keeping sheep safe.
Guard animals are also used to protect sheep. Alpacas or llamas are very popular for this. They are not loud animals but make a great defense against a predator. Donkeys are also very protective of a sheep flock.
Dogs don’t tend to be a good guard animal because sheep are instinctively afraid of them and it can cause panic and stress in your flock.
You can also light your corrals to ward off predator attacks at night.
5. Set Up Appropriate Shelter For The Sheep
There is a debate about whether sheep need shelter or not. In their natural state, sheep seldom have regular shelter. Ironically, it is often more important to protect sheep from the sun and heat than it is to protect them from snow and freezing temperatures.
Otherwise, only lambing usually requires shelter. Newborn lambs cannot stand cold and wet climates and will die.
Sheep are highly adapted to cold and wet climates. It is more important for them to have adequate ventilation. If they don’t get fresh air, then they are likely to suffer from respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis or pneumonia. Respiratory ailments are a major concern of raising sheep.
Make sure that your sheep have adequate shade in the summer. It can be an open barn, windbreak, or a little hut. This is especially important in humid climates that make it even harder for sheep to cool down.
In the winter, sheep can be provided with shelter, but it should have adequate ventilation still. A cold ventilated place is much healthier for sheep than a warmer, humid area.
Lambs should have greater shelter and protection in the first few months of their lives. Most sheep will give birth in the late winter or early spring. If you are breeding sheep to birth in the middle of winter, you will need to be able to provide adequate shelter longer than if sheep birth in the springtime.
6. Set Up Bedding Needs Of Sheep
Sheep need bedding to stay warm and dry. It provides them with insulation. The most popular type of bedding used is straw. Other beddings also work well such as shredded paper, corn husks, wood shavings or chips, leaves, hemp, or peat.
Even sand is sometimes used to help ewes who suffer from mastitis. Each type of bedding absorbs moisture differently and must be changed out at different intervals.
Decide what type of bedding you will provide. If your sheep are mainly going to be raised outdoors, then you will probably want natural-looking bedding instead of paper products. Consider what bedding is available for you locally and the relevant costs.
When it is time to change out the bedding, consider adding it to compost. It makes great compost for your garden or for another farmer.
7. Buy A Good Quality Sheep
It’s important to purchase a healthy, quality sheep. You can either purchase one from a registered seller or choose a nice one from a local seller. If you choose to purchase locally, then check your extension office for the names of sellers. Ask other sheep owners where they have purchased from.
You can purchase sheep from a sale barn or auction and it will likely be cheaper. However, many unwanted or flawed sheep, called culls, are sold that way. That means that you will be purchasing a less desired sheep.
When purchasing a sheep, check out the flock of the sheep you are considering buying. That can tell you a lot about the health of the sheep. Make sure the farm is clean and that the animals look healthy and happy.
There are also a few things to check on a sheep:
- Make sure the teeth align properly
- Eyes are bright and clear
- Sheep is alert and responsive with head held up
- Head and neck don’t have lumps
- No potbellies
- Check to make sure the sheep aren’t too fat or too thin
- Hooves should be properly trimmed
8. Feed And Water Your Sheep
Sheep require more protein than other animals. They are great grazers. If you have enough land, you can graze them. In the city, sheep will need about 70 feet x 70 feet of grass to graze. That’s per sheep!
Sheep can graze through 12 inches of snow. Additionally, they can usually get their water needs met by eating snow if the snow isn’t too crusty or hard for them to eat. But, it’s still a good idea to provide water for them in case they aren’t able to get enough water.
If you don’t have enough land to graze sheep, then you will need to supplement their feed. Sheep will eat between 500-900 pounds of hay each year. Sheep feed usually has more protein in it than the feed for other animals. That’s because sheep need more protein.
You can give sheep treats to help train them. They love grain, peanuts or apples. Give treats as a reward for training them, not as a regular diet. Otherwise, sheep can get fat and unhealthy.
Sheep also need a mineral supplement. Don’t purchase mineral supplements with high amounts of copper in them. Copper can be toxic to sheep and they can’t stomach it as goats can. Purchase a supplement with only trace amounts of copper or no copper at all.
They also need salt to prevent bloating.
Wool sheep must be sheared one to two times a year. Regular wool sheep must be sheared in the spring or they will be miserable and unhealthy. Heavy wool sheep must be sheared twice a year.
10. Worming Sheep And Parasites
Sheep are susceptible to parasites and other bugs. If your sheep show signs of worms, then treat them immediately. Some sheep raisers worm sheep two or three times a year while others use natural methods to keep sheep healthy. Sheep that have more space are less likely to get worms or to get sick.
Rotate sheep among fields. They can also be fed dichotomous earth with their feed. It helps to kill the worms and keeps the sheep healthy.
Dichotomous earth also helps to keep sheep free of the parasites that can cling to them in their wool and on their skin. In much the same manner that chickens use dirt, you can rub Diatomaceous earth into their wool. Add it to their bedding to kill unwanted fleas, lice, and other parasites.
Can I raise sheep in a backyard? Sheep need at least a lawn area of 70 x 70 feet to have enough grass to graze. You can also have sheep in an enclosed area and provide their food to them. Sheep need at least 15-20 feet per sheep (on average). It’s a good idea to have at least 2 sheep so that they have companionship.
The flocking instinct in sheep is very strong.
How can I raise sheep for profit? Sheep can be raised for profit. It can be hard for a small farmer to raise a flock and compete with the larger sheep operations. Sheep are most profitable when all of their byproducts are used for income.
Consider selling the wool, milk, and meat of sheep. Sell unwanted lambs or rams. Rent your sheep out for landscaping purposes and consider even selling their used bedding for composting. Making sheep profitable is most effective this way.