Monday, June 13, 2016

Sheep need a Shepherd

When you raise livestock whether it be sheep, goats, chickens etc. you will have losses. It is just part of the farming experience. It has been part of ours, raising sheep.  But, one thing that has not been our experience is the idea that sheep are just looking for a reason to die. 

If I had a dollar for every time that I heard that... (I could buy more sheep :) )

I think sheep are amazing animals but I do not think they are for everyone. They do need some basic care. 

If you plan on raising sheep here is a list of some of their basic needs

1. Sheep need sheared. Unless they are hair sheep, you need to plan on shearing them yearly. Sheep do not "shed' their annual wool clip and can become quite miserable when they are not sheared. The wool gets matted, heavy and in my opinion, the sheep can lose body condition. 

2. Sheep eat grass. If grass is not available they need quality hay. If you cannot find quality hay, plan on supplementing that lesser quality hay with grain. We plan on 5 pounds of hay a day, but that can vary depending on size of sheep and cold weather.  Our sheep are on pasture 12 months a year, our pastures are not anything special but the sheep manage to stay in good condition through the spring and summer months. When there is no grass we feed quality hay. Our sheep very seldom get grain, but we have added it to their diet, when needed.

3. Clean water. Sometimes in the winter that can be a challenge, breaking ice out of the water buckets, can be a daily chore. Watering time, has become our time to check on the sheep daily, a reason we do not have automatic waterers. (not that they are a bad thing)

4. Salt and Minerals. There is a mix you can buy at the local farm store, made just for sheep. Not any salt and mineral mix will do. Some are actually toxic to sheep as they can have too much copper added. It should be fed free choice.

5. Protection. Sheep can do really well without a shelter, our pastures have natural windbreaks and areas of shade. Very seldom do we need to bring them into the barn. They do need protection against predators, so if they are raised on pasture, good fencing is a must. When we bought our first sheep, we put them out in portable fencing during the day and brought them into the barn at night. 

6. A parasite program. As with other livestock, sheep can become infested with internal or external parasites. Some sheep are more resistant to parasites, but all sheep can get them. Sheep will die if they are not controlled. Vets, are usually willing to do fecal samples at a reasonable cost, so you can keep an eye on their parasite load. 

7. A shepherd. Our sheep are not pets, they roam the pastures, and are not handled on a daily basis. They do a great job converting grass to meat and wool. But even though we are pretty hands off, that does not mean they are ignored. They need to be watched and cared for. After raising them for many years, we can usually tell when something is not quite right and take care of a problem right away. We still have losses, that is part of shepherding, but we can keep them to a minimum with just a little care.

This is just a basic list, something to think about if you are considering sheep. 

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  1. Strange question-when you lose a lamb/sheep, what do you do with the body?

  2. Well stated information. It has been in the high 90's here and the poultry are hot...there is a breezeway in the tobacco barn that is well used and will help our sheep deal with heat when we get them. The sheep farms near us have a lot of shade shelters in the pastures with open sides to get air. We see more people checking their stock in this heat.


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