Sheep are one of the oldest domesticated animals and for good reason. They provide wool, milk, and meat while being charming and friendly creatures around the farm. However, as with any livestock, there are essential considerations to remember before bringing them home. If you’re a beginner in sheep-keeping, you must have a solid understanding of what’s necessary to keep these animals healthy and happy. There’s a lot to learn from choosing the right breed to providing proper shelter and food. In this article, we’ll guide you through the essential steps of raising sheep for beginners.
Benefits of Raising Sheep
Raising sheep has many benefits for the farmer and the environment. Sheep provide wool, meat, and milk. Wool is a highly valuable fiber and can be sold for a reasonable price. Lambs can be sold for meat, and sheep’s milk can be used to make cheese and other dairy products. Additionally, sheep can help maintain pastures and improve soil quality through their grazing habits. Grazing sheep can prevent the growth of invasive plant species and promote the growth of beneficial plants. And unlike other forms of livestock, sheep are relatively low maintenance and can thrive in various environments. Overall, raising sheep can be a profitable and sustainable venture.
Breeds of Sheep
Choosing the right breed of sheep is an important decision for any farmer or livestock owner. Different breeds have unique characteristics, such as wool quality, milk production, meat yield, and resistance to common diseases. It is essential to research and evaluate your farm’s specific needs and intended use for the sheep. Other factors to consider are the climate, grazing conditions, and available resources, such as food and water. By choosing the right breed of sheep, you can ensure the success and profitability of your flock. Here is some information on the different breeds to help you choose what is best for you.
Hair Sheep Breeds
Hair sheep breeds are unique from other sheep because they do not have wool. Instead, they have hair, which they shed annually. This makes them a low-maintenance option for farmers since they do not require shearing. Some popular hair sheep breeds include the Barbados Blackbelly, Katahdin, and Dorper. Hair sheep are also more resistant to parasites and diseases than wool sheep, making them a practical choice for farmers in warmer climates.
Meat sheep breeds refer to those breeds of sheep specifically developed for their ability to produce high-quality meat. These breeds have been selected for traits such as rapid growth, high muscle content, and superior meat flavor. Some of the most popular meat sheep breeds include Suffolk, Dorset, Hampshire, and Texel. These breeds have become increasingly popular as consumers have become more interested in locally sourced, high-quality meat products. Farmers who raise meat sheep breeds can also benefit from the demand for these products, as they can often sell their meat for a premium price compared to other types of sheep. Usually, sheep that are bred for meat will be categorized into two types which are feeder lambs and market lambs.
Feeder lambs refer to young sheep that are raised specifically for meat production. These lambs are typically between 60-90 pounds and are sold to feedlots, where they are fed a specialized diet to help them quickly gain weight and prepare them for slaughter.
Market lambs, on the other hand, are lambs that have been raised to their full market weight and are ready for slaughter. They are typically sold at around one year old and weigh between 110 and 150 pounds. The primary difference between feeder and market lambs is the stage of production they are in and their intended use in the meat industry.
Dairy sheep breeds are a type of sheep specifically bred for their high milk production. These sheep are commonly found in countries such as Greece, Italy, and France, where sheep milk is a popular ingredient in traditional cheeses. Some popular dairy sheep breeds include the East Friesian, Lacaune, and Awassi. In addition to their milk production, dairy sheep are also prized for their hardiness and adaptability, making them a valuable addition to many farms worldwide.
Dual-purpose sheep breeds are breeds that are used for both their meat and wool. These breeds have been specially bred and selected for producing high-quality wool and meat that is both flavorful and tender. Some popular dual-purpose sheep breeds include the Dorset, Columbia, and Romney. These breeds are highly adaptable to different climates and environments, making them ideal for farmers looking for a versatile and hardy breed of sheep to raise. The use of dual-purpose sheep breeds not only provides a sustainable source of meat and wool but also contributes to preserving traditional sheep farming practices and breeds.
Housing and Fencing Requirements for Sheep
Square Feet Needed per Animal
The square feet needed per sheep can vary depending on various factors such as breed, age, climate, and housing conditions. Generally, a minimum of 15-20 square feet of space per sheep is required for them to move around and graze comfortably without overcrowding. However, if they are kept indoors for most of the day, additional space may be needed to avoid health and behavioral issues. It is essential to consider the needs and wellbeing of the sheep when determining the appropriate size of land or space required for them.
Types of Fences Needed
There are various options to consider when it comes to fencing for sheep. Several elements, including the size of your flock, your financial situation, the threat of local predators, and the topography of your land will influence your fence choice. Here are some typical kinds of sheep fences:
Woven Wire Fencing
Woven wire fencing is an effective and popular choice for sheep farmers. It provides a secure barrier to keep sheep within a designated area while keeping out predators and unwanted wildlife. Woven wire fencing is made with strong, durable materials that can withstand the wear and tear of livestock and weather. It is also easy to install and maintain, making it a cost-effective option for farmers. It is made of horizontal wires that are intertwined to form tiny square or rectangular entrances. It must be at least 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall to prevent sheep from jumping over the fence. Lambs may be prevented from escaping by the lower, smaller mesh size.
Electric fencing is an effective and commonly used method for containing sheep in a pasture or paddock. Compared to traditional fencing, electric fencing is more economical, requires less maintenance, and is easier to install. The electric fence works by delivering a non-lethal electric shock to the sheep when they come into contact with the wire. This not only keeps the sheep within the designated area but also deters predators from entering the area. When setting up an electric fence for sheep farming, it’s crucial to ensure that the power supply is reliable and that the fencing material is grounded correctly.
High-tensile fencing is lightweight yet incredibly strong, making it ideal for livestock containment. This type of fencing can withstand a lot of pressure and is much more durable than traditional types of fencing. It is also cost-effective, as it requires minimal maintenance and is long-lasting. This type of fencing requires sturdy corner and end posts and proper bracing for support to keep your sheep safe from predators and to ensure that they do not wander off.
Barbed Wire Fencing
Barbed wire fencing is a commonly used method for enclosing and protecting sheep pasture. It is cost-effective, durable, and easy to install. The sharp barbs on the wire act as a deterrent, preventing predators from entering the enclosure and harming the sheep. When installing barbed wire fencing for sheep, it is vital to ensure that the fence is at least 4 feet tall to prevent the sheep from jumping over it. However, when using barbed wire, it’s important to ensure that the lowest strand is at a safe height to prevent sheep from getting entangled or injured.
Netting fences, such as sheep or goat netting, are designed explicitly for containing small farm animals. They are typically made of woven wire with smaller mesh sizes near the bottom to prevent lambs from escaping. Netting fences are usually 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters) tall and provide good protection against predators.
Lambing Pens or Jugs
Lambing pens or jugs are essential for providing a safe and comfortable environment for ewes with lambs during the lambing season. These pens are designed to be small and enclosed, providing a warm and secure space for the new mother and her newborn lambs to bond without interference from other members of the flock. Additionally, lambing pens allow for easy monitoring and management of the birthing process, as well as providing access to veterinary care if necessary. Overall, investing in good quality lambing pens or jugs can help improve the health and wellbeing of your flock and increase the number of healthy lambs born each year.
Nutrition & Feeding Requirements for Sheep
Grain Feeds for Adult Sheep
When it comes to feeding adult sheep, grain feeds can play an essential role in their nutrition and overall health. These types of feeds offer a concentrated source of energy and protein, which can be helpful for maintaining the sheep’s weight and promoting growth. However, it’s important to choose the right type of grain feed and to use it in moderation, as overfeeding can lead to health problems like digestive issues and obesity. Working with a knowledgeable veterinarian or animal nutritionist can help ensure that you choose the best grain feed for your adult sheep and that you use it in a safe and effective way to keep your sheep healthy.
Forage and Pasture Needs of Sheep
Sheep need a balanced and nutritious diet that meets their forage and pasture needs in order to maintain good health and productivity. Forages and pastures are the primary sources of nutrients for sheep, providing them with essential vitamins, minerals, and energy. Proper management of pastures and forages is crucial as it can affect the quality of feed, which can impact the growth rates, milk production, and overall health of the sheep. Providing adequate grazing areas, proper fertilization, and careful selection of forage and pasture species can help ensure that sheep receive the nutrients they need to thrive.
Fresh Water Supply
Sheep, like all animals, require access to fresh and clean water for survival. Providing a reliable and clean water source is critical to their health and wellbeing. In many cases, farmers or ranchers will use natural sources of water such as rivers or streams to provide water for their sheep, but it is essential to regularly test and monitor the water quality and make it clean from contaminants such as sheep manure to ensure it is safe for consumption. In areas where natural water sources aren’t available or reliable, farmers may need to use man-made water sources such as wells or reservoirs to provide water for their sheep. You can also make or invest in a sheep waterer to make it easier for sheep to have easy access to water. Regardless of the source, ensuring a consistent supply of fresh water is crucial for the health and productivity of sheep.
Salt Blocks and Mineral Supplements
Salt blocks and mineral supplements are essential for maintaining the health and wellbeing of sheep. These supplements provide necessary minerals and nutrients that are often lacking in their natural diet. Salt blocks help regulate the water balance in the sheep’s body and keep them hydrated. Mineral supplements provide essential nutrients like copper, zinc, and selenium, which are crucial for healthy growth, reproduction, and disease prevention. Without these supplements, sheep are at risk of developing various deficiencies and diseases, which can have a detrimental effect on their overall health and productivity. Thus, it is essential to provide sheep with adequate salt blocks and mineral supplements to ensure you have healthy sheep.
Breeding sheep is an essential part of the sheep farming industry, especially during breeding seasons, which usually happens from February to June. A ewe will go into heat during this time and briefly ovulate around every 16 days in cycles known as oestrus cycles. Proper breeding involves selecting the suitable breeding flocks by pairing male and female sheep with desirable traits to produce offspring that are of high quality and meet market demands. Farmers must carefully consider factors such as breed genetics, health, and temperament when selecting breeding sheep. According to experts, a sheep, from being an ewe lamb, must reach 10-12 months of age before it is at a good breeding age. During the breeding process, farmers must also ensure that the sheep are well-fed and adequately cared for. Successful breeding can lead to increased sheep production and profits for farmers and a steady supply of high-quality sheep products for consumers.