How To Care For A Sheep: A Simple Guide

Sheep have been domesticated for many thousands of years, and they have proven to be extremely useful stock for the small land holder. When you choose the right type of sheep for your homestead, you’ll have a good source of meat, milk and wool. In this article, we explore questions regarding keeping sheep on your homestead. Read on to learn more on how to care for a sheep.

Why Are Sheep Better Than Cattle For Small Land Holders?

why are sheep better than cattle

Sheep are easy keepers. You don’t need a large pasture full of fertilized grass to keep sheep successfully.

Instead, they do very well in a fairly small pasture full of brush and weeds, and keeping your sheep on this kind of land will actually improve the land. They make short work of undesirable vegetation, and their manure is marvelous for improving the quality of the soil.

Additionally, sheep are a lot easier to handle than cattle. They are smaller, and they have a gentler personality. Contrary to popular belief, sheep can swim, are fairly smart and trainable and will learn to come when called and cooperate with every day handling. This includes milking and shearing.

5 Reasons To Consider Sheep For Your Homestead

What’s The Best Multipurpose Sheep For A Small Homestead?

Your choice of sheep will depend a great deal on your priority. If you want to keep sheep more for meat and/or wool, here are four of the best breeds:

  1. The Corriedale is a large breed of sheep that produces a lot of meat and has very lustrous wool.
  2. The Columbia is another large type of sheep which has very thick, off-white wool.
  3. The Dorset is a medium-sized sheep which has very thick white wool.
  4. The Tunis is another medium-sized sheep with very creamy wool.

There are also a number of very large breeds that are excellent just for meat production. Among them are the Suffolk, the Hampshire and the Katadyn.

The Awassi Is A Great All-Around Sheep

Unfortunately, most breeds of sheep that are good for meat and wool production are not good for milk production, with one exception, the Awassi, which is a very attractive breed hailing from the middle east.

These hardy, versatile sheep are parasite resistant and do well in a wide variety of climates and conditions.

Awassi were developed by ancient, nomadic tribes and are traditionally used for meat, milk, and wool production. The wool coat of this breed is not especially thick or long, but it is quite useful and individual animals do yield a respectable amount of fleece that is suitable for home textile production.

How Much Wool From A Sheep?

The amount of wool a sheep can produce varies widely from one type of sheep to another. In fact, non-wool-producing sheep may yield as little as 2 pounds of wool a year; whereas, good wool producers can yield as much as 30 pounds of wool per year.

Factors other than breed which affect the amount of wool produced per sheep include the individual’s gender, size, age, genetic heritage, the quality of nutrition and the length of time between shearings.

Sheep Shearing Made Simple

Some Sheep Produce No Wool

It’s important to understand that not all sheep are wool producing sheep. Some are known as hair sheep. Their coats do not contain any usable fibers, and these type of sheep should not even be kept with wool producing sheep because their hairs can contaminate the fleece of wool producing sheep.

Wool producing sheep come in three rough categories:

  1. Long wool sheep have the heaviest, coarsest, longest coats. Their wool is very easy to spin into fiber and may be used to make tapestries and carpets.
  2. Sheep that are raised for both meat and wool are usually medium wool sheep. Their fleece is not as valuable as that of long wool sheep. It is lighter weight and is usually used to make felt, blankets and knitted items such as socks and sweaters.
  3. The priciest wool comes from fine wool sheep, which produce very soft, small diameter strands of fiber. This is the wool that is used to make high-quality wool garments. It tends to be less itchy and produce smoother, softer fabrics.

How Much Is Wool Worth?

how much is wool worth

The value of wool depends greatly on its purpose and its quality, as well as the demand of the market at the moment.

The color of the wool also affects its value. Pure white wool fetches the highest price because darker wool, or wool containing dark hairs cannot be reliably dyed.

Generally speaking, commercial wool production is probably not feasable for the homesteader. It takes a large operation to make the production and sale of fleece worthwhile.

Is Sheep Milk Good?

Sheep’s milk is indeed good, and although the concept of dairy sheep is rather new to the United States, the idea of drinking sheep’s milk or using it to make butter, yogurt, cheese and even ice cream is not a new one in most parts of the world. In fact, in the Mediterranean and in Europe, the commercial dairy sheep industry is thriving.

The most common dairy sheep in the United States are the Lacaune and the Friesian; however, the Awassi is gaining in popularity. The Dorset is a nondairy breed which can perform respectably as a milker on the homestead.

Sheep milk production is about the same as goat milk production, and if you are just keeping one or two for your homestead, you would set up a milking stand just as you would for a milk goat.

Extra Lambs Can Provide Your Family With Meat

extra lambs can provide your family with meat

To keep your milking ewes in milk, you will need to breed them annually. The lambs can be raised selectively to add to your wool and milk producing stock. You can cull the extra lambs to raise for meat.

Sheep raised for meat are best grass-fed, as feeding grain will make the meat very greasy and strong tasting, so when keeping lambs for meat, you’ll want to wean them as early as possible and simply put them out to pasture to enjoy their lives until the time comes for slaughter (between 9 months to one year old).

It’s wisest to keep your distance from the lambs intended for meat production. Don’t get attached, and don’t teach them to trust you. Just let them live on pasture with minimal handling.

Feeding Sheep For Purpose

feeding sheep for purpose

Keep in mind that when you keep any animal for milk production, you’ll need to pay closer attention to nutrition requirements than you would if you were just keeping the animal for wool or meat.

Milking is a nutrition intensive proposition, and you must constantly replace the nourishment you are taking away through milking.

As we have said, sheep are easy keepers because they can do very well on lower quality, mixed pasture. They are ruminants, which means that they don’t have a great need for grain. Instead they can do very well on grass and hay, brush and weeds.

The quality of feed you must provide will depend in great part on the breed of sheep you’ve chosen and the purpose you have in mind.

A good multipurpose sheep, such as the Awassi, can do very well on open pasture most of the year. In times of drought, or in the winter months, you’ll need to add hay, and depending on the size of your pasture, the number of sheep you have and the climate, you may also need to add some grain.

Pregnant ewes and/or those used for milking may need to have grain on a regular ongoing basis. Sheep do well with a grain mixture consisting of:

  • Five parts shelled corn
  • Two parts oats
  • Two parts wheat bran
  • One part linseed meal

It’s also a good idea to provide a high quality vitamin and mineral supplement that is intended especially for sheep. Supplements intended for other types of animals may be toxic to sheep. Offer loose or granulated salt on a regular ongoing basis to prevent bloating.

With the sheep you’re keeping just for milk and wool, you may have more of a tendency to make pets of them. In this case, you might also like to offer treats such as apples and peanuts. There are also things to avoid – here is a list of what not to feed.

Keep Your Sheep Healthy And Safe!

If you neglect your sheeps’ hooves, you endanger their health, well-being and welfare. In the long run, hoof neglect will impact productivity.

In addition to providing your sheep with ample pasture, good nutrition and consistent care, you’ll also want to be sure to keep them safe.

This involves installing secure fencing that will keep them in and at least some predators out. Installing lights around your enclosure will also help keep predators away at night.

It’s a very good idea to install dog safe fencing that will deter packs of marauding dogs and could also keep in your herd dog. A Great Pyrenees is a good choice in a guardian dog who can live with your sheep and keep them safe.

Protecting Sheep From Predators

Your sheep and your livestock guardian dog will also need good shelter from blazing sun, rain, wind and snow. A good barn with electricity and running water will make it easier for you to store feed and hay, milk, shear and even process meat.

If this is not possible, at least be sure that your sheep have a sturdy, three sided shed to keep them safe from the elements. Even this sort of simple shelter should be equipped with a stall or two so that you can separate injured or sick animals as needed.

Here is an interesting piece on why biblical shepherds used to put oil on sheep, and why it may be a good idea to try something similar these days.

Multi-Purpose Sheep Bring Value To Your Homestead

It is possible for a small homesteader to attain and keep a small flock of sheep for a very small investment, and the return on that investment can be quite great. With just a few ewes bred onsite or offsite annually, you can:

  • Harvest fleece that can be sold to home-spinners or spun for textile use.
  • Get high quality, fresh milk to sell or use for drinking, cooking and making cheeses and yogurt.
  • Raise 100 pound lambs to sell live or harvest as meat to sell or use.

As a side benefit, if you have a good pasture rotation plan in place, your flock will improve the quality of poor land so that it can be used to grow fresh produce in the future!

References:

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Farm & Animals since 2019. Farm animals have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.

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