When selecting the right sheep breed, the first thing to consider is the purpose of the sheep. Are you raising them for meat or wool, or just as pet lawnmowers? Or are you taking the less common route and raising them for milk? Although sheep don’t yield nearly as much milk as cows or goats, some people do enjoy the taste of sheep’s milk, and it can be used to make delicious cheeses and yogurts.
Dual-Purpose (Meat and Wool) Sheep:
Corriedale (large species, with plentiful meat and lustrous wool)
Dorset (medium size, with dense white wool)
Polypay (lambs are produced frequently and grow quickly)
Tunis (medium sized with creamy wool)
Columbia (large breed with dense off-white wool)
Romney (has long, lustrous fleece)
Hampshire (one of the largest breeds)
Katahdin (very low maintenance)
Suffolk (a popular meat breed in the U.S.)
East Friesian (good milk producer)
Lacaune (excellent breed for cheese)
Awassi (gentle breed with shaggy wool)
Care and Feeding of Sheep
Sheep are ruminant animals, which means they eat predominantly plants such fresh grass and hay. They can thrive quite nicely if they are fed nothing but good pasture grasses, salt, a vitamin and mineral supplement, and fresh water. Pastures for sheep can include a mixture of grasses, brush, and trees. In general, one acre of good quality pasture can support four sheep.
While the pasture grass is growing, sheep can feed themselves without supplements, but in the winter or if there is a drought, you will need to supplement their diet with hay and/or grain. Make sure to use a raised feeder rather than putting the hay on the ground, where it will get wet and dirty. Ewes who are about to lamb, or sheep you are raising for market, will benefit from supplements of grain.
Sheep require more protein than other grazing animals, and where pasture grasses are poor or not plentiful enough to provide this, grain supplements provide necessary nutrients.
Vitamins and mineral supplements should be formulated especially for sheep.Mineral mixtures for other animals may contain heavy levels of copper, which can be toxic to sheep.
Like other ruminants, sheep need salt to prevent bloating. Salt can be offered in granulated or loose form.
Fencing and Shelter for Sheep
The best type of fence for sheep is a smooth-wire electric or woven wire non-electric fencing.
In hot climates and in warm summer months, sheep require some shade, either from trees or an open roof structure. Make sure they have plenty of fresh, cool water during these times.
Sheep don’t need much protection; they prefer to have a simple, south-facing, three-sided shed to protect them from the worst of the rain, cold, snow and wind. Using a light, portable shed allows you to move it to their current paddock. The shed size should allow for 15 to 20 square feet per adult sheep.
One exception is if your sheep give birth to lambs during the winter. If so, a small barn or sturdy enclosed shed is necessary to protect the young animals.
Even with small flocks, individual sheep will need attention sometimes, so some kind of handling facility is needed to confine individual animals for shearing or for medical treatment. This can be a fairly simple chute or forcing pen. This will be much safer than trying to chase and catch animals to handle them.
Sheep are rather easy to handle if you understand some basics of how they instinctively move and behave:
Sheep always tend to move toward other sheep and follow others in the flock.
Sheep prefer to move uphill and toward open areas, away from confinement and buildings.
Sheep can be herded better around gentle corners or curves where they cannot see what lies ahead.
Sheep always move away from things that frighten them.
As is true of most animals, offering food is the best way to train sheep. Sheep love grain, peanuts, and apples. Lure them in with their favorite treats and coax them into following you.
Guarding Against Problems
Sheep can be susceptible to parasites, especially when too many sheep are confined too closely together.You can prevent this by rotating pastures every two to three weeks. Should your sheep become infected, controlling parasites may require deworming treatments.
Coyotes, wolves, and dogs are all predators of sheep. Foxes and even eagles and other birds of prey can harm your sheep, as well.
Some ways to deal with predators include:
Maintain some guardian animals, such as trained dogs, donkeys, or llamas in your pasture.
Light corrals and pens at night, and use high, tight fencing.
Keep sheep in an open field within your field of sight, so you can respond if predators appear.
Use “live traps” or cages for trapping marauding dogs, rather than traps. With live traps, harmless animals can be released.
Put bells on your sheep.