Raising Sheep Starter Guide

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The demand for meat among humans is so high that there is hardly an animal – domesticated or in the wild – that we don’t consider suitable for consumption. Among the many domesticated animals that we raise for their meat and other attached benefits, is the sheep. The raising of sheep is an ancient practice that still exists today, and provides a sizable employment avenue in some parts of the world.

Raising sheep is considered one of the easiest livestock rearing endeavors. Not because they do not require attention, or do not eat as much as other livestock, but because they are easier to control unlike raising goats. They are similar to goats in many respects but not in temperament, which is why they are usually reared together by some individuals.

In this article, you will find all the information you have been searching for concerning raising sheep. This piece will serve as a starter guide, that will help make your journey, as a beginner in raising sheep, less stressful, more rewarding, and you will have as much fun as you’d hoped. However, that is only if you stick with this guide.

Why Raise Sheep?

Benefits of raising sheep

Raising sheep is quite easy, but why do you have to do it, especially if you already have goats in your backyard. Wouldn’t it be too much work? Will, they not cost you more to feed and groom, since they do not seem as hardy as goats?

If you’re unsure about the reason you should have sheep as part of your livestock, here are some you should consider.

Extra Income

While some people may regard farming as a business venture, raising sheep doesn’t have to be a full business. It can be a co-existing venture alongside other livestock. This minimizes the cost of raising sheep and helps to lessen the tax obligation of the farmer.

Also, considering the demand for protein in the world, when you raise sheep, you have a huge market ready for the wool, meat, milk, and even waste you get from your sheep. In a world that is now swaying towards organic farming, waste from animals is now widely used to help retain the goodness of the soil.

Helps meet the daily protein requirement

Sheep is an excellent source of meat and milk, the primary provider of protein, needed by the body to support the growth, development, and repair of all tissues in the body. Therefore, when you raise sheep, your household has a higher chance of having meat all year round (if you preserve them well), helping you and especially your kids, grow well.

You can also contribute to the growth and well-being of the people around you if you choose to sell the meat your sheep produce for a token.

Engaging activity for individuals out of the workforce

Unlike other livestock, such as goats and cows, raising sheep is a fairly easy thing to do. They are not loud animals, and can easily be raised in a semi-urban environment. Sheep can also be raised in cities because of their quietness and calmness.

They hardly struggle with their caregivers and often stay where they are put. These characteristics make them an easy animal to raise by youths and older citizens who are out of regular jobs, helping them to be involved in activities that are enjoyable and rewarding at the same time. And who knows, the youths might grow a passion for it and pursue a formal education where they take care of animals.

Easy to manage and handle

Sheep is an easy to control animal. They are not loud and do not require force before they obey instructions. They are also very sociable and should be raised with other sheep. Their ease of handling makes them one of the best ruminants for beginners to raise before moving on to more temperamental ruminants.

Improves soil condition

The waste gotten from your flock of sheep can help to maintain the fertility of the soil. It improves the soil condition by binding the soil particles together, thereby increasing its compactness enough for it to retain water better, for the benefit of your crops, especially the vegetables in your garden.

Also, sheep have smaller hooves than other ruminant animals, therefore, they help to compact the soil with less pressure, and consequently improves the soil’s ability to withstand erosion.

What Does it Cost to Raise a Sheep?

Raising sheep involves so many things, just as it does for many other animals. They need to feed, have shelter, facilities that help them keep warm during the cold months, feeding and watering equipment, and medication and vaccination. To put all of these in place costs some money but the good news is you don’t have to go above and beyond to make these available for your flock.

One sheep can feed on hay exclusively for eight months, and considering the price of hay per ton, which is about $200, a sheep will only consume about $55 worth of hay. In essence, except you are running a commercial sheep farm, you incur little cost on feeding. However, it is not expected that you will feed your sheep exclusively on hay and other feed supplements for the whole year.

Sheep shelter doesn’t have to be ultramodern. There are sheep housing plans and designs that you can get online and can build by yourself. However, if you do not have the knowledge or expertise of building, it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to get a structure up for your sheep. See it as a long-term investment, especially if you will be making some money off raising sheep.

Vaccination and medication are important; therefore, you cannot afford to cut back on this one. While you may use some improvisations on bedding materials, there are vaccines you cannot skip for your flock, and they have to be given annually. However, to make things easy, you can fall on proven herbal medications for your flock but that doesn’t substitute for vaccines.

It costs less to raise sheep than it does to raise a dog.

The Benefits of Raising Sheep

 

Apart from the ease with which sheep can be raised, there are other nutritional and economical benefits attached to rearing sheep. Some of them are:

Meat

Sheep meat, popularly called lamb in the United States of America, and can also be hogget or mutton in other countries, depending on their age, is one of the rich sources of protein in animals. Sheep meat is also one of the most widely consumed animal meats in the world and serves both domestic and commercial purposes.

One of the benefits of raising sheep is the constant availability of meat for your household consumption or sale to the public.

Milk

Like meat, milk produced by sheep is also one of the best milk you can find in farm animals. It is richer in fats and protein, making it creamier than both goat and cow milk. However, sheep do not produce as much milk as cows or goats, which makes them unsuitable for commercial milk production. It is also rich in vitamins, including folate.

Fertilizer

Sheep dung is an excellent fertilizer that you can use in your garden to improve the growth rate of your vegetables through improved garden soil conditions. It improves the organic activity of the soil and consequently makes nutrients available to your plants.

You can also use it to grow ranges and pastures for your livestock to feed on, reducing your cost of feeding and making raising livestock more sustainable.

Wool and sheepskin

Especially in the fashion industry, sheep wool and sheepskin, sometimes called lambskin, is of great value. They are usually used to make coats and boots that keep you warm during the winter.

Sheepskin – a product from sheep hide that has the fleece intact – is commonly used to make wool-lined boots, hats, and different clothing.

Sheep Breeds

There are different breeds of sheep, and they conform to different climates and purposes. While sheep are raised for different purposes, there is hardly any sheep breed that will satisfy all purposes of raising sheep. Therefore, it is best to equip yourself with the different breeds of sheep that are available and to know which ones suit your purpose.

Meat Breeds

The meat breeds of sheep are specifically known for their high FCR – feed conversion ratio. That is, they convert the feed they eat into meat better than other breeds. There are many breeds of sheep that fall into this category, and some of them are:

Arabi

The Arabi breed of sheep is majorly bred for meat despite its ability to produce wool as well. It is domesticated in Arab countries, such as Iran, Iraq, and Egypt. They are capable of withstanding extreme temperatures and still have very good FCR.

The rams are generally weightier than the ewes, even at birth. Their colors range from white to brown and black, and sometimes a mixture of all.

Oxford Down

The Oxford Down sheep breed is a result of crosses between Hampshire, Cotswold, and Southdown breeds of sheep. They are raised for their excellent ability to produce meat, although they also produce wool. They are characteristically hornless and have different colors on their face, body, and legs.

The rams weigh as much as 308 lbs and as little as 242 lbs, whereas the ewe weighs at least 200 lbs and 249 lbs at most, confirming they have meaty carcasses.

Polled Dorset

The Polled Dorset is a domesticated breed of sheep that has no horns (even the rams). They are commercially available in Canada but are more abundant in the United States of America. Polled Dorset came about due to a genetic mutation experienced by a British Horned Dorset.

They produce good wool and also have excellent meat, making them suitable for meat production. They are usually all-white, making their wool of very good value.

Milk Breeds

Although sheep generally do not produce so much milk, the little they do produce is of better quality when compared to goats’ and cows’ milk. They are higher in fat and protein. However, there are some breeds of sheep that can produce more than the average sheep will. They include:

East Friesian

This is arguably the best milk producer among sheep breeds. They are majorly raised to produce milk due to excellent milk yield per ewe. East Friesian can produce about 300 to 600 liters of milk during 200 to 300 days of lactation, that is about 2 liters of milk per lactation day. Are also used to cross other breeds of sheep to improve their milk production.

They are adaptable to the Friesland environment and can hardly survive outside this area, although their crossbreeds have been adapted to the semi-arid areas of the world. They are polled and have a distinctive tail that is devoid of wool and thin.

Chios

The origin of the Chios breed of sheep is unknown. However, many have agreed that they might have come from the Chios Island of Greece. They are wooly and horned but are mainly raised for their excellent milk production. The Chios sheep breed has the capability to produce about 700 liters of milk in a lactation period of 210 days.

They are also usually horned, with the ram having spiral horns and the ewe, knobs. However, it is not uncommon to find hornless ewes. They have spots that range from black to brown on their fleece and form a ring around their eyes.

Sarda

This breed of domestic sheep is peculiar to Italy and other Mediterranean countries. It is adaptable to both mountainous and lowland. It has an excellent milk-producing capability. However, its milk production was negatively impacted when an attempt to cross it with other breeds of sheep failed.

It has white wool used for producing carpets, among other products. The ewe is usually polled and usually weighs about 93 lbs while the ram weighs about 130 lbs, on average.

Wool Breeds

Wool breeds of sheep are thought to be found in the areas of the world where the temperature is usually low almost all year. The perceived idea is that their wool gives them the needed heat in these conditions, therefore, making them not adaptable to other areas such as with high temperatures. However, that’s not entirely true. Some wooly sheep can be found in the tropical regions of the world. They need to be carefully groomed to avoid parasites from living underneath their wool and feeding off them. Some of these breeds include:

Targhee

This breed of sheep was developed from Rambouillet, Lincoln, and Corriedale breeds of sheep. They are hardy and are mostly found in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana, and the western part of the United States of America, where the climate suits them best.

Although they are good producers of meat, they are primarily raised for their wool that has medium to high quality. The ewe produces about 13.8 lbs of fleece which can yield about 50% to 55% wool. The ram is generally weightier, at 300 lbs than the ewe, which weighs about 198 lbs.

Arkhar-Merino

The Arkhar-Merino sheep was developed by crossing the wild Arkhar breed with Precoce Merino in Kazakhstan. The result is a bulky sheep that has a broad chest, long legs, and an expanded skeleton. It also produces a medium-quality wool with fleece that weighs about 9.25 lbs. The wool fat stands at about 12% and the average fiber diameter records 22.99 and 23.51 in ewes and rams, respectively.

Cormo

It is not difficult to see that Cormo is meant to be raised for its wool. Cormo is a breed of sheep that is traced to Australia but widely raised in different parts of the world, including Italy, Belgium, China, the United States of America, and Argentina. It is a cross between Saxon Merino and Corriedale, hence the name, Cormo.

Both sexes of cormo are polled, that is they have no horns, and they grow fast. They have a medium frame that carries their fleece. They are also very fertile.

Dual Purpose

Dual-purpose sheep breeds are raised for more than one purpose. Generally, all sheep breeds fall in this category as every sheep usually serves a secondary purpose of providing meat. For instance, a sheep raised for milk or wool production will have its carcass served as meat when it ceases to be productive for its primary purpose.

Also, there are breeds of sheep that are specifically used to preserve genetic characteristics of the breed, such include Forystufe of Iceland. They can also serve a dual purpose as they are also used for herd management.

Sheep breeds such as Finnsheep do more than serve a dual purpose, they are good meat, wool, and milk producers. They also graze well, making them a good landscape management breed.

Best Sheep Breed for Beginners

As easy as raising sheep might be generally, it is not so easy for anyone who has no experience with them, or with other ruminants. This, therefore, means that as a beginner, you need to choose breeds of sheep that allow you to learn the ropes, and are the easiest to manage. You also need to consider the cost it takes to make that breed of sheep happy and productive, in relation to your purpose of raising sheep.

The sheep breed you should consider starting out with should meet all of the following criteria.

Disease or pest-resistant

Every sheep in every geographical location has a disease or pest that poses a great danger to newly introduced breeds of sheep. The sheep that have been there seemed less affected because they have developed a form of resistance to the disease or pest and have learned to live with it.

If you are looking to get a breed of sheep for yourself as a beginner, ensure that they are resistant to the prevalent pest and disease in your area. It makes your life easier.

Adaptable

Different sheep breeds are native to different places. However, they will survive in other places that bear a resemblance in ecology with their climate of origin. A sheep that is adapted to the temperate climate cannot be expected to thrive in a tropical climate.

Therefore, choose a breed of sheep that is adaptable to your climate.

Purpose suitability

As we have seen earlier in this piece, people raise sheep for different reasons. Some prefer them for their meat, others raise them for the milk or wool they produce. Whichever one of the benefits you wish to derive from raising sheep, ensure that you choose a breed that suits that purpose. Do not choose a random breed and expect it to produce milk when it is genetically imbued with the capacity to produce more meat.

Also, not all breeds of sheep are suitable for commercial purposes. You may be flexible in your choice of sheep breed if it is for personal consumption. However, with a business, choose the best breed for your purpose.

Flexible feeding

Sheep is a ruminant, so you’ll readily have grasses to feed them with, if you’re in the country, or purchase hay if you’re in an urban setting. However, as a beginner, you need to choose a breed of sheep that is not so picky about what they eat. There are breeds of sheep that are considered vegetation managers because they graze well. They are hardly picky and will feed on a range of grasses and shrubs, whether fresh or not.

These breeds of sheep are best for a beginner.

Heat management

How cold does it get in your area? Can the breed of sheep you wish to get withstand that temperature? These are questions that will help you choose the right breed of sheep as a beginner. You do not want to start worrying over how well your sheep is handling the cold in its shed when you’re under the blanket.

Choose the breed of sheep that suits your environment. A wooly sheep for the cold climate and a hairy sheep breed for the warmer climate.

Here is a list of sheep breeds that are suitable for beginners.

  • Barbados Blackbelly Sheep
  • Blackhead Persian Sheep
  • West African Dwarf Sheep
  • Katahdin Sheep
  • Croix Sheep
  • California Red Sheep
  • Romanov Sheep

Sheep Predators

With their relatively docile attitude, sheep can be easy prey for larger and more ferocious animals. They need to be protected against these animals as they will usually injure or outrightly kill some of the sheep in the flock, especially when they are out grazing without supervision or in their sheds at night.

The predators of sheep range from bears to wolves, bobcats, foxes, coyotes, and dogs. The predators you should watch out for depends on the prevalence of these animals in your area. Also, the size of the predators should determine the protective measures you should put in place for your flock.

Also, depending on your location and the animals that are predators to your sheep, you may have to invite some government officials to aid in driving the animals away as harming some of these animals is considered criminal. Animals such as grizzly bears, red wolves, and bald eagles are considered endangered species; therefore, killing them, even with the aim of protecting your livestock, is criminal.

However, for other animals, you can erect sturdy fences that bar them from gaining entry into the immediate environment of your flock. You can also use traps and snares. Other animals such as guard dogs can be used when the flock is grazing outdoors. The dogs are aggressive against intruders and chase them off. It is important to note that although each of these methods of keeping predators away is effective, they are more effective when used together.

Sheep Farming for Beginners

Sheep farming is a commercial endeavor in which an individual or a team pulls in capital and raises sheep for commercial meat, milk, wool, sheepskin, or hide production, in order to make a profit. With this endeavor comes great responsibility and planning, which may seem overwhelming for a beginner. Sheep as an animal needs care as it is not as hardy as goats but they also fetch handsome profits when well-managed.

For a beginner venturing into sheep farming, there are some things that have to be taken into consideration.  After drawing your business plan, it must include:

Breed of sheep to purchase

The breed of sheep you purchase must fit the purpose for going into sheep farming. If you want to meet the demand for lamb meat, you need to get the sheep breed that produces excellent meat in one year of rearing them. If your purpose is to produce wool, you need the best breed for wool production.

Shelter provision

Regardless of what breed of sheep you purchase or your purpose of going into sheep farming, your flock needs shelter. Their shelter has to afford them comfort and protection against weather harshness that might cause their production to decline and consequently hamper your profit.

Also, their shelter should protect them from predators.

Feeding and Grooming

Sheep grooming

Your flock should grow well, and they won’t do so without getting the needed nutrients from their feed. Sheep generally feeds on grasses; therefore, you need to situate your farm in a location where they have access to grasses.

Although this does not mean you have to outrightly purchase a large expanse of land; however, you will need to make sure the grazing land is fertile enough to help the grasses grow back as fast as possible to reduce your production cost.

Also, you may need to supplement the grasses with some feed additives and supplements to aid your flock’s health and growth.

Groom your sheep by washing them with disinfectants as a routine, maybe once in two months, to help get rid of parasites that may be hiding under their hair. Also, you will have to shave their hooves regularly, brush their hair – to allow new growth.

Feeding and watering equipment

Feeding sheep

While in their shelter, your flock may be unable to venture into the field to graze. That means you have to bring their feed to them. It is healthier to serve their feed in feeding equipment such as troughs and provide clean water to them in watering equipment.

Purchasing Your First Sheep

The start of a sheep farm, after the shelter and feeding and watering equipment, is in place, is the purchase of your sheep, the foundation of your flock. It is a no-brainer that you must purchase sheep that suit your purpose. However, it is also important that you consider the health of the sheep you are looking to purchase.

It is better to seek knowledge from experienced sheep farmers before you make that first purchase. It is even preferable that the experienced farmer is in the same locality as you are, so they can have the best information to guide you.

Tips and What to Avoid

Here are some things you need to look out for when purchasing your first sheep. Some of the tips in this section will focus on the health and growth of your flock and how they can impact your business. Some of these tips should be embraced and you should avoid some of them, where noted.

Vaccination and Medication history

Every reputable breeder has a chart that records the medication and vaccination history of their animals. For a sheep, it is common that the breeder can tell you off-hand the vaccines they have administered to the flock that year. However, request for the medication chart to be double-sure. You don’t want to start having troubles with your first sheep purchase some days after they get to your farm.

If perchance the breeder has no record of medication and vaccination, do not buy your flock there, it’s a red flag.

Adaptability

Does the breed of sheep adapt well to your environment? You should be able to know this by requesting people the breeder has done business within your local area. If there is none, chances are you will have to choose other breeds that serve your purpose and have proven their adaptability to the climate and environment of your locality.

Breeding ability

Your farm is just starting out; therefore, you’ll need more ewes than ram (although it’s the same in an established farm) to help you increase the number of sheep you have in your flock. In this case, you need to choose ewes that have a history of lambing twins and retain the breed quality that suits your purpose.

If you’d rather get lambs, choose the older twin and make sure they share the same physical attributes as their parents. Chances are they will also have the same productivity, given the same conditions.

Appearance

While this may seem inconsequential, it is important to choose sheep that have a good physical appearance. The first sign of a good sheep is its neatness. If the environment they are raised in is neat, then you can be sure they are well taken care of. Also, you may want to avoid sheep that seems physically uncomfortable. They may be limping, have watery eyes, or runny noses.

It may well be worth it if you employ the expertise of a veterinarian when you go to purchase your first sheep. They will help you evaluate the health status of the sheep you wish to buy and help to make a better decision.

General Care for Sheep

Sheep shearing
Man shearing sheep by scissors

Like for every domesticated animal, it is your (the keeper) responsibility to keep your sheep cared for. The good news is that sheep is easy to look after. They do not give you unnecessary hardship. Their care involves feeding, watering, shelter, and grooming. It is better to have these care activities routine as appropriate to help you manage the flock easily.

Some of the things you need to care for your flock need to be in place before you get them into your farm. They include shelter, feeding and watering equipment, and their feed. However, other care activities are usually done after they have been on the farm for some time. Let us consider some of the activities that show you care for your sheep.

Trim Their Hooves

Hooves serve as the shoes that protect the feet of your sheep. They are hardened but penetrable parts of the feet that help to prevent the entering of moisture and pathogens that thrive in a moist environment, into the feet of sheep.

Their presence helps to reduce the occurrence of footrot. However, they can grow into uncomfortable sizes that make walking difficult for your sheep. Therefore, they need to be trimmed from time to time; about every 10 to 12 weeks.

Shave Your Sheep (Sheep Shearing)

Some sheep breeds have more wool on them than others. The more wool a sheep has, the heavier it is, and the less comfortable it is. Sometimes, the wool may harbor parasites, such as lice, that suck nutrients from the sheep, causing it to have less amount of nutrients for its use.

Generally, sheep wool is shaven annually. However, it should be noted that the timing of shaving is important. Shave your sheep when the weather is warm. Leave the wool on if the weather is cold to protect them from the low temperature and possible pneumonia.

Cleaning and Grooming

Grooming your sheep involves making them clean and comfortable. It is a common grooming practice to wash your sheep, with a disinfectant in water and some antiseptic soap, once in two months to help rid their skin of lice and mites. This practice improves their cleanliness, hair appearance, and general health.

Also, cleaning their feeding and watering equipment helps to make their environment clean and reduces the chances of pathogens coming in contact with them through feeding. Also, ensure that the shelter is cleaned regularly and is kept as moist-free as possible.

Deworming Your Sheep

One of the ways to care for your sheep is to regularly deworm them. Although there are breeds of sheep that can withstand and even suppress the growth of internal parasites, it is easier on them if they are regularly given anthelmintic to help them fully utilize the nutrients contained in their feed.

Sometimes, it might be beneficial to seek the service of a vet to check the right time to deworm your sheep.

Checking for Parasites

Parasites that affect your sheep are both internal and external. External parasites such as lice and mites are easily located under the sheep’s hair or wool and can sometimes be handpicked. However, they are better dealt with by washing the sheep with disinfected water that penetrates the hair or wool and kills the parasites.

Internal parasites such as worms are not so easy to locate but you can check for internal parasite infestation by searching the sheep dung for worms. If they are present, your flock needs to be dewormed.

What your sheep will need

In your quest to raise sheep, some equipment and structure are needed to ensure your success and provide the best quality of life and comfort you can afford for your flock. These needs will help your management easier and help you get the best out of your sheep. They include:

Sheep feed

Sheep feed is similar to goats’, this is one of the reasons they are easy to raise together. They are ruminant animals that can thrive on only grasses. However, their feeding does not have to be limited to just grasses. They can also feed on some kitchen wastes, such as plantain peels.

Usually, sheep can get their needed nutrients from range and pasture. However, the nutrient profile they can get from additives and supplements makes them healthier and grow better, consequently making them reach their potential in terms of production. Sheep feed comes in these options:

Fresh grass

Sheep prefers fresh green grass to any other feed option you may have for them. Therefore, they should have access to pasture as often as possible, especially during the dry months. The pasture should have a mix of grasses and legumes, usually at a ratio of 70 to 30; however, this is not a strict requirement.

It is important to note that your flock will most likely consume the grass more. When you see this, it does not mean anything is wrong; that’s their preference.

Hay

Hay is preserved grass and is suitable for your flock when the weather is not favorable outdoors. Give your sheep hay and watch them consume the succulent leaves and leave the hard or grainy part of the hay behind.

For this reason, sheep are usually fed hay when cows or goats are to be fed hay too. That way, the goats or cows will eat the hard part of the feed and the sheep consume the succulent parts.

Feed Additives

Sometimes, you may have to add some feed additives to your flock feed to supply some micronutrients that they need. These additives sometimes act as medications such as dewormers and antibiotics. Other times, they serve as probiotics and ionophores.

They generally help to improve the immunity of your flock and ward off diseases.

Sheep feeding barriers

Sheep feeding barriers are metal horizontal bars welded together to control the feeding rate of sheep. They are usually made of horizontal metal bars and stock boards. The feeding barriers have adjustable heights that make feeding easier for the flock and also have latches that can be used to lock the feeding opening.

Sheep feed barrier is usually a common feature in a commercial sheep farm as it helps to make sheep feeding and management easier regardless of their size and number. Some feed barriers also carry waterers for the flock at their top.

Sheep feeder

A sheep feeder is equipment used to feed sheep during the times when they are unable to venture outdoors to the pasture or for their supplemental feeding. It is usually made of plastic, wood, or metal. It is used to carry hay while the flock feeds from it. There are different designs to suit different ages of sheep.

They can come in different shapes, depending on what suits the housing style and they are usually durable, usable in both commercial sheep farms and backyard sheep raising.

Sheep waterer

A sheep waterer is equipment that is used to supply clean water to the flock to quench their taste and improve digestion. A sheep waterer can be used both indoors and outdoors, depending on the material used in its manufacture.

Sheep waterers are available as heated waterers – for cold weather that may make the water frozen, portable waterers – that are easy to carry around for a small flock and easy refill, automatic waterers – that refills automatically, while some can be DIY.

Sheep fencing

A boundary to keep your flock in and predators out isn’t something you can pass on, except you have no predators around. Although it is required that you employ multiple means of security and protection for your sheep, fencing is an important part of the security measures you should put in place.

It doesn’t only keep the predators out, it helps you keep your fold in one area, and makes it easy for you to monitor them. Even during times you’re unavailable you can rest assured your flock is safe.

There are many materials to use for sheep fencing, ranging from wood to metal link chains, metal nets, metal pole fencing, and so on. Choose the appropriate fencing option that matches the strength of the predators around. You might even have to use an electric fence.

Sheep housing

One of the structures to have in place before the arrival of your sheep is the structure. For a start, it does not have to be big, but it has to be well-structured and sturdy. It should also have good drainage to take moisture out of the shelter.

To get the best sheep housing, there are various housing designs and plans online that you can choose from. Although you can keep it small at the start, keep in mind that it should be expandable with the growing size of your flock.

The primary purpose of sheep housing is to protect your flock from harsh weather conditions and from predators. It is also there to make your flock comfortable, making them as productive as possible.

Sheep bedding

Sheep beddings are materials used in sheep housing to improve the comfortability of the housing by providing cushions when needed and help in increasing the temperature and supply stored heat during the cold times of the year. It is an important feature that should be installed during the cold months to avoid pneumonia.

Sheep bedding should not impede drainage and should be able to aid in keeping the shelter floor clean.

Expanding your flock

Your flock is not expected to remain the same for long, even if you are not in sheep raising for commercial purposes or keeping sheep on small acreage. Your ewes will get pregnant and lamb. However, there are things you should not do before this happens. This section will help you get an overview of what expanding your flock is about.

Mating sheep

For your flock to grow, mating has to take place. Generally, a ram mates ewes that show signs of ovulation. Because ewes are polyestrous, that is they show signs of readiness to mate every 30 hours in 17 days, they can be mated more than once in a month. However, to keep track of which ewe has been mated, you can wear a chest harness that holds a crayon on the ram to mark the mated ewes. This practice should not be done on wool sheep, to preserve the quality of the wool.

One ram is enough for the ewes in a flock. In case there is more than one, the dominant ram will mate all the ewes.

Gestation period for sheep

The gestation period in sheep lasts for about five months but it can be difficult to get the count right, especially if the ram does not carry the crayon for marking its mates. Ewes do not usually show signs of pregnancy until around six weeks before lambing.

It is therefore the farmer’s responsibility to watch the ewes for abnormal behaviors such as pawing the ground, erratic standing and laying down, and so on. You will also notice that their udders fill out and the vulva becomes swollen.

Raising baby sheep

A lamb needs to feed to survive, this means lambs are usually fed colostrum by the ewe once they stand. This helps them grow faster and improve their immunity. However, there are cases where the ewe rejects the lamb or the lamb refuses to feed.

After lambing, the ewe and lamb are transferred to a lambing jug – a small space where lamb and ewe are left to bond. Here, the lamb will usually have its first feeding. However, if it doesn’t take place, the ewe can be tied to let the lamb feed or the lamb is force-fed by using a stomach tube.

To avoid rejection of the lamb by the ewe, it is not advisable to wash the lamb before it feeds as they depend on their smell for recognition and bonding.

In case the lamb is orphaned, it can be fostered to another ewe or in extreme cases it should be bottle-raised.

Sheep life expectancy

A sheep can live for up to 12 years. In fact, they can live more but they average a life expectancy of 10 to 12 years. Although during the later part of these years, they must have stopped commercial productivity; hence, most sheep do not live more than a few years beyond 5 years, when they have ceased to be commercially productive.

Common sheep diseases and Treatment

There are pathogens that threaten the well-being and health of your flock. They will stop at nothing to make them break down and hamper your profitability by making them less productive. Some might even make them unproductive altogether. These diseases are area-specific while others can affect any sheep, anywhere they are.

Some of the common sheep diseases include:

Foot-and-Mouth Disease

Foot-and-mouth disease is a viral disease that affects many ruminant and hooved animals, including sheep. It is characterized by a fever that lasts for about 2 to 3 days, sores on the foot or hooves, and in the mouth. On bursting of the sores, it renders the affected animal unable to walk, if it is in the foot.

It easily spreads among the flock, especially if the affected animal is not quickly isolated. When they come in contact with feeders and waterers they share with other animals, the healthy ones get the virus.

Control

It is best controlled by giving your flock vaccines against foot-and-mouth disease. Once you notice any animal with this disease, cull it, and contact your vet immediately.

Mastitis

Mastitis is inflammation and hardening of the udder. The udder is also red and painful. Mastitis is caused by bacteria – staphylococcus or streptococci. It usually occurs when there’s a poor latch by the lamb onto the udder, causing a bruise on the nipple – an entry for the bacteria.

Treatment

Mastitis is usually treated by using antibiotics. However, when the disease is noticed, breastfeeding is discontinued.

Ovine Progressive Pneumonia (OPP)

Also called Montana Sheep Disease, OPP is a virus disease that affects all ages of sheep. It does not exhibit symptoms in sheep younger than two years old but causes them to lose weight rapidly. However, in sheep three years and older, it causes them to emaciate gradually, cough, and breath rapidly. It also causes abortion in pregnant ewes.

It is passed around the flock through the mouth. Therefore, animals who feed on the same trough or drink from the same water as affected animals will get it. Lambs can also get it from the udder of ewes.

Treatment

Vaccination is the best way to avoid the occurrence of this disease. If your sheep begins to grow emaciated, call your vet immediately. North Dakota State University press release on protection against OPP.

Brucellosis

Brucellosis is a life-long bacterial disease that is transmitted among the flock through contact with the coccidiosis bacteria that is usually present in unpasteurized milk, fresh meat, or waste secretions. It causes fever, muscular pain, night discomfort, and most importantly spontaneous abortion. It is a zoonotic disease – it can be transferred from animals to humans.

Here is an in-depth resource on Brucellosis in sheep by Merk Veterinary

Treatment

Brucellosis is treated using antibacterial and it is best administered by a vet doctor.

Footrot

Footrot is a common disease among hooved animals. It arises when there is poor cleaning management of sheep housing and litter. Footrot is caused by a bacterium that is present in the litter of sheep and thrives in moist conditions.

It causes the hoofs to rot and does so with pain to the affected animal. It easily spreads to other animals if the affected animal is not quickly culled and treated. Usually, the bacterium needs an opening to get entry into the hooves but can also gain entry if the hooves remain wet for a long time.

It can render the affected animal lame. Here is a PDF brochure from Prudue University that talks about footrot

Control

Keep the sheep shelter as dry as possible. Also, rid the shelter of litter regularly. Cull and treat infected animals using antibiotics.

Frequently Asked Question on Raising Sheep

How Much Does a Sheep Cost?

The cost of sheep varies from place to place and it is influenced by the amount that has been spent on feeding, vaccination, and medication. Generally, you will get sheep at a lesser price in Mediterranean countries as compared to the United States of America.

Also, sheep are priced based on their breed. Sheep breeds that are hardier will cost more. Also, breeds of sheep for meat cannot be the same as breeds for wool or milk.

Age is another factor to consider in buying sheep. The older the sheep, that is within its active years, the costlier it is.

How Much Land Do You Need for 2 Sheep?

2 sheep will thrive on half an acre of land, provided the land is fertile enough to carry the feeding demand of the sheep. However, as a general rule of thumb, provide one acre of land for 2 sheep.

What’s Next?

Raising sheep is one of the easiest livestock endeavors. However, it can quickly become a nightmare if you neglect the necessary things, especially as a beginner. Sheep is a relatively docile animal that can be easily handled and protected.

With all the information you need to start raising your own flock of sheep, you can now decide on the raising sheep vs goats debate in your mind. However, with the information in this piece, it is easy to see that there are more advantages than disadvantages of raising sheep if you know what you are doing.

 

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