Helpful Sheep FAQ's
What are Hair Sheep? How to get started raising sheep? Do sheep need shelter? How do you keep sheep safe? What do sheep eat? Do you worm your sheep regularly? And more Frequently Asked Questions and the answers may conflict with other answers from other sources, but these are my answers to these questions.
What do you need to know?
What are Hair Sheep?
Hair sheep are one type of sheep that does not produce wool. Instead it has a hair covering like a goat or a cow. Hair sheep are better suited to certain environments than wool sheep particularly in the south and eastern US. Hair sheep are prized for their meat and leather qualities. Several breeds of hair breeds are Katahdin, St Croix, Barbados Blackbelly and Dorper. Typically smaller than traditional wool sheep breeds, most hair sheep are perfect for the smaller lamb carcass preferred by the non-traditional markets. For us we chose the Katahdin ewe for our flock. It was an easy choice.
How to get started raising sheep?
My advice is always to leave your truck/trailer and wallet at home! Take the car, you are less likely impulse buy the cute sheep when you visit the first place…. Seriously, you need to visit maybe a dozen breeders before you purchase your first sheep. Every place you go will raise them differently. This is very important as you need to purchase your starter flock from someone who raises them very close to the way you will raise them.
Katahdin sheep are very adaptable. But give them the best chance possible by raising them similar to how they were be raised. Will they adapt if different? Sure they will, but it might not be pretty. Sheep don’t tell us what is wrong and as a beginning shepherd by the time you realize something is wrong, it may be too late. So save yourself some headaches and go visit as many as you can. You will see something at every farm that you can take with you to benefit you and save you some time and money.
My experience is that as long as sheep have access to plenty to eat, they are happy and not looking to leave. If they are hungry, you need a concrete wall to keep them in. Maybe that is little overkill, but the hungry part is right. Electric net fencing is popular with rotational grazers. Makes great use of small areas but needs moving frequently and requires more labor and needs to be hot.
High tensile electric is used successfully as well. It is permanent and long lasting. I have also seen a breeder who uses it without electric box but uses a lot of strands close together and tightly spaced so they don’t attempt to stick head through it. Woven wire and woven high tensile wire are as close to perfect as you can get. It is permanent and if installed properly will be long term investment in securing your sheep. The most important thing maybe not keeping the sheep in but the dogs and predators out.
How many sheep can I keep per acre?
A very frequent question that has almost as many answers. I have seen 5-6 ewes per acre in an all grass pasture setup and 1500 ewes in a dry lot confinement system. Both were outstanding and healthy animals. The key to determining the number you can keep is based on your forage or feed quality and quantity. The 1500 ewe dry lot setup was feed a silage ration daily. The all grass pasture setup wasn’t supplemented at all, but the pasture forage quality was outstanding. Very high quality protein and provided a great diet. So the correct answer is anywhere in between!
Do my sheep need shelter?
Katahdin sheep are in all 50 US States and Canada, Mexico, Columbia, Puerto Rico and maybe more. They are very adaptable to variety of conditions if they are raised in it. It would be very tough to send a ewe from Puerto Rico to Alaska until that ewe had time to adjust. Same with shelter I think. My first thoughts on shelter were when my flock outgrew my small area when I started. I got to thinking and talking with people with hundreds of sheep. None of the flocks of thousands out west have shelter. They could never build a barn big enough to hold them out in the middle of Wyoming. However shelter from the wind and/or ice would be great if available or a problem in your environment. Make sure the shelter has enough room for all the animals that would be trying to use it. Over crowding would be worse than no shelter at all I would think.
What do sheep eat?
Anything! Well, almost anything. Sheep are browsers and grazers. Pretty much right between a goat and a cow. A really nice pasture in most parts of the US will provide almost everything your sheep will need. My philosophy is to consistently work on your forages as that is the cheapest and possibly the highest quality you can provide. If supplementation is needed, corn, oats, soyhull pellets, molasses, etc. are all suitable for additional energy/protein. Your location will determine what is available to you at reasonable prices.
For me I use combination of soyhull pellets/corn/distillers grain depending upon needs. Minerals are very important. There are as many ideas on mineral as there are stars in the sky. Your location will be very important on what minerals are needed based on deficiencies on your particular farm. Your local extension, feed supplier, or a local breeder will be a great resource. I also recommend doing a liver sample analysis every so often to determine if you are lacking anything or if your mineral is supplying everything you need.
How do you keep your sheep safe?
The most common predator for sheep are the common dog. The neighbors dog has killed more sheep I would suspect than coyotes. Dogs kill for fun and most of the time will kill several at a time as chasing them is fun. Coyotes on the other hand will kill one and eat on it. If a pack of coyotes then maybe couple. I don’t have big cats or wolves to deal with so no experience in that department. In either case, some kind of guardian is needed. People have had success with dogs, donkeys and llamas as the most commonly used guardians. I have used all 3 over the years.
My choice is a couple of dogs. Anatolian Shepherds, Akbash, Great Pyrenees, Komondor and crosses of them are popular breeds. Not every dog makes a good lgd. Don’t fall in love with your lgd if it is not working for you. The consequences of having a bad dog are not worth the risk. I prefer a dog that needs no “training” to protect the sheep. If it is natural instinct for them to stay and protect the flock, then it will be a great long term partnership. If you have a lot of sheep or lots of acreage to cover, more than 1 dog will be needed.