If you live on a small farm or in a rural home with ample pasture space, raising sheep can be a fun and rewarding experience, said Lauren Arcuri of The Spruce, the website that helps people make their homes better. Sheep are docile, gentle animals suitable for hobby farms. They can provide meat, wool, and milk. Families in rural areas consider sheep as virtual pets.
Sheep are relatively inexpensive and reproduce quickly, stated Carol Ekarius of Mother Earth News, the original guide to living wisely. These animals are also perfect for owners who don’t have the space to raise cattle but want to produce their own quality meat. However, sheep are not as easily fenced as cattle. But sheep are easier to fence than goats. While they tend to be less susceptible to disease, sheep are more vulnerable to parasites and predators.
Key Sheep Statistics You Should Know
China has the largest sheep population (per million), boasting 187 million sheep and contributing 15.9% of the world’s total sheep population, according to data provided by Narayan Ganapa Hegde of Research Gate, a journal article portal. The country is followed by India with 750 million sheep, contributing 6.4% to the total population. Australia has 747.22 million sheep (6.3% of the total sheep population), followed by Sudan (525 million, 4.4%) and Iran (48.75 million, 4.1%).
In the United States, all sheep and lambs inventory (per 1,000 head) on January 1, 2020 totaled 5.20 million head, showing a 1% decrease from 2019’s 5.23 million head, according to principal agency of the US Federal Statistical System National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the US’s federal executive department.
Breeding sheep inventory was at 3.81 million head, down from 3.82 million head in 2019. Ewes one year and older were at 2.98 million head, a 1% decrease from 2019’s three million head. Market sheep and lambs were at 1.390 million head, down from 2019’s 1.41 million head.
Shorn wool production (per 1,000 pounds) during 2019 was 24 million pounds, down 2% from 2019’s 24.4 million pounds. In 2019, the average price paid for wool sold was $1.89 per pound, which had a total value of 45.4 million, up 6% from 42.8 million in 2018. Total land crop (per 1,000 head) in the US was 3.23 million head, down slightly from 2018’s 3.235 million head. In 2019, sheep death loss totaled 219 thousand head, up 1% from 216,000 head in 2018. Meanwhile, lamb death was at 388,000 in 2018 and 2019.
Choosing the Right Breed
Are you raising sheep for meat or wool? Do you want to raise them as pet lawnmowers? Or are you raising them to produce milk? Sheep don’t yield as much milk as cows or goats, though some individuals enjoy the taste of sheep’s milk. It can also be used to make yogurts and delicious cheeses.
Be sure to take into consideration your local climate. Ask around and see what breeds are raised by other farmers in your area. There are fine-wool breeds such as Debouillet, Merino, and Rambouillet that are perfect for wool producers either for the handspinning market or for commercial selling. However, fine-wool breeds produce fatty carcasses and may not be appealing to meat consumers.
Common breeds of medium-wools include Suffolk and Hampshire. Some of the less common ones are Cheviot, Dorset, and Texel. Medium-wool breeds produce wool that is often sold into the commodity market. They can also produce flavorful, large carcasses consistently.
Long-wool breeds are suitable for handspinners as these breeds produce abundant and lustrous fiber. For example, the Bluefaced Leicester produces fine fleeces with three to six-inch fiber clusters. You can also consider owning Border Leicester, Leicester Longwool, Lincoln Longwool, or Romney.
Carpet-wool breeds produce coarser fleeces and generally provide a more delicate flavor of meat than fine-wools or long-wools. The wool of carpet-wool breeds is often colored, piquing the interest of handspinners. However, it doesn’t have any value in the commodity wool market. Carpet-wool breeds are hardy and self-sufficient. Some examples include Jacob, Scottish Blackface, and Karakul.
If you’re interested in producing dairy, consider owning East Friesian, Lacaune, and Awassi breeds. Ensure that the sheep you will purchase is directly from the owner. The sheep should have clear, bright eyes. Head and neck should not have lumps or swelling, as these may be a sign of worm infestation or abscess. Sheep should not be too fat or too thin and their teeth should not be worn or missing.
Feeding and Diet
Sheep mainly feed on fresh grass and hay and can thrive quite nicely if they are fed with good pasture grasses, salt, fresh water, and a vitamin and mineral supplement. Generally, one acre of good quality pasture can feed four sheep. Supplement your sheep’s diet with hay and/or grain during winter or in the event of a drought.
Ensure that you use a raised feeder and don’t put hay on the ground since it will get wet and dirty. Ewes that are about to bear offspring or sheep you are raising for the market will benefit from grain. The University of Minnesota recommended a good supplemental grain mixture consisting of 50 lbs. of shelled corn, 20 lbs. of oats and wheat bran, and 10 lbs. of linseed meal. To prevent bloating, you will need to feed your sheep salt either in granulated or loose form. Don’t use a salt block.
The best type of fence is a smooth-wire electric or woven wire non-electric fencing. Sheep will require some shade either from trees or an open roof structure, particularly during warm summer months or in places with hot climates. When sheep give birth to lambs during the winter, make sure they are kept in a small barn or a sturdy enclose shed to protect the offspring.
Predators and Diseases
Sheep are vulnerable to parasites if too many sheep are confined too closely. Opt to rotate pastures every two to three weeks. Deworming treatments may be required if your sheep become infected. Dogs, foxes, and eagles or other birds of prey can harm your flock. To ward off predators, you can maintain guardian animals like trained dogs, donkeys, or llamas. Keep your flock in an open field within your field of sight to help you respond faster if predators appear. You can also put bells on your sheep.
Sheep can produce milk, meat, and wool. Hence, it’s important to choose a breed that will suit your needs. Be sure to keep your flock away from predators and ensure they are strong and healthy.