Raise Sheep: An Introduction

Raising sheep can be a delightful homestead venture, especially if you don’t have the space to raise cattle but still want to keep livestock. Find out how to get started with your own flock with this advice from “Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep,” the classic, go-to authority on all things sheep.

| March 1, 2010

The following is an excerpt from Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep  by Paula Simmons and Carol Ekarius (Storey Publishing, 2009). The book, now in its fourth edition, is an invaluable resource for beginning and experienced shepherds alike, covering topics such as breed selection, lambing, feeding, housing, pasture maintenance, disease prevention and treatment, and much more. This excerpt is from Chapter 1, “Starting with Sheep.”

Sheep are especially good animals for small-property owners who don’t have the space to raise cattle but want some kind of livestock. Five to seven ewes and their offspring can typically be run on the same amount of land as only one cow and a calf. Sheep can graze lawns, ditches, woodlots and orchards (with full-size trees only — the sheep will eat dwarf trees).

Starting small gives you the opportunity to gain low-cost experience. If you start with fewer sheep than your land will support, you will be able to keep your best ewe lamb each year, for a few years at least. After a while, as your purchased ewes become unproductive, they can be replaced with some of your best lambs.

Although a homesteader may occasionally sell a few lambs or fleece, normally the flock is raised primarily for personal use. Providing your own meat and some fleece for handspinning and for a 4-H project for the kids are among the reasons homesteaders choose to keep a few sheep. Typically, these flocks are small, with usually no more than a dozen ewes and a ram.

Sheep Emotions and Senses

If behavior is thought of as being the way animals react to their environment, then senses are the tools they use to investigate their environment, and emotions are the outward manifestations of this reaction. Let’s talk about emotions first.

Sheep, like other mammals, are capable of displaying a full array of emotions, from anger to happiness to the most common emotion we humans see when dealing with animals: fear. Scientists have discovered that fear memories are stored in a primitive part of the brain. Consequently, these memories stay with an animal for long periods. If an animal has an especially bad fright, for example, upon entering a barn, it will continue to fear entering that building.

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