Raising Sheep: The Basics

With a little land, know-how, and a bit of help, raising sheep is a practical way of obtaining meat and fiber.

| August/September 2010

  • raising sheep
    A proud Jacob ewe with her lamb. Successfully raising sheep of this breed will yield you wool with a medium-fine texture and high luster, making it ideal for handspinning.
  • flock of sheep
    A flock of Dorset sheep graze on Moon in the Pond Farm in southwest Massachusetts.
  • sheep and lamb
    A mother ewe and her lamb graze green pastures. A well-managed pasture is the best source of feed for your sheep. It’s economical, and provides them with the food nature intended them to eat: fresh grasses, legumes and assorted weeds and woody species.
  • lambs
    Two lambs nuzzle.
  • hair sheep breeds
    Hair sheep breeds such as the Katahdin never need to be sheared, making them a top choice for meat production.
  • Dorset sheep
    A Dorset sheep. This breed’s fleece is lightweight and good for handspinning.
  • shearing
    A Dorset sheep gets a careful shearing.
  • Merino sheep
    A blockade of Merino sheep.

  • raising sheep
  • flock of sheep
  • sheep and lamb
  • lambs
  • hair sheep breeds
  • Dorset sheep
  • shearing
  • Merino sheep

Sheep provide wool and delicious meat, milk, and cheese, and they eat weeds other livestock species won’t touch. Plus, sheep are relatively inexpensive and reproduce quickly, so with minimal upfront cost, you can have a respectable flock in short order.

Raising sheep is an especially good choice for small-property owners who don’t have the space to raise cattle but still want to produce their own high-quality meat. Typically, five to seven ewes (female sheep) and their offspring can comfortably occupy the same amount of land as just one cow and calf, and sheep can graze lawns, ditches, woodlots, and mature orchards.

Admittedly, there are some difficulties to raising sheep: They’re not as easily fenced as cattle (but they’re a lot easier than goats), and although they tend to be less susceptible to diseases than other types of livestock are, they’re more susceptible to parasites. Sheep are also more vulnerable to predators. In some areas of the country, you won’t be able to find a veterinarian who handles sheep, or a professional shearer, so you’ll have to find someone to show you how to shear.

Sheep Breeds: Which Is Right for You?

There are nearly a hundred breeds of sheep in North America. Different breeds prosper in different climates and on different types of pasture, and each breed has certain strengths. Do you want to produce meat? Do you intend to spin your own wool, or market that wool to handspinners? Would you prefer to stay out of the wool business — and the shearing business — altogether?

Though their name suggests otherwise, hair sheep are raised for meat only, or for meat and milk. Sheep dairies and especially sheep’s-milk cheeses are increasing in popularity. Recent drops in wool prices have led to a boost in hair sheep popularity. They have coarse hair and an underlayer of wool, and they shed their hair each spring, eliminating the need for shearing. Some say these sheep produce tastier meat than wool breeds do. The hair sheep breeds include Barbados Blackbelly, Dorper, Katahdin, Painted Desert, Royal White, St. Croix and Wiltshire Horn.

Fine-wool breeds appeal to the serious wool producer, either for the handspinning market or to sell commercially. The word “fine” refers to the diameter of the wool fiber. Fine-wools are generally more expensive, but the market may be more difficult to develop if you live in an area with an existing market for conventional-grade fleeces. If you’re interested in producing fine wool, breeds to look for include Debouillet, Merino, and Rambouillet. These breeds produce comparatively fatty carcasses, which may not appeal to meat consumers.

5/8/2013 6:24:49 PM

when it comes to RAISNG SHEEP.. ill take the republican and Xtian method... they have been doing it successfully for EVER.

MokshanaJen BucherZauber
3/23/2013 1:49:57 AM

Unfortunately this article has some mistakes....namely that Jacob sheep are for carpet wool-they are a medium fleeced sheep.

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