Ten Commandments for Raising Healthy Sheep

The magazine's go-to veterinarian offers up some plain, sensible advice about raising sheep.

| November/December 1979

Sheep are just about the ideal homestead livestock. After all, the wool-covered meat-bearers are easy to handle, adapt to almost all climates, require only minimal shelter, need much less caretaking than do such attention-demanding species as goats, chickens, and dairy cows, and are extremely "space efficient" grazers that can thrive on a simple diet of fresh grass and hay!

A Sick Sheep...

Although sheep are fairly hardy critters, the muttonmakers can become ill. Unfortunately, sick "woollies" often don't respond well to treatment. In fact, old-time shepherds claimed that "a sick sheep is a dead sheep." That gloomy saying is no longer completely true, but it still serves to point out that anyone who is thinking about raising sheep should most certainly invest the time and effort necessary to keep his or her animals bursting with vitality. And this article (which is modeled after my earlier piece, "Ten Commandments for Healthy Livestock") will give you the specific information you'll need to raise the healthiest collection of lambs, ewes, and rams in the whole dang county!

I. Recognize Your Market

Whether you're planning to raise meat and wool for your own use or hope to eventually go into the commercial sheep business, you'd be smart to begin your enterprise with a small flock of two or three ewes.

And, whichever sheep-raising goal you have in mind, you first need to know a few ovine (a word which refers to sheep, as "bovine" relates to cows) facts:

[1] It takes about 1/4 to 1/2 acre of good grass, 500-900 pounds of hay, and 100 pounds of grain to support one sheep for a year. (A ewe's annual wool yield—around eight or nine pounds—will probably bring in enough cash to pay her grain "bills.")

[2] Each breeding mother should yield 1 1/2 lambs a year (that is, half of your ewes will produce one offspring, while the other half will bear two youngsters each).

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