When my wife and I first moved to a small acreage we knew we needed something to control the grass which was four feet tall in places. The farm had once been home to sheep and was fenced properly for them, so we decided on sheep and a llama to guard them. Sheep are not for everyone and we learned a lot in the first few years of owning them.
Sheep can crawl under barbed wire or wooden plank fencing. Worse than that, predators can get in. Sheep fencing is wire made into squares. Smaller squares are on the bottom, ideally to keep predators out, and lambs in, however smaller coyotes can squeeze through the holes. In short if you do not have proper fencing you should not get sheep.
Sheep are often left out on their own most of the time, but a barn is handy if you are going to be producing lambs, or for shearing. The barn can also be used in the winter for bringing them in out of the cold at night and offering additional shelter against predators. The barn does not need to be heated because this will get them too warm and can lead to pneumonia when animals go from warm, heated, barns to cold outdoors. It should have electricity for shearing and if a heat lamp is need to warm a chilled lamb. If you do not have a barn you should have some other kind of shelter where your sheep can get out of the wind, snow, rain, or sun.
You might find a shed to be useful for storing feed and supplies.
In the summer sheep do not usually need any feed as long as they have sufficient pasture. You might find that you need about 3 sheep per acre for proper pasture control. In areas where pastures are poor this number can be reduced, or raised where pastures are lush. In the cold winter months, especially if the ewes are pregnant, additional feedings of oats may be required, and they will need hay at this time. Breeding rams should have oats before the breeding season begins to keep them in good shape.
Sheep should not have clover before breeding as it interferes with their hormones. They should not have copper, so be sure your area is not high in this mineral. They need access to fresh water.
Photo by authors wife, our llama guarding a Jacob lamb. Although young he is growing 4 horns!
Many people use Great Pyrenees dogs to guard their sheep. These are large white dogs who are raised with sheep as pups. Others use donkeys, as they have a general dislike for dogs. Another guard animal is the llama. Llamas, dogs, and donkeys, do better jobs of guarding if they are kept as single animals. If you have two llamas they will hang out with each other rather than with the sheep. Gelded males work best as guard animals but not every animal has the natural instinct for guarding.
Published in: Rural Living