About one year ago we entered the world of becoming a shepherd/shepherdess. We dove into it head on with a flock of 15 registered purebred Romeldale and Romney sheep of varying ages, genetics and fleece color / types. We knew going in that this was not a quick lucrative position. I should also mention the critical point which was we had never been raised on a farm nor had livestock (unless you count our two children). So, for those who have stumbled upon our blog who are thinking of getting sheep and never had live stock before here are some things to consider to prepare for your first flock. Mind you again we dove in 15 strong which compounded our needs and information below. This isn't a how to raise sheep as it is how to prepare a human and their farm for their first flock if your starting with nothing.
#1 Land and grass
Unless your going to pay year round for hay and grain, your going to need some land with some grass. The best introductory book I have read so far is All Flesh is Grass. In Iowa we can get by with 5 sheep to 1 acre of land as long as it rains enough. Drought years can get tight. Google your area for your livestock ratio, typically one of your local universities or online forums will give you a good gauge. Couple of things to keep in mind about grass; you want variety, you dont graze below four inches, and don't let the grass go to seed (mow your pasture after you have grazed it and before it turns to seed). You also want to look up poisionouse sheep plants for your area, unlikely your sheep will eat enough to kill themselves but has been known to happen if that all they have to eat. If one of your incomes will be wool, hunt out all the thistle -- and you might as well use an herbicide (unless you have tons of time to dig) if you have a lot of it.
#2 Livestock Fence - to keep them in
Ok this looks easy on the surface but if you're getting sheep and depending on the activity of your farm / family here is my opinion and reasons why. Mind you I have installed every singel type of fence listed below.
Go with Red Brand fence if it is available in your area, and get the heavy gauge 12.5g if you plan to be there for a long time. It will hold up better over time. Benefits include not having to trim the weeds every week, livestock cant charge through, don't need to worry about young children running around outside. Down side: if the fence holes are to big (4"x4") then an animal has a chance to hang itself or get its head through. Fortunatly they sell sheep and goat fence with smaller openings. Chances of this happening are very unlikely but it is possible. At the top of the fence you can install an electrical or barb wire line just in case you have a climber. cost wise its a bit more than smooth wire high tinsel but worth the extra money not to have to trim and deal with electrical problems every weekend.
Smooth wire High-TENSILE
We installed this because it came so highly recommended. As I installed the last staple my neighbor drove by and said -- "you will regret putting that in, bet you will go to woven wire". well one year later and I am wishing we had put in woven wire. The benefit of woven wire is that its easy to install, and cheaper to put in. if you go with a 8-9 wire stranded fence it will keep in sheep (we haven't had one escape yet).
The downside: electrical is a pain especially in the spring, summer, fall. Every week we have to trim the fence line which takes a lot of time....again every week. Second, we had an incident with our youngest child and the high-tensile electric fence who was three at the time. He wanted to follow his older brother into one of the empty padlock areas. At the time we strung up temporary poly wire rope to divide the pastures. He decided to try and crawl under the fence like his brother and was shocked. we have a brand name shocker so it is intermittent but being shocked to the head took him down and put him into a full seizure. Ambulance, and air care the whole bit was on its way. Luckily he came out as the ambulance arrived and air care wasn't needed. Had he gotten caught between the wires and hung there and if his brother wasn't there to pull him away from the fence this could have been a different story. We have begun converting our farm from high-tensile to woven wire or to welded wire panels.
Never used barb wire but would say its good for cattle and large livestock only.
WELDED Wire Panels
Welded wire panels are often referred to as Cattle panels. Cattle Panels come in 16'x50' sections. This is similar to woven wire but the gauge of wire is 4 gauge (much bigger) and can be installed with T-Post placed ever 6 feet or so. Again. hanging sheep are an issue as most have 4x4 holes. This fencing is comparable to woven wire. The upside is that it can be moved to reconfigure padlocks or areas. If your leasing land or don't think your in your forever home it can be taken down and placed at the next farm. It can be considered as a permanent and temporary fence. The biggest downside is that it is expensive if your buying it new. Total cost for T-Post and panels $2 /sq ft.
Woven wire panels can also be used as coral pens. You will want to make your pen tight so you can crowd the sheep into it. This keeps them from being able to run, which means they can jump over the fence and limits how much you need to run / work.
#3 All of the other "little" things you may need
- Unless you want to pay the vet every-time a sheep gets sick, start taking notes from messaging boards and facebook. You will need to learn how to draw up shots, give shots, drench a sheep for de-worming, and trim hooves.
- Find a local livestock vet that knows sheep - put them on your cell speed dial. Call your local livestock vet and start seeing what they can educate you on. Not all vets are knowledgeable in sheep -- this will depend on your area. You may end up being your sheeps advocate.
- Sheerer - if your sheep are a wool breed start getting recommendations for a good sheerer -- they are hard to come by.
- Guard llama - if you have any predators then a guard llama is a sure bet in protection. Some use donkeys and dogs which all do very well too. We proffer the llama because they eat and are treated the same as the sheep.
- Water buckets 16 gallons / smaller for lambs. 1 bucket per 20 sheep. Use plastic the metal tanks will cause issues with your fleece.
- Hoof Trimmers - learn how to trim hooves, find a really sharp pair, you're going to need someone to show you how to do this the first time.
- Grain buckets - train them to know what the bucket is so they will follow you rather than you chasing them. Sheep are food motivated. They also love graham crackers -- stock up.
- Hay supplier (local farmer) - square bails are ideal especially if your raising wool sheep
- Straw supplier (local farmer) - don't buy from a retail store they will charge you double what you can get from a local farmer. We use combined oat straw because it doesn't get into the wool and absorbs better.
- Grain supplier (local feed mill) - careful of corn (1/4 lb per sheep increments holding over a couple days before increasing -- we try not to exceed more than 1lb per sheep)
- Whole Corn and Grain (local farmer) - be careful with feeding grain, read up on this.
- Bulk feed bin - mice will get into your paper feed bags and your grain can mold quickly if left in bags. Buy 50 gal food grade plastic drums with clamp on tops or 32 gal trash bins with tops. this will keep mice and other critters out of your feed.
- Ear Tags - sign up for your local scrapie program, you will need a tag applicator too.
- If your raising wool sheep, I would recommend sheep coats to protect the wool and keep it clean.
- If your lambing you're going to need heat lamps, panels, creep feeder gate, towels, long sleeved gloves, gloves, antiseptic gel lubricant, navel clamps.
If this is your first time and your thinking about or just bought sheep and need help; give us a call.
If you raise sheep and know of other things you needed your first year, please comment below.