View Full Version : Thinking of raising sheep....info appreciated

Jun. 2, 2011, 05:52 PM
Currently, my property adjoins the family farm, so I don't have to worry (for the moment) about rezoning. Once the farm is subdivided, though, I will have to have a farm "marketed product" that will allow me to qualify as an actual farm per county zoning guidelines. With 7 horses, I want to keep this zoned as agricultural but not with the horses as my "product" (let's face it - I'm never going to sell any of my horses).

I am not the best-suited to have horse boarders. I like my place to be my place.

So - in researching, am looking at raising Katahdin sheep. I would like input from those who actually do raise sheep about the pros and cons.

Also - plenty of information out there on the web - too much, actually - so what are the better sources of info for sheep care and raising. (I did time in my early 20s bottle-feeding twins, but that's the extent of my experience).


Jun. 2, 2011, 08:00 PM
The only thing I knw about shee, is that horse feed is TOXIC to them. Its the copper


Jun. 2, 2011, 08:40 PM
First thing is to make sure of where you will sell them, here we have auction days once a month where sheep can be sold but not everywhere does.

Second, fences. Very sturdy tight small square woven wire fences with at least two separate pens unless you're borrowing a ram when you need him. You'll want a separate pen for feeding up/weaning lambs also. If you're keeping your own ram put him in a sheep high security jail until you know you want him out making lambs or you will have lambs in all months of the year. Ask me how I know! Unless that is what you want...

Try to locate a livestock vet that knows something about sheep-they're scarce! But you'll need one on hand for testing and emergencies. I learned most of what I know about sheep from an older sheep rancher so I'm not sure of other sources. If you have a decent 4H group nearby they might point you in the right direction. See if you can find a breeder that is willing to also mentor you, there's no replacement for years of experience and someone that will talk with you as you walk around their place, look at what feeders they have and the conformation of their sheep and where they get their feed and which vet they use ect... invaluable.

Sheep are not the suicidal critter they have a reputation for-mostly they are stoic to the point that you don't know something is wrong with them until they're near death. Doesn't do to be the sickly standout in a herd of prey animals! So develop an eye for their behavior and habits, just as you did with horses.

Stay up on worming-they can die of a heavy worm load. Having a couple pastures helps with parasite management too.

I love sheep-IME they aren't the silly dumb animal that they have the reputation of being. They're kind and sweet and devilishly smart, which is where the good fences come in. The biggest favor you can do for them and you is to have excellent fences. A barn where they can be shut in at night is a pain but will keep them safe if you have any predator problems. Or throw a proven livestock guardian dog in the pen with them. Or both. The difficult part of sheep is when you don't have good fences. lol They can bloat and die if they get out and gorge on the wrong food, like spring time alfalfa. Lost 8 in one day to a hole in the fence once. Keep therabloat on hand. If you've had bums you know about lambing and that it's intense infant care for a few weeks. Our sheep ranged over 1000 acres and picked/chose what they ate which meant we had no weeds and lots of grass on our place; they ran with the horses and it was a good mix. For smaller pastures you'd want to be selective about what you plant or feed. We fed ours alfalfa hay and alfalfa pellets in the winter. I found sheep to be pretty easy to take care of and very rewarding, especially right after lambing is over. We had Colombias so had to deal with shearing but you won't have to do that with Katahdins, which is good b/c shearers are difficult to find.

Good luck!

Jun. 2, 2011, 10:40 PM
Check your local markets to have a place to sell your lambs when they are ready. Perhaps you could do "grass-fed", for part of the appeal of YOUR lambs over another persons product. Katahdins seem to run smaller when ready, than the market breed lambs, so don't keep them too long. You start losing money then. Market lambs average 130pounds but easily go larger, while the Katahdins may be done by 100pounds.

Perhaps these lambs could go to local ethnic groups that do family lamb roasts. My friend sells her live Katahdin lambs that way at the Farmer's Market, with Hispanic and Muslims folks being her best customers. You may need to find a local processor for taking lambs in to butcher for your customers. Better if the customer just picks up the packages!! They pay you for weight of the lamb or a flat price per head, they pay the processor for butchering, cutting and wrapping the meat.

Who knows, maybe a newspaper ad would be enough to move your crop of lambs with no other work!

The good fence is a must, protects the sheep from themselves and the local neighborhood dogs will be your worst predators in most cases. Can you shoot and hit what you aim at? May be needed to protect the sheep. We barn ours at night to be safe, living here is suburbia.

We have 4-H lambs, larger Suffolk or Hampshires, so if they get killed by predators DD has no project to sell at the Fair. She makes her extra money at Fair, selling for better-than-local-auction prices. We know what she has in them, so when the bidding passes that we all sigh with relief! We haven't had to buy any back, she has done very well with her generous buyers supporting 4-H kids.

You will have to decide what price you need to turn a profit for the lambs, keeping the adults, when you get around to selling. We don't feed the lamb pellets very heavily as other kids do, ours get grazed out on grass. I keep the paddocks mowed, so sheep graze the new growth and stay very happy. They also gain well, with very little expense to DD. She makes more profit this way. They do seem to graze things the horses don't care for, fertilizer is great for the paddocks.

Sheep are trainable, LOVE a routine, do recognize you when you appear or call them. They are not bright, but for me the cuteness is worth it. Bonus is their despooking our horses when they leap up out of the grass and bounce about as sheep do. Geldings like watching to see "what next!"

Sheep can be fun, always entertaining, easily managed if you pay attention to them. You get better with sheep as you gain experience with them. A wether sheep is a good companion for your ram when he can't be out with the girls. I would see if I could rent the ram, instead of having to deal with him daily, year around. They can be very stubborn, some have NO respect for people and will bunt you hard if given any chance. It HURTS. If you let your lambs come later in spring, rams might be more available after the peak breeding season for early lambing.

Good luck with your new project.

Jun. 2, 2011, 10:54 PM
The 4 S's of sheep:


Jun. 3, 2011, 12:04 AM
Thanks for all of the great advice - this is EXACTLY what I was looking for > tremendously helpful.

Right now - gathering info and planning out fence lines and barn sites. Hope to pull everything together so that I can start looking for sheep by next summer.

Keep any input coming!