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  • Sheep????

    So, I got an offer for some sheep.

    Our horses always have extra hay around (none of them are starved), and there is always weeds, too. Rumor is the sheep will help with that?

    Are they escape artists like the goats I've seen on farms are?

    We have a guard horse (our old BLM mustang) that should be able to keep them safe at night from predators. He charged across the 15 acre pasture yesterday to get rid of the neighbor's dogs, and was the last one to come in... only after the other horses came in and the dogs weren't following them anymore.

    Any thoughts?

  • #2

    I have four sheep, and I loooove them! And yes, they do eat weeds. The stocking rate for sheep in a pasture is pretty high, though. Generally the extension people say that 5-6 sheep equal one horse, as far as stocking rates go. So, it's easy to not have enough sheep to keep up with your weeds. And, just like horses prefer shorter grass over big, tough tall grass, sheep prefer shorter weeds over big, tough tall weeds. But, all that said, I definitely notice a positive difference with my four little boys on the pasture versus how it was before I had them.

    What type of sheep have you been offered? Parasites can be a real problem with sheep, so I personally would never have a breed that doesn't have a documented resistance to parasites. Otherwise you're going to be deworming all the time. My sheep are Gulf Coast Natives, which are the most parasite resistant sheep in the world. I still check them periodically for worms, using the Famacha method, which is extremely easy, but so far have not ever had to treat them. It is definitely important to keep checking, though. Especially if you're in the South, where parasites reign.

    My sheep are not escape artists at all. But I made a point of training them to come to me whenever before I let them out of the barn. I highly recommend doing that. They are easy to train with food (alfalfa pellets work well) if they are young. I've never tried to do it with a sheep that was over 8 months old. And my 4 month olds learned a lot faster than my 8 month olds. My boys follow me from the barn to the pasture without halters/collars. (I did teach them to walk on leashes, too, though. Just makes them easier to handle.)

    Re: Your guard horse. That could be great, or it could be a disaster. Some of my "sheep friends" have horror stories about guard donkeys attacking their sheep. And I have one horse who, based on her behavior over the fence, probably would try to trample them if given the chance. So I keep my horses and my sheep separate. They make a great pasture rotation team, anyway. I let the horses eat the grass down, then move them to the next pasture. Meanwhile, the sheep come through and clean up the weeds that the horses left behind.

    As far as predator protection goes, the absolute best system, IMO, is very tight fencing (wire mesh, reinforced with electric wire at the top and the bottom, on the outside) plus a trained livestock guarding dog. (LGD's can be adopted from rescues like Carolina Pyrenees Rescue.) That said, this is not the system I have. I have wire mesh fencing with electric on top (but not on the bottom) and a Border Collie (who, thankfully, does not spend all day moving the sheep around... some Border Collies would do that). Because I don't have the electric on the bottom, I bring the sheep in at night. Whatever you decide, don't take predator protection lightly. Both coyotes and stray dogs are a very real threat. People lose sheep to both all the time. For this reason, I also choose to only have sheep with horns. They aren't a whole lot of protection, but they could help a little, if - God forbid - my boys were ever in a stray dog or coyote situation.

    The other thing to be mindful of with sheep is that they are very sensitive to copper. So they can't have the same feed or salt blocks as horses. Horse feed and horse salt blocks can KILL a sheep. So you have to make some accomodations on that, putting horse salt blocks where the sheep can't go, and never feeding commercial feeds formulated for horses to sheep.

    Although I've given you a lot of cautions here, I find that sheep are really easy. You just have to be able to protect them, look out for parasites, and watch the copper. They don't eat much or require much of you. And mine are super friendly. They talk to me a lot and come running when they see me. They follow me around and generally are delightful little gentlemen. It's like having really well behaved dogs that happen to also eat weeds.

    In short: YAY sheep! (But just make sure you can protect them from predators, parasites, and excess copper.)

    EDITED TO ADD: I see now that you're in Colorado. I'm guessing you may also have bears and wolves, too? Really really want to be diligent about predator protection out there. Good luck.


    • #3
      I looove sheep! I used to work at a barn and cared for a string of horses and the guy's sheep. The lambs are adorable. One year there was an abandoned one that he hand raised and it used to run around with the dogs (including to the neighbor's yards). I would say be careful turning them out with horses. One of my favorite sheep who used to come in and "help" me make up feed, got badly kicked in the face once (horses and sheep were out together on about 2 acres). She ended up healing fine, but it was gross and she was lucky.

      That's funny that the previous poster mentioned that about horse feed, I'm pretty sure I was feeding those sheep horse feed (sweet feed) for 2 years, and we never had one drop dead. Granted, it wasn't a ton, they mostly survived on grass and hay. He also made out decently on getting them shaved and selling the wool.

      Hope you get them!


      • Original Poster

        WoW! Awesome information, thank you so much!!!

        These are Bardados BlackBelly Sheep- ones I have worked with. They are pretty darn hardy from what I have seen. We learned about FAMACHA at school for the fellow who invented the system I've heard the blackbellies are pretty good about parasites. They are in Colorado now and doing well... they don't need to be sheared, etc.

        I'm not in the mountains of Colorado- no bears or mountain lions close by. We do have coyotes, foxes, and a neighbor's 2 Akbash's that look hungry (hence, how I found out the mustang is quite the guard horse).

        A true LGD would be very hard to have- with our current dogs and cats. It would be easy to lock them in a stall at night- we have extra. Also, I'd only get a few to start.

        I guess I should see how our guard horse takes to them. One of our horses is petrified of llamas, alpacas, and cows, but I am hoping he wouldn't mind a few sheep.

        Do most people with horses just keep them for pets, or breed them, or sell them when they are fat and get more?


        • #5

          I had sheep when I was a kid, for 4H. Loved them, had a great time w/them.

          But as a farm owner, who also has a family and a very busy professional life, I wouldn't ever want to add anything to my farm that was more work, more $$ and gave me less time. In other words, it's a horse farm, not a menagerie. Or a petting zoo.

          A lot of my friends got all kinds of animals when they got their first farm. Goats.. rabbits.. llamas.. chickens.. peacocks.. the list goes on and on.. most of them regret it and actively talk about it and say that they would never do it again, that taking care of a farm is hard enough without extra animals around. None of them who got goats have been able to keep them contained and they never eat weeds, but seem to be devoted to walking on peoples cars and chewing on landscaping.

          Just thought I'd share a different POV.
          "Kindness is free" ~ Eurofoal
          The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances.


          • #6
            We boarded with sheep for quite a while so here's a few points from that POV

            Sheep poop seems to multiply and is everywhere underfoot. Its small and rather innocuous, but everywhere

            Rams ... when they get to be 2-3 yo RAM. Doesn't seem to matter how much they are handled as youngsters etc. The baby ram was well handled and walked on a leash until the head plate started growing then he became very dangerous to be around. He sent the BOs wife sailing one day - probably threw her a good 10 ft - but fortunately didn't break anything. Apparently that's why shepherds crooks are so long

            The sheep happily ran in and out of the electric fence. Apparently the wool insulates them from the charge.


            • #7
              We just got 3 Gulf Coast sheep to stay at our place as a kind of trial--basically, we're free boarding them, and if we decide they work well for us, we get the lambs in the spring and will probably add a few more.

              They do seem to be good at eating weeds, are not demanding in terms of time or energy, and are not escape artists/mischief makers like goats are. Although "ours" are rather shy, they are learning quickly that DH or I = food and will now allow us to touch them gently while they eat.

              That said, we already had mesh fence installed, we have only ewes and I do not want any rams (the owner will bring a ram in at the appropriate time for breeding, but he won't be staying at our place permanently), and we did have to change our pasture and stall gates so the dogs (and coyotes) couldn't get into the pasture (or the sheep get out).

              "Ours" aren't trained to come to people. We are actually taking our two GSDs to sheepdog training classes so they can be helpful if we need them, rather than pestering the sheep. That has already come in handy when the sheep tried escaping from the barn (DH accidentally left a gate open). If the sheep aren't trained to come to you or you don't have a sheepdog handy, I can envision escapee sheep as a nightmare to round back up!!
              Custom and semi-custom washable wool felt saddle pads!


              • #8
                Originally posted by FatPalomino View Post
                These are Bardados BlackBelly Sheep- ones I have worked with. They are pretty darn hardy from what I have seen. We learned about FAMACHA at school for the fellow who invented the system I've heard the blackbellies are pretty good about parasites.
                I would imagine that any breed of sheep developed in Barbados would have to be pretty resistant to parasites, since tropical climate like that is a perfect breeding ground for worms.

                Originally posted by FatPalomino View Post
                I'm not in the mountains of Colorado- no bears or mountain lions close by. We do have coyotes, foxes, and a neighbor's 2 Akbash's that look hungry (hence, how I found out the mustang is quite the guard horse).
                Funny that your marauding neighbor dogs are Akbash's. They are supposed to be LGD's. That's individual variation for ya. Or, perhaps they see animals as big as horses as threats. But my Border Collie loves to go hang out with my horses. And attempt herd the 4 year old.

                Originally posted by FatPalomino View Post
                A true LGD would be very hard to have- with our current dogs and cats. It would be easy to lock them in a stall at night- we have extra. Also, I'd only get a few to start.
                That's reasonable. Like I said, I don't have an LGD, either. I just bring them in at night.

                Originally posted by FatPalomino View Post
                Do most people with horses just keep them for pets, or breed them, or sell them when they are fat and get more?
                I run a little fiber cooperative with mine. City dwelling friends pay a yearly fee to "sponsor" a sheep. Once a year I send them their sheep's wool. One of the sponsors is a spinner, so she makes yarn with it. The other two I think just do random crafty stuff with theirs.

                Another poster mentioned that rams will ram you. All the sheep people I have talked to seem to agree with this, particularly when it comes to horned rams. I have horned wethers, though, (that is, horned "geldings") and they aren't inclined to butt people at all. As in, it has never happened at all for three out of four of them. (They do butt each other sometimes, but not all that often.) The fourth one gave me a couple of little test butts the day he arrived. I just hung on to his horns as he came towards me and immobilized him with them. He figured out it was counterproductive and hasn't done it again since. (This is another reason that it's really helpful to get them when they're young, so they can learn these types of lessons while they are small enough to be easily immobilized.) However, like I said, all the sheep people will tell you over and over not to ever trust a ram. (Much like we horse people are likely to tell newbies never to trust a stallion.) Just wanted to point out that ram-y characteristics are not necessarily transferred wethers. And I think it's particularly nice to get wethers because in some cases they are cheaper, and in most cases they are destined for the slaughterhouse if not purchased as pets or wool producers. Ewes and ewe lambs, of course, are more likely to be kept for breeding.

                So, are you getting them? Post pics!


                • #9
                  I don't have them, but my neighbor does. You have to shear them a couple of times a year, or at least she does. They also tend to crop grass really close, I mean by the ROOTS. If you have plenty of pasture, I suppose this wouldn't present a problem.

                  My neighbor's sheep aren't tame and it's a pain in the ass to round them up for shots, shearing, treating injuries, etc. They also seem to pretty dumb and are afraid of everything.

                  They sound cool, though.