In general, learn as much as you can before you get started, and then begin on a small scale. American Sheep Industry Association offers market, legislative, news, links, etc.: 303-771-3500; 6911 S. Yosemite St., Ste. 200, Englewood, CO 80112-1414; [email protected]; www.sheepusa.org. Black Sheep Newsletter is a great quarterly for small-flock and colored-sheep owners. $14/yr in U.S.; $18 outside U.S.; 25455 NW Dixie Mountain Rd., Scappoose, OR 97056; 503-621-3063; [email protected]; www. blacksheepnewsletter.com. They also offer The Black Sheep Newsletter Companion: Writings for the Shepherd and Handspinner, a collection of the first five years of the magazine, and a lamb cookbook. Montana Sheep Association offers it all: a terrific website with news, an online magazine, and a supply sales catalog! 406-442-1330; www.mtsheep.org/. Sheep! gives practical advice for small flock owners, articles for small and commercial flocks on wool and related issues, plus an extensive breeders' directory and listing of breed associations and a regular feature on dairy sheep. It costs $20 for 10 issues/yr. Contact: 920-6488285; fax 920-648-3770; PO Box 10, Lake Mills, WI 53551-0010; www.sheepmagazine.com. The Shepherd, a monthly magazine for both small and commercial flocks, costs $20/yr: 419-492-2364; 5696 Johnston Rd., New Washington, OH 44854; [email protected]. books: For sure, get a copy of More Sheep, More Grass, More Money, an 112-pg book by Peter Schroedter, owner of a large commercial sheep flock in Manitoba (available from Sheep! Magazine, $10 postpaid). The long-time (now updated/revised) classic is Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep, by Paula Simmons and Carol Ekarius. It includes breed descriptions, info on predators, herding with dogs, health, etc. Sheep! magazine often has pages listing books on sheep production. Other useful books are The Sheep Raiser's Manual by William Kruesi (1985); Sheep: A Complete Owner's Manual, by Gunther Marks (tr. from German and very good) ; and The Sheep Production Handbook, a comprehensive text from the ASI (1990) (303-771-3500; www.sheep usa.org).
ATTRAs booklet, "Sustainable Sheep Production," is at www.attra.org/attra-pub/sheep.html. Maryland Small Ruminant Page is a great website info center for both sheep and goat growers with articles plus links: sheep andgoat.com. Supplies
Sheepman Supply Company provides a wide range of supplies to sheep farmers, including shearing gear, health care products, books, and videos. Free catalog: 800-331-9122; 301-662-4197; fax 301-662-0361; PO Box A, Frederick, MD 21702; [email protected]; www.sheepman.com. Wiggins & Assoc. offer a nurser bucket for lambs, etc.:
800-600-0716; www.wigginsinc.com. Vocabulary Lamb—a young sheep Bum—a bottle-fed lamb
Cosset—another name meaning bottle-fed lamb
Ewe—an adult female sheep, pronounced "you"
Ram—an adult male sheep
Wether—a castrated male
Yearling—sheep that's around a year old breeds of Sheep: Marilyn Jones wrote a classic to help you sort them out: Breeds of Sheep, available from her at Jones Sheep Farm, 1556 E. 59th, Peabody, KS 66866. Or go to Oklahoma State U.'s livestock breeds page: www. ansi. oks tate. edu/breeds/sheep.
What do you want the sheep for? Pets? To keep your grass mowed? To raise meat for your table—or to sell? To show at the fair? For sheepskins or leather? Or to grow wool that you will shear, card, and spin?
Do you want fast reproduction? Finn sheep have 3-6 babies at a time. But be careful you don't let a Finn ewe get bred by a ram of a larger breed. It could result in dead babies or a dead mama. Or do you want naturally polled or horned sheep? (Dorsets come either way.)
You do want always to select "open-faced" sheep, on which the wool naturally does not grow around the eyes. "Wool-blind" sheep can't avoid predators because their wool actually grows down their faces onto their eyes. So even in a wool breed you want an open face. Otherwise you must periodically clip around the sheep's eyes.
And what about personality? Breeds differ and individual sheep differ. Choose a style that suits you. A calm and pleasant disposition is easier to live with than a tense or aggressive one. On the other hand, Mouflon sheep are the only breed that is said to protect their young aggressively from predators, and that's good.
Crossbreeds. In the United States there are 9 major breeds of sheep—many of which used to be crossbreeds but now have become accepted as breeds in their own right—and innumerable crossbreeds. There are more people doing homestead-level independent and experimental crossbreeding with sheep than with any other farm species. They are frequently selecting for particular wool colors, but many other characteristics can be selected for also. Unless the crossbreed is obviously a real winner and a sheep of the future, crossbreeds may be less expensive than purebreds.
Wool Breeds. If your interest is wool, what climate do you live in? Fine-stranded wool (from the merino breed of sheep) traditionally comes from breeds suited to warmer climates like Spain. Medium-stranded wool breeds live in the temperate zones like England. The coarsest grades of wool (Lincoln breed of sheep) are associated with the cooler, damper climates. "Coarse" wool means a thick strand. Coarse wool spins faster for hand spinners than fine wools. In any case, when buying sheep for wool, look for a pink skin and a dense coat. A good wool breed like Corriedale should provide you about 10-14 lb. of wool per clipped ewe. (Enough to knit 2 sweaters.) A nonwool breed such as the Suffolk will produce only about a 5-lb. fleece.
Homespun wool has more life and strength than commercially spun wool. It has water-resistance, manageability, flexibility, durability, and warmth. You can choose your wool according to your purpose since wool from different sheep breeds can be quite different stuff, varying in length from IV2 to 10 inches, and in number of crimps per inch, from V2 to 30. Fine wools (such as Rambouillet) yield a softer product (suitable for a baby's blanket, for example), but are more difficult to spin. Coarse fibers (such as from Karakul or Lincoln sheep) spin more easily into a very durable product, such as a rug. Coarse wools are considered too itchy to be made into clothing that would be worn next to the skin. The medium wools (Hampshire, Suffolk, Cheviot), with fibers averaging 3-4 inches long, stand between these 2 extremes. They are manageable for beginning spinners and can be made into blankets, sweaters, and fabric for other clothing.
Wool Colors. White sheep wool is the standard. Black wool is discounted in regular markets but more valued in specialty spinners' outlets. Black sheep wool can't be dyed. White and silver wool mixed comes from an old black sheep and can be dyed. Wool in other natural colors, other than white, is of interest only to hand spinners. But there are lots of hand spinners! Get more info from the Natural Colored Wool Growers Ass'n: Barbara Kloese, Registrar; 219-759-9665; 429 W US 30, Valparaiso, IN 46385-9207; [email protected]; www.ncwga.org. And from American Black Sheep Registry: 4714 Glade Rd., Loveland, CO 80538; [email protected]. And the Black Sheep Newsletter (see "Getting Started"). If you want white, then make sure your sheep has no dark fibers mixed in. Suffolks are a black-faced sheep with white wool and the most common registered sheep. They usually have a little black color matching their faces around their lower legs but no wool around their lower legs so they have cleaner, dainty looking feet. Hampshires are second most common, followed by Corriedales. Dorsets are all white, available either polled or horned, and are considered to be exceptionally good mothers. Karakul and Corriedale sheep are white sheep with a higher quality wool for hand spinning that you can get a premium price for.
Meat Breeds. Meat breeds have wool, too, but they are also bred for good meat production. Suffolks, Columbias, and Shropshires are good meat-wool breeds. Don't think that just because a breed is noted for good meat carcasses, it isn't also fine for wool production. Suffolks, for example, grow a nice spinning wool.
Milk Breeds. You can use sheep for milk. Sheep often have inconveniently short teats and a limited lactation period, and younger ones hate to stand still. But their milk tastes good, and it makes wonderful cheese with a dense curd. Try some Romano and see! Sheep don't give as much milk as goats. American sheep produce 1 pt. to 1 qt. of milk a day, but French dairy sheep give up to 3 qt. per day, so Americans are working now to upgrade their sheep dairy herds for productivity. Nevertheless, pound for pound, a sheep's milk will give you 2 or even 3 times more cheese than a cow's milk because it's that much higher in solids. Sheep butterfat is also different in a good way although there is twice as much of it; it's 45 percent polyunsaturated fat. Sheep milk is richer in calories than cow's milk. It provides much more calcium, riboflavin, and thiamin. With all this good stuff in it, don't be surprised that it's yellower and thicker than cow's milk. Sheep milk is naturally homogenized because of the sort of fat in it, even harder to make butter from than goat milk, but it makes super ice cream and yogurt.
Cheesemakers'Journal regularly offers good articles on sheep dairying such as "Sheep Cheeses," "Milk Production in the Ewe," and "Yoghurt from Sheep Milk," in issue 18/19; "Sheep Dairying" in 24; "Sheep Cheesemaking in Poland" in 25; and "Sally Jackson of Washington State—Sheep Milk Cheeses" in 30 (available from 413-628-3808; www. cheesemaking.com). Yves Berger is the shepherd at the U. of Wisconsin's Spooner Research Station, working on dairy sheep research: 715-635-3735; W6646 Hwy. 70, Spooner, WI 54801.
David Major organized a group of Vermont folks to milk sheep. He now makes Vermont Shepherd, a sheep's milk cheese, in his curing cave from wheels of week-old sheep cheese that farmers bring him: 802-387-4473; 875 Patch Rd., Putney, VT 05346; [email protected]; www. vermontshepherd.com. Willow Hill Farm (www.sheep cheese.com) also makes sheep's milk cheese. Sheep cheeses are common in Europe but a fairly new industry here. Roger Steinkamp is president of the North American Dairy Sheep Association, and also a sheep cheese maker in Hinckley, MN. Roquefort, feta, and kasseri are all made from sheep milk, as is Italian-style Romano. Sizes. Sheep come in different sizes. Bigger sheep require more feed and you can pasture fewer per acre. I've heard that smaller sheep actually produce more meat per acre of pasture, but I don't know if it's been proven. Specific Breeds. There are so many breeds of sheep, I can't give you info on all of them, but here's a good start. Border Leicester: American Border Leicester Association, Nila Swzeda, Registrar, PO Box 162, Crown Point, NY 12928, [email protected]. Cheviot: American North Country Cheviot Sheep Association, Edward Racel, Exec. Secy., 8708 S. County Rd. 500 W, Reelsville, IN 46171; fax 765-672-4275. Clun Forest: North American Clun Forest Association, 21727 Randall Dr., Houston, MN 55943; 507-8647585; [email protected]; www.clunforest sheep.org.
Coopworth Sheep Society of North America, Marcia
Adams; 360-297-4485; 25101 Chris Ln. NE, Kingston, WA 98346; [email protected]. Corriedale: American Corriedale Association, Marcia Craig, Secy., PO Box 272W, State Rt. 182 E., Upper Sandusky, OH 43351; 740-482-2608; columbiasheep.org. Cotswold Breeders Association; Tony Kaminsky, Registrar; 410-374-4383; fax 410-374-2294; PO Box 441, Manchester, MD 21102. Damara "fat tail sheep" are called "low maintenance meat sheep for mowing, weeding, and fertilizing": (07) 5464-0533; www.damaras.com. Finn: National Finnsheep Breeders Association, Elizabeth Luke, Secy., HC 65, Box 495, DeRugter, NY 13052, 887-USFINNS; [email protected]. Friesians are European dairy sheep that arrived in the U.S. in 1996. They're available from Willow Farm. [email protected]. Or contact the North American Dairy Sheep Ass'n. do Tanya Gendreau; 608-5824746; N20712 Thompson Lane, Galesville, WI 54630. Hampshire: American Hampshire Sheep Association, Karey Cieghorn, Secy., 1557-173rd Ave., Milo, IA 50166; 641-942-6402.
Icelandic sheep are available from Susan and Rex Mongold, Tongue River Farm; 406-232-2819; HC 40 Broadus Stage, Miles City, MT 59301; [email protected]; www.ice landicsheep .com. Jacob Sheep Conservancy Registry and Breed Association, 1165 E. Lucas Rd., Lucas, TX 75002; 972-727-0900. Or PO Box 10427, Bozeman, MT 59719; spotted [email protected]. Karakul: American Karakul Sheep Ass'n; Leslie Johnson, 405-771-3072: 7001 N. Air Depot, Oklahoma City, OK 73141. Or Letty Klein; 616-381-0980, evenings; Pine Lane Farm, 6881 N. 25th St., Kalamazoo, MI
Katahdin Hair Sheep International, PO Box 778C, Fayette-ville, AR 72702; 501-444-8441. Or Laura <Sr Doug Fortmeyer: 785-467-8041; 2285 Falcon Rd., Fairview, KS 66425.
Lincoln: National Lincoln Sheep Breeders' Ass'n; Roger Watkins, Secy.; 1557-173rd Ave., Milo, IA 50166; 515-942-6402.
Merino: The American and Delaine-Merino Record Ass'n can provide breeder listings (AK, Canada, most states), detailed info on the breed, and registration paperwork: do Elaine A. Clouser, Secy.; 419-281-5786; 1026 Co. Rd. 1175, Rt. 3, Ashland, OH 44805. This breed, first developed by the Spanish from the 14th through early 19th centuries, is now raised also in America, Australia, Russia, and South Africa. Both polled (hornless) and horned varieties are available. Rated as a medium-sized sheep (rams 175-235 lb.; ewes 135-180 lb.), its "productive lifespan" is 10+ years. Merinos have a tendency to stay together (easy to herd), ability to breed out of season (lets you decide when lambing will happen), and very fine wool. Twins 50 percent of the time. Lambs weigh 100-120 lb. in five months.
Montadale Sheep Breeders Association, PO Box 603-H, Plainfield, IN 46168; 317-839-8198. Mary HaWaaboo has bred Montadales for 15 years at 3710 A St. SE #3, Auburn, WA 98002; 206-714-3257.
Navajo-Churro Sheep Association: Connie Taylor, Registrar; 505-737-0488; [email protected]; Box 94, Ojo Caliente, NM 87549.
Rambouillet: Bluestem Farm is where Walt & Wanda Martens raise both white and natural-colored Rambouillet: 502 Cash Spring Rd, Ozark, MO 65721; 417-581-7485; [email protected] com; www.bwoolmercantile.com.
Romanov: North American Romanov Sheep Association, 614-927-3098; Don Kirts, Secy., PO Box 1126, Pataskala, OH 43062.
Romney: American Romney Breeders Ass'n offers quality fleeces on large-framed sheep: www.americanromney. org. Larry & Gail Bullock have raised purebred white and natural-colored (range of black to oatmeal or champagne colors) Romneys for 20 years: 360-8255613; 38815-272nd Ave. SE, Enumclaw, WA 98022; [email protected]; www.bullockromneys.org.
Scottish Blackface Sheep Breeders Association; 417-9625466; Richard J. Harward, Secy., 1699 Hwy. HH, Willow Springs, MO 65793; [email protected]
Shetland: North American Shetland Sheep Association, Secretary, 265 Truway Rd, Luxemburg, WI 54217; 920-837-2167.
Shropshire: American Shropshire Registry Association; Dale E. Blackburn, DVM, Secy.; 815-943-2034; PO Box 635, Harvard, IL 60033.
Southdown: American Southdown Breeders Association, Gary Jennings, Secy., 6226-100 Cornerstone Rd., Fredonia, TX 76842; 915-429-6226; [email protected] ctesc.net.
Suffolk: United Suffolk Sheep Ass'n; Annette Benson, Secy.; 435-563-6105; PO Box 256, Newton, UT 65201.
Texel Sheep Breeders Society: Bonnie Davis, Secy.; 815998-2359; fax 815-998-2113; 24001 N. 1900 E., Odell, IL 60460; [email protected]; www.usatexels. org. Or North American Texel Sheep Ass'n; Linda Gayle Smith; 601-426-2264; fax 601-428-2274; 740 Lower Myrick Rd., Laurel, MS 39443; [email protected] net; www.usatexels.org. Tunis: National Tunis Sheep Registry, Judy Harris; 413589-9653; 819 Lyons St., Ludlow, MA 01056. Wiltipoll: This polled meat breed, derived from the British Wiltshire Horn, was recently developed in Australia. They're available from Rita Hough, (02) 6862-6363; Hebron Park, Parkes, NSW 2870 AUSTRALIA; [email protected]. Or David Oakley; (03) 5438-3036; 82 Brooke St., Inglewood, Victoria 3517 AUSTRALIA; www.wiltipoll.com. John and Glenyes Pickering; (08) 8536-0023; fax (08) 8536-0038, RSD 484, Clayton Rd, Finniss. via Strathalbyn. SA 5255 AUSTRALIA; [email protected] com.au.
Where to Buy: You are probably best off buying out of a healthy-looking flock nearby, so that you can drive the animals home yourself. Auction sheep are generally cheaper, but they may be the culls from somebody's flock, going by fast enough that you don't have a chance to find out their problems until too late. It's safest to take your time, take a sheep-knowledgeable friend along, and buy from a reputable breeder. If you want to show at a fair or to go into serious breeding, then you want to buy purebreds from an appropriate breeder.
Number of Sheep: You will need to get more than 1 sheep or provide some other companionship because they're herd creatures by instinct. A sheep can be content in a field with a pony or even goats, but a lonely sheep will be miserable and annoy you by bleating all the time. At the other extreme, the more sheep you have, the more sheep problems you have; in other words, a small flock is easier to care for than a big one. A typical-sized year-round family flock consists of 6 or 7 ewes. A good way to get started is to buy ewes that have been recently bred in the fall. After lambing every spring, you'll have the extra lamb population for your good grass season until the fall when your lambs will be sold, butchered, or kept to increase your herd. AGE of Sheep: You can start with any of 3 different age groups:
Bum Lambs. You may be able to get a couple of tiny, bottle-fed lambs for a small price, feed them milk until they can be weaned to grass, then butcher them in the fall, or keep them for breeding. If you have goats or cows and thus plenty of cheap, surplus milk (and children who will be enthusiastic about doing the work), this can be an economical way to get started. If you have to buy the milk, even using a special product from the animal feed store, it can get expensive. Weaned Lambs. This is the easiest, least risky system of acquiring sheep as far as animal problems go. Start by buying a couple of weaned lambs. They'll be several months old as compared to the day-old bummers, past the risky stage for scours, and well started on a grass diet. If they are strictly for meat, you get them in the spring, pasture them all summer, and butcher them in the fall when the grass dies back. Or you could keep them for breeding stock. The problem with starting with yearling breeding stock is that they are slightly more likely to have difficulty lambing, and they may be reluctant to let their babies nurse—even reject them completely, which you can deal with when you have experience, but it is more difficult to handle when you're all learning together.
Pregnant Ewes. In the fall—October or November—buy pregnant 2- or 3-year-old ewes that have experience with lambing. When you buy them, be sure and ask the seller when they got bred; you need to estimate their lambing date. Feed them through the winter and lamb them out come late winter; by spring you have a sizable flock. Odds are for every 2 ewes you have, you'll get 3 lambs because of common twin or even triplet births. This is considered a relatively cost-efficient way to get started.
Whatever age sheep you start with, if you buy from a nearby breeder that you feel good about, you'll have somebody to go back to with future questions. In general, look for a large animal compared to others of the breed, with proper conformation if you're buying registered, and good health. Here are signs of poor health: Teeth. An experienced sheep person can capture a sheep, gently lay it down, open its mouth, pull down its bottom lip, and see what shape its teeth are in. The teeth in a sheep's mouth tell its age. A lamb has 8 "milk" teeth—and they're all in its lower jaw. Somewhere between 12 and 18 months the center pair will be replaced by the sheep's first pair of permanent teeth. You can distinguish permanent teeth from the milk teeth because they're longer and wider. A 2-year-old has 4 permanent teeth. A 3-year-old has 6. A 4-year-old has 8, and that's the most it will get. In the 4-year-old sheep's mouth, all the baby teeth are replaced by the permanent ones. A sheep with those 8 permanent teeth has a "full mouth." The usual sheep produces well until it's 6 or 7 years old and may live until age 12, although after age 6, it's considered to be getting "old." As the sheep continues to get older its teeth gradually slant forward, spread out, grind down, even break off. A "broken-mouth" sheep, meaning one with teeth broken off or missing, is past its prime and not a good buy. If it lives long enough, all the teeth will be gone; that's called a "gummer." Transporting Sheep: You can move a sheep in the back of a pickup. Simply lift it up there! If the pickup bed has side racks, you can leave it loose in there. If the sheep is halter-broke, you can put a halter on it and tie the halter rope to something in the pickup bed. Or you can tie the sheep's legs so it can't walk and transport it that way. When moving sheep, you'll notice what size your sheep is. Transporting is one time you'd be glad for a smaller breed over a larger one.
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