Did you know that there are more breeds of sheep than any other livestock in the world (with the exception of poultry?) You may have never considered adding sheep to your homestead, but they are actually very versatile little creatures.
So I’d like to give you a brief rundown of all the things you need to know in order to raise sheep as well as give you their many purposes for a homestead.
Hopefully, after you read what magnificent creatures they are, you may consider adding them to your busy homestead and have one more resource at hand that just happens to be adorable.
Why Keep Sheep?
Sheep are raised for a variety of reasons. Here are a few of them:
A lot of people like to raise sheep for wool. They are able to either keep the wool and have a resource of free material to make their own clothes.
But with this wool, they have the option of selling the wool by itself, they can make yarn and sell it, or they can actually make clothes and sell them or keep them for themselves. It is just one more way of creating income for a homestead and being self-sufficient as well.
A lot of people eat sheep (mutton) or lamb. You can purchase lamb at the grocery store for a premium price.
So again, by raising the meat themselves, people have one more meat source and one more way to create income for their homestead.
You may not think of sheep as a dairy source, but they are. They are actually a good source of dairy for a small piece of land.
So for people that don’t have acres and acres to raise a cow, they can instead raise a few sheep and have enough milk to support their family.
9 Varieties of Sheep to Raise
Have you ever heard that counting sheep will help you sleep? Well, there is a reason for that. The number of sheep is so great, you could count from here until eternity and have a hard time coming up with all of the different breeds.
Let alone if you wanted to count individual sheep. Oh boy, what a task that would be.
So for the sake of time (and your sanity) I’m going to break the varieties of sheep down into a few categories.
1. Fine Wool Sheep
These sheep are probably what you are most use to seeing. They produce wool that is very fine and make up about 50% of the world’s wool sheep population.
But needless to say, they are cute little things that would put a smile on your face every time you saw them.
2. Long Wool Sheep
These sheep are most commonly found in cool, damp climates. They live in our areas like England and Scotland.
But they are raised for their thick wool. They produce wool that is larger in diameter, but that is also why they do so well in cooler climates.
3. Medium Wool Meat Sheep
These sheep can produce a medium sized wool. However, they are mainly raised for their meat, but they do make up about 15% of the world’s sheep population.
So they might look a little familiar to you as well. Either way, this would be a dual purpose sheep to have around your property.
4. Carpet Wool Sheep
These sheep are what carpet is made out of. They have two layers of wool on their bodies because they are usually found in extreme environments.
So the outer layer of wool is very thick and coarse. This is the layer that is shaved off and made into thick and durable carpet.
5. Hair Sheep
Hair sheep are really gorgeous and actually remind me of a goat in some ways. These sheep have hair in the place of wool.
However, this is because they originated in warmer climates the Caribbean and Africa. But interest is growing in this breed of sheep as they are now at the top of the registry list in the United States. Other countries like Australia and Europe are growing in interest in this breed of sheep too.
6. Fat-Tailed Sheep
These sheep make me laugh. They are called fat-tailed sheep because they have fat bottoms. Basically, they come from extreme environments and are able to store a lot of fat in their tails.
So since they are mainly raised in desert areas, they need to be able to store food preserves. However, there are a few in the United States, but they were only recently introduced. These sheep are mainly used for meat and milk production.
7. Short Tailed Breeds
We go from those with big bottoms to those with tiny bottoms. These sheep have a short-tails that do not require being docked.
This breed originated from Northern Europe. They are naturally very fertile so they produce a ton of off spring. Therefore, if you needed a larger number for a meat source or if you wanted to breed them, then this might be a good option for that.
8. Prolific Breeds
The breed that stands out the most to me in this variety is the Finn sheep. They are known for naturally being great reproducers.
So as mentioned above, if you need a large number for a meat source, or if you plan on breeding as a means of support for your homestead, then you might want to consider one of these breeds.
9. Primitive Breeds
These breeds are the ones that have survived without much help from humans. If you live in a rugged area that having tough animals is a must, then you might want to consider this breed.
However, it is natural for those in these breeds to vary in appearance from time to time, but they will show the same survival characteristics.
What Your Sheep Needs
If you’ve raised goats, then you are already one step ahead of the game in raising sheep. To me, they are very much alike. They are both social creatures and both require much of the same needs.
However, sheep do require a little extra care because of their wool. So here is what you’ll need to provide the basics for your sheep.
1. Basic Shelter
Every animal needs shelter. If you are going to keep them as livestock, then it is your duty to provide this. A sheep is no different.
So you’ll need to provide a basic structure for sheep just as you would for a goat. All they need is a three sided barn or fort that has straw bedding. This will keep the elements off of them, and the straw will provide warmth.
You will need about a 5 foot tall fence in order to keep your sheep in their area. However, you might want to go a little taller if you have lots of predators in your area.
I say this because the taller the fence, the harder for some predators to get through to your sheep. And sadly, sheep are a lot of predators favorite snack.
So keep this in mind as you are preparing the fencing for your new sheep. Plus, you’ll need a separate area for sick sheep. As it is always a good idea to have a fenced location so you can quarantine any animal that is feeling under the weather.
3. Pasture or Hay
If you don’t have a ton of space for sheep to graze, then you’ll need to provide them with a hay feeder and hay. Here is a great resource for building a waste free hay feeder. Sheep will also graze on plants and grass that are in the area.
However, if you have pasture, then your sheep will need only the grass that is available to them. Be prepared to supplement hay if needed during colder months when the grass isn’t as plentiful. Just make sure that your hay doesn’t get moldy if you store it over winter. This can be toxic for your animals.
Also, don’t feed your sheep grains unless they are specially formulated for sheep. Some grains contain too much copper for sheep and this is harmful.
So a natural plant based diet is usually what is best for them, and it is cheaper for you usually.
4. Salt Blocks Are Good
Sheep and goats alike need certain minerals. By giving them a salt block to lick on this allows them to get these minerals without overdoing it.
5. Fresh Water is a Must
Sheep need fresh water just like every other living creature. So you’ll need to make sure that you either have a natural and clean water source that they can go drink from.
Or you’ll need to provide a water station for your sheep. Just be sure that your sheep have a plentiful water source.
General Care for Sheep
1. Trim Their Hooves
Just like with goats, you must trim a sheep’s hooves. If not, they can become lame. Here is a great tutorial on how to trim your own animal’s hooves.
So keep in mind, that you can also provide cement blocks for them to prance up and down in order to trim their own hooves. I do this for my male goats, as they are really difficult to trim their hooves. It has worked well for us. Just remember to switch out the blocks ever so often because they’ll dull them down.
2. Shave Them
If you purchase a variety of sheep that has wool it will need to be sheared at least once a year. If you buy a variety that has a thick layer of wool, then it will have to be sheared possibly two times a year.
So if you are unsure about how to shear a sheep, here is a great resource to help you figure it out. Plus, they also show you how to do what I’m mentioning in my next point as well. So this video is a two for one.
3. Keep Them Clean
Sheep get dirty. You can only imagine living outside with all of that wool. It has to be difficult for them to keep clean.
So you’ll need to be sure to clean any area around their bottoms or any area that is matted or caked with mud. Naturally, they have a hard time getting all of their waste out of their hair.
When you shave the area around their bottoms and down their legs, this is called crutching. That is because you cleaning the area known as their ‘crutch.’
So caring for a sheep’s wool is basically the same as if you are a person with long hair having that extra maintenance, or caring for an extreme wooly dog.
Also, when you are cleaning the mud and matted hair from under their bellies this is called ‘dagging’ a sheep. The terminology is a good thing to know if you need more resources on how to perform such tasks.
4. Worm Them
Like with most livestock, sheep need to be wormed. You’ll need to do this at least once or twice a year. A lot of sites tell you to go to a veterinarian and get medication to perform this.
However, I’m a little different. If you feel better by going to the vet, by all means, do what you feel most comfortable with.
As for me, I feel better about using diatomaceous earth. It is all natural, and it can be purchased online or at a local agricultural store for very little money. I just sprinkle it in their food and let them eat it. I use it for my goats, chickens, and even on my dogs.
Also, there are two kinds. There is food grade (meaning humans can eat it) or there is the kind meant just for livestock. The price is a little higher for food grade, but you can decide which you want to purchase.
So far, it has done a great job at keeping all of my livestock and pets free of any parasites. Again, this is just what I do, but you do for your homestead what you feel most comfortable with.
5. Check Them for Parasites
You can only imagine with all of that wool (in most breeds of sheep) that they can easily get mites, lice, and other types of creepy crawly things on them. (Don’t worry about the lice infecting you. I researched this when we got chickens because I was petrified of getting lice. According to my research, it is not the same kind of lice that lives in human heads. So you don’t have to worry about becoming infected from your animals.)
But I digress, again, rubbing diatomaceous earth on your sheep is a great natural way of destroying any parasites on them. You can also sprinkle it in their bedding. It will kill fleas, ticks, and most other unwanted parasites and insects.
However, if you feel more comfortable by consulting your vet, then do so. Just do what it takes to keep your sheep happy and healthy.
Lamb Recipes to Use Your Sheep’s Byproducts
Here are a few recipes to help you figure out a few of the delicious ways to use the products that your sheep produce:
1. Street Meat Grilled Lamb Kabobs
These delicious kabobs look amazing. They require only a few small ingredients, and you could have a great dinner in no time.
So if you like making fun food on a stick, then you should consider this recipe to use your sheep or lamb meat.
2. 20-Minute Greek Gyros
I love gyros. They are a huge weakness of mine. If you feel the same, then you have to check out this recipe.
Plus, they look simple to make and tasty too. Not to mention, the tutorial seems thorough and has a lot of great pictures to help you along with this recipe.
3. Lamb Curry
The idea of eating lamb really turns some people off, and I can understand that. But if you ever decide that you want to try it, then you might want to start here.
I say that because this recipe looks mouth watering good. The delicious lamb meat mixed with a great curry recipe just sounds amazing.
4. Lamb Ragu
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I love food! It all looks amazing, and this Italian dish is no different. It looks simply delicious.
So if you like Italian cuisine too, then you might want to check out this delicious recipe for lamb ragu.
5. Port Braised Lamb Shanks
This recipe looks a little fancier than what we eat on a regular basis, but I could easily adjust! It looks absolutely delicious.
So if you like the idea of lamb, with a great sauce, and some mashed potatoes then this recipe might be right up your alley.
Well, there are the basic facts to raising sheep. I hope that you feel a little more informed and ready to consider giving these cute little guys a place on your homestead.
But I want to know if there is anything new sheep owners should take into consideration that I didn’t cover here? Plus, do you have any great recipes that they could make from any of the sheep byproducts?