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Lamb experiment - good or bad plan?

 
Posts: 174
Location: Northern Puget Sound, Zone 8A
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Posted before about wanting some sheep, and trying to figure out details.  I'm thinking about maybe picking up a couple (2, tops 3) lambs at a local livestock auction.  From their June 3 sale info: "Lambs weighing #50 to #68 selling for up to $115.00/head; Ewes selling for up to $120.00/hd; Sheep $50.00 to $230.00/head".  

Mostly I want this to be a learning experience to get a taste for what I'm setting myself up for if I get a few ewes and a ram later on.  Lower risk/cost this way, and fewer variables to keep track of and calibrate for.

My meat chickens go to freezer camp this Saturday, along with 3 BB turkeys.  The other 8 BB turkeys will be processed around mid-late July.  Heritage turkeys will be kept to Thanksgiving or possibly Christmas.  But, I was going to use just one of the 2 Premier 1 nets for the turkeys anyway, so I'd have 1 left for lambs.  

Thinking to just put the lambs out on my lawn in that extra poultry net and let them graze, and move them as needed to keep them in tall enough grass.  Around mid-October when the grass will be about done growing for the year I'd slaughter them.  That way I don't need to feed them much if any purchased food.  Also gives my hunting buddies and me a chance to practice skinning and gutting before elk season so that hopefully we can do a better/faster job since it won't have been 2 years since the last time.

Figuring that way it's only a 3 month commitment, and I'd only be into it for $200-300 as I already have the fencing and water tanks, and I can probably knock together a shelter from crap laying around.  If I manage to find someone (Craigslist or wherever) sell cheaper or giving them away, so much the better.  For something like this I don't think breed matters particularly as I won't be breeding them or trying to harvest wool, or anything else.  As long as their hooves are in good shape, other than maybe initial de-worming I shouldn't really have to do much maintenance on them during such a short time span.

Where am I going wrong in this thought process?  

Wife likes eating lamb.  Doesn't think she'd like mutton.  So I'm not terribly inclined to get the Ewes.

Also, wife doesn't like grass fed beef (or at least not any she's tried from other people).  Should I be considering feeding the lambs at least some grain for their last 2 weeks or month, or is most lamb in the American market entirely grass fed?
 
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Finished on grain or pellets?  Pellets work better, but I don't know what's in them.
Make sure you have good, fast-growing graze at least when the lambs first show up.  They sometimes take a while to get used to your forage mix, and you don't want them to get skinny while figuring it out.
 
Andrew Mayflower
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Terri Pine wrote:Finished on grain or pellets?  Pellets work better, but I don't know what's in them.
Make sure you have good, fast-growing graze at least when the lambs first show up.  They sometimes take a while to get used to your forage mix, and you don't want them to get skinny while figuring it out.



I guess pellets.  Local feed mill makes a 14% protein pellet they say is "All Purpose" and marked for "Sheep and Livestock".  I've had great success with their broiler pellets for my meat chickens.
 
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This is a VERY poor plan. There are toxins from the lawn being mown so many times, so close to the ground, that will harm sheep.

Buying from a livestock auction is also a very poor idea, and the prices seem rather high.

Surely you can make sheep friends on Facebook Groups, or other online places nearby, and buy your sheep from a reputable farm instead. I waited 10 months to find the right flock of sheep, but was glad I did.
 
Andrew Mayflower
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Travis Johnson wrote:This is a VERY poor plan. There are toxins from the lawn being mown so many times, so close to the ground, that will harm sheep.

Buying from a livestock auction is also a very poor idea, and the prices seem rather high.

Surely you can make sheep friends on Facebook Groups, or other online places nearby, and buy your sheep from a reputable farm instead. I waited 10 months to find the right flock of sheep, but was glad I did.



Forgive my ignorance, but what toxins come from mowing?  Other than a little engine exhaust from the mower, which is pretty minimal, I'm not sure where there'd be any toxins?  The only fertilizer I've put on it in the 9 years I've lived here is chicken manure from raising broilers and doing pasture rotation the last couple years.  And I'm a lazy mower.  I set the mower as high as it goes and barely keep it mowed enough to not clog the bagger.

I haven't seen many prices better than that for lambs locally, but I'll admit to not being on FB pages or other online places specific to local sheep raisers.  What would be a good price for a couple lambs to raise for just a few months and then slaughter?
 
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Here's my own two cents.....

... Unless you already are pretty savvy about sheep, buying from an auction is a big risk. While some good stock moves through auctions, there's also a lot of crap and problem animals. I buy my own replacement or expansion sheep from a private farm where I can go back the next day or two if I discover I've been sold a sick one. And with a private sale, I can pick out the friendly animals. Sheep, unless tamed, can be really flighty and hard to handle if they aren't at least trained to a grain bucket.
... I'd start with two, since they will tend to stick together. Adding a third, especially if they don't all know each other (at auctions there is no guarantee that the animals are from a bonded flock) is asking for trouble if they are strangers to each other and thus head three different directions when you try to move them.
... Breed matters when it comes to flavor. Some are definitely better than others. If I had a choice, I'd avoid breeds that produce a lot of lanolin. In fact, I'd try to purchase hair sheep instead of woolies.
... Age matters when it comes to flavor. Younger is better.

How much lawn/ grass do you have? Growing sheep can really eat a lot of they are eating just lawn. They prefer to eat a lot of forbs, which lawns won't give them. Suburban lawns aren't normally good sheep pastures. Thus you may have issues with bloating and other eating disorders due to lack of long staple fiber. Free choice hay will help prevent this. Have a back up plan if you run low on grass. Since you plan to eat them, you really don't want them losing weight at slaughter time.

Watch which pellets you offer them. Avoid everything with copper, including mineral supplements or salt licks with copper. Go with a sheep approved pellet. Or use a whole grain. Be careful how much grain they eat per day. Grain and pellets change the rumen chemistry which can lead to several types of metabolic problems.

Take the time to train them to the a Premier 1 fencing. With no prior experience with it, they can quickly become entangled. Sheep tend to jump forward when startled, either running through the fence or getting caught up in it. I've never lost any sheep to this fencing, but I've had friends who came home to find a dead sheep tangled up in the fence. By the way, I use Premier 1 fence to mob graze my flock, and I love the stuff. But it did take time to get the dumber ewes safely conditioned to the fence.
 
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As a former sheep-keeper who ended up somewhat regretting it, I have to agree with those who are cautioning you against this plan.  In my own experience, sheep are not something to get casually.  They can be a real challenge, much more difficult than poultry.

 
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Those prices seem high for someone's culls and you don't get a mentor included in the price.

It could work...

But maybe keep looking for other local sources.
 
Su Ba
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Some of your plan is sensible....starting out easy with just a couple. Starting out with the plan to keep them only for a few months and not trying to get them through the winter. And using them as your first slaughter and butcher job. I find sheep easy to do both compared to other large livestock. And they are small enough so that it isn't an issue trying to fit all the meat into the freezer.

Although sheep are certainly more challenging than chickens, plus carry more liability if they should get loose than a chicken would, I find that they are easier and safer than pigs, goats, cattle, or equines. I found them to be a good teacher on how to care for, handle, behave around, and talk to livestock. With sheep I quickly learned that things worked better if I was calm, quiet, slow, and gave the animals time to think and move on their own. Plus I quickly learned that every animal on my farm should be conditioned to come for food, in the case of sheep, that is a grain bucket. One never knows when they grain bucket will save your skin! I train all my sheep to come when I holler "baaaaaaaa". Is far better than having to run around trying to round them up myself now that I no longer have a collie dog. Funny side note : my donkey picked up the "baa" call pretty quickly and comes running, bringing the flock with her. But neighbor's tease me about me baa-ing to a donkey. Funny!
 
Travis Johnson
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Andrew Mayflower wrote:Forgive my ignorance, but what toxins come from mowing?



It stems from the way a lawn is grown, then repeatedly mowed. It does something to the grass, and toxins can be picked up by the sheep because they graze so close to the ground. It has nothing to do with human toxic substances, its just with lawns, grass should not grow that way. Even mowed high, it is still low,  and mob grazing still does not mimic how a mowed lawn grows.
 
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Andrew,

I like the plan, with modifications. I think you want to be careful of the importation of parasites, which can remain on your place long after those sheep are gone, and if it works and you want to expand, could hinder your long term. I would pay more and get animals from a reputable place that does FAMACHA and culls from the start. If you get your long-term sheep from the same place (assuming you are happy with the experiment) it shouldn't be an issue.

The height of the grass can be modified pretty quickly by just not mowing for a couple weeks, and Travis' point is well-taken. Generally you need to have standing forage that is deep enough to still have 4-5" after the rotation. Of course they will eat some stuff down to a nub but in general... I mow when it gets above my knee, at a 6" height.

I plan on having the same setup, with the sheep paddock in front of the chickens. I am probably going to get the biggest charger so I can run both fences off it. I actually would love for you to do it just to learn what you find out.  
 
Andrew Mayflower
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Su Ba wrote:

How much lawn/ grass do you have? Growing sheep can really eat a lot of they are eating just lawn. They prefer to eat a lot of forbs, which lawns won't give them. Suburban lawns aren't normally good sheep pastures. Thus you may have issues with bloating and other eating disorders due to lack of long staple fiber. Free choice hay will help prevent this. Have a back up plan if you run low on grass. Since you plan to eat them, you really don't want them losing weight at slaughter time.

Watch which pellets you offer them. Avoid everything with copper, including mineral supplements or salt licks with copper. Go with a sheep approved pellet. Or use a whole grain. Be careful how much grain they eat per day. Grain and pellets change the rumen chemistry which can lead to several types of metabolic problems.

Take the time to train them to the a Premier 1 fencing. With no prior experience with it, they can quickly become entangled. Sheep tend to jump forward when startled, either running through the fence or getting caught up in it. I've never lost any sheep to this fencing, but I've had friends who came home to find a dead sheep tangled up in the fence. By the way, I use Premier 1 fence to mob graze my flock, and I love the stuff. But it did take time to get the dumber ewes safely conditioned to the fence.



I've got a solid 2 acres of grass, and another 2.5+ acres of mixed brush, forest, and cleared but not yet growing anything.  

The pellets from the local mill are zero copper.  

How do you like to train the sheep to the fence?  Other than putting them in it, and watching them to see how they react to getting shocked, and being ready to rescue them if they get stuck, I'm not sure how you'd do that.
 
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