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raising lamb over the summer

 
Mariah Wallener
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Location: Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, Canada
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Having successfully raised pigs from weaners to market for two summers now, and having done our first batch of meat birds this summer, we're thinking about other animals we can raise during the more pleasant seasons of the year. We're considering raising lambs. I'd love the wool for my knitting, and we'd use the meat ourselves and/or sell some of it to family members. Plus I hate mowing our grass (not the work part of it, but the fossil fuel expenditure simply to make the place look nicer and neater).

1) Do these work like pigs, in that you buy them as weanlings in the spring, raise them over the summer, then slaughter them in the autumn?

2) Can they subsist solely on grass during these months or do they need supplemental feed (hay or alfalfa, I'm assuming)?

3) How many acres are recommended per lamb?

4) How much yarn can you get from the fleece of one lamb?

5) If we used portable fencing to move them to areas we want "mowed" (they would be in a pasture in-between mowings) will they really do the work of a lawnmower?

Many thanks in advance.
 
Cj Sloane
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Mariah Wallener wrote: 1) Do these work like pigs, in that you buy them as weanlings in the spring, raise them over the summer, then slaughter them in the autumn?

I don't think it's cost effective that way, there isn't that much time after weaning till slaughter. Maybe if you got cheap "bummer" lambs that you'd have to bottle fed. It doesn't take too long to build up a flock though.

2) Can they subsist solely on grass during these months or do they need supplemental feed (hay or alfalfa, I'm assuming)?

If the grass is good you may only need a mineral supplement.

3) How many acres are recommended per lamb?

Depends on the land but roughly 8 sheep = 1 cow

4) How much yarn can you get from the fleece of one lamb?

Depends on the breed

5) If we used portable fencing to move them to areas we want "mowed" (they would be in a pasture in-between mowings) will they really do the work of a lawnmower?

Yes, no question. I let mine free range and never mow... but they eventually ate all the good stuff and started wandering a bit too far and I lost a ewe this summer.

 
Julie Helms
Posts: 110
Location: SC Pennsylvania, Zone 6b
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Normally, lamb is slaughtered by 5-6 months. If you purchased them weaned they would be about 2 months old when you got them. We sell our weaned lambs in May-June, and then slaughter in August-September. I'm not sure how you are going to get enough wool at that age--it would be pretty short.

How much wool you get depends, like CJ said, on the breed. I breed Corriedales (a medium length staple on a large animal) and get 10 lbs of wool on a fleece grown for a year, after skirting, on a mature animal. Here is a picture of a heavy blanket that took exactly one fleece that was 6 lbs on a one-year old.

http://woolyacres.wordpress.com/2010/12/26/meet-the-flock-brianna-and-a-very-wooly-christmas/

We keep about 15-20 animals (sheep and goats) on 6 acres and still do two major cuttings each summer. We have a very rich pasture.

Raising sheep year round is very easy. You can rent-a-ram for breeding if you don't want to deal with him the rest of the year. The ewes lamb pretty easily for the most part.

EDIT: don't know if this helps, but the 2nd pic down on this page is a picture of a raw fleece just off the animal. It gives you an idea of how much you can get. This is a mature sheep with about 14 lbs raw wool.
http://woolyacres.wordpress.com/fleece/

 
Cj Sloane
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One more thing about the wool. You can probably purchase raw wool very cheaply. I have a 50 gallon bag of it waiting for me to decide what to do with it. I may just use it for mulch.
It's not cheap to get it processed and to DIY is time consuming and you need some special equipment.
 
Julie Helms
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Location: SC Pennsylvania, Zone 6b
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Cj Verde wrote:One more thing about the wool. You can probably purchase raw wool very cheaply. .


The price GREATLY depends on the quality. I sell my wool to handspinners for $20-$25/lb. My skirtings go to the wool pool for 50c /lb. Then I bed my chicken nest boxes with the next lowest quality and mulch with everything else.
 
Mariah Wallener
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Location: Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, Canada
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Thanks so much for the information so far.

Cjverde, I wasn't sure what you meant about it being "cost effective" - are you referring to the sale price of lamb meat vs. cost of raising them over the summer? We're not doing this to make any money - it's just a way to cut the grass, have some lamb in the freezer, and enjoy a few more critters around the homestead in the summer months.

The wool, I thought, would just be an added bonus. But it sounds like there wouldn't be enough worth shearing when they are only about 6 months old. I have always wanted to learn how to spin, and this would give me a small project to work on over the winter, just for the fun of saying I saw the process the whole way through. I would not be doing it on any significant scale, just a hobby.

Right now we don't keep any livestock over the winter months and we're liking it that way. We're not in any of this for the money, its just a way to grow our own meat. I don't even really like lamb all that much, but it would be an excuse to have more critters around in the summer, and to not have to use that damned lawnmower!

Oh, one more question: would two lambs be enough of a "flock" to keep them each happy or do they require more companions than that?

PS - julie thanks for the pictures, that was really helpful!
 
Julie Helms
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Location: SC Pennsylvania, Zone 6b
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Two is enough!
 
Leila Rich
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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How much area would you plan to graze them in? In NZ, recommended stocking rates for sheep on good summer pasture is around 5 per acre. So may variables though!
If you have to supplement feed in summer, it means the stocking rate and rotation are off.
They're great lawnmowers and they fertilise liberally as they go, so watch the bare feet
I'm glad you mention portable fencing: to me that means rotational grazing and if you don't move sheep fairly methodically, they'll eat all the 'good stuff' and they're prone to worms, so it's important to break the parasite cycle. I recommend 'strip grazing' the whole time, not just when they're in 'lawnmower mode' . There's very good solar electric fence chargers out there. Do your homework on fencing, because motherless lambs will escape if they can!
If you just want a few and don't plan to sell them, there's usually cheap lambs and it definitely simplifies things if it's not for profit.
Two lambs is just ok, but I'd say three would be much better.
Lamb wool's really hard to spin, but it's fine for felting...
Over here, people that fatten lambs generally slaughter before they need shearing, since that adds a major expense and they';re grown for meat, not wool.
Pat Colby's books on animal care are excellent. She's Australian, so some of the info may not be relevant, but it gives a good idea of sheep husbandry
http://www.amazon.com/Natural-Sheep-Care-Pat-Coleby/dp/0911311904
Search Acres USA, natural farming, biological farming. Maybe try New Zealand in the search terms...
 
Cj Sloane
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Mariah Wallener wrote:Cjverde, I wasn't sure what you meant about it being "cost effective" - are you referring to the sale price of lamb meat vs. cost of raising them over the summer? We're not doing this to make any money - it's just a way to cut the grass, have some lamb in the freezer, and enjoy a few more critters around the homestead in the summer months.


People don't sell weaned lambs as a rule because they're so close to slaughter once weaned. So they're selling lambs to be bred. But, you might find some inexpensive ones on craigslist, or, as I said, bummers that need to be bottle fed.

It might cost the same to buy a lamb, have it mow your grass, and then slaughter it as it would to just buy the slaughtered lamb from a farmer, unless you're going to slaughter and butcher yourself. I suppose it saves you $ for gas and the time of mowing.

The lambs may need protection from predators.
 
Leila Rich
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It might be more practical to buy sheep from 'lifestyle farmers' as they're known here (I think 'homesteader' would be similar) than large-scale farmers. I wouldn't have a clue about Canada though...
Fencing in lambs can be a real pain. Hoggets are much easier, but the older the sheep, the more 'sheepy' the flavour. I love mutton, but I was raised on it
By the way, if sheep look too complicated, geese make good lawnmowers. Great guard-birds too. Be aware though, they're noisy whether just wandering around, or bailing up a burgler!
 
Julie Helms
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Location: SC Pennsylvania, Zone 6b
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Another thought, if you get a bummer lamb like was suggested and bottle raise it, it will become bonded to you and make a great pet. You couldn't eat it then probably, but you could keep it around for its wool and lawn mowing qualities and have a friendly companion. If my bottle babies get out of the fencing, they run to the front door of the house and wait for me. My non-bottle fed ones would not leave the paddock if the door was left wide open. It is where they feel safe.

In case you need convincing, here is a video animation of my daughter with a new bottle-baby:

http://static.animoto.com/swf/w.swf?w=swf/vp1&e=1319420125&f=dRtlXw6j3AmCiVURD1BWzg&d=119&m=a&r=360p&volume=&i=m&options=

(p.s. turn the sound on, it defaults to mute)
 
Mariah Wallener
Posts: 167
Location: Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, Canada
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Cjverde, okay now I understand! Good point. If the price of the lamb plus feed and butchering ends up being the same as buying lamb it's really not worth the effort. Especially if I don't even get wool to play with!

Well, looks like raising lamb is not the same as raising weaner pigs. I'll have to think about this some more. Thanks so much for all the great info, folks!
 
John Cabot
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I've raised lots of sheep on grass only. If you're not going to deworm them, which I absolutely do not, then the key to managing parasites is frequent rotational grazing. If you don't move them to fresh paddocks frequently then they will graze close to the ground where their parasites are waiting. I've found that it takes about 9 months at least to raise lambs on good pasture.

Good luck!

Dusty
http://www.farm-dreams.com/group/sheepgoats
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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