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Sheep without pasture?

 
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So I understand sheep are not browsers with the exception of Damara sheep which can browse. However these a hair sheep...
Are thee any heritage varieties that can browse and forrage and would be suitable for woodlands. Isn't there a variety of forest sheep? Can the clun forest sheep actually be raised ia forest environment or does it need pasture as well?
Sorry if this sound naive but I would like to raise sheep for wool and meat at some point yet am not sure if I will end up with acres of pasture...
 
pollinator
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Location: northern California
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The Blackbelly sheep I have love browse. Anything I don't want them to eat has to be stoutly fenced. I've had them a few months now and so far they love poplar, mimosa, grape leaves, apple, pear, roses, moderate amounts of oak (and acorns!), sweet potato vines, squash vines, asparagus tops, tansy, wormwood, and probably several other things I'm forgetting. Right now I have them fenced in a small yard while the pasture grows back up and am feeding them hay and all these other things by clipping them and taking them to them.
 
master pollinator
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My Jacobs prefer browse by far over grass. They have ringbarked many of our trees, apparently preferring tree bark to any other food.

I should also mention that sheep among trees can damage their wool by rubbing against the trees, which felts the wool. This leaves less of the fleece useable. You might consider keeping the sheep in a smallish paddock and bringing branches to them for fodder, rather than pasturing them in the forest. Sheep in a paddock can wear jackets to protect the fleece, which seems to be considered almost mandatory among serious small wool producers.

 
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Is there a breed of sheep that can exist on only browse, no pasture? That's a very good question. Nothing naive about that.

Just to confirm, what kinds of products are your looking for from your sheep? Wool, meat and milk? Or just one or two of those?

All sheep enjoy browse to some extent. The older breeds (like icelandic, shetland, any of the Finn descendants) more than most. I haven't yet encountered a breed that can live on only browse. Don't despair. There could be one I haven't learned about yet. There are sheep that live almost exclusively on seaweed, so why not just browse? If they exist, it will probably be one of the nomadic breeds or a Finn decent. I can't imagine it being any modern breed.

Have a look at Natural sheep Care by Pat Coleby - I don't remember offhand if she mentions a breed that needs less or no pasture. If anyone knows, it will be her. At the very least, the book gives an excellent understanding of what can be achieved through nutrition. Everything from increase fertility, wool production, reduced parasites... &c and so on are strongly affected by nutrition.

There are a few challenges I can see with not having pasture, especially if you want good wool production. The nutrition the sheep received, especially the trace minerals, has a huge influence on their health and the products they produce. Any nutritional stress, and you can loose that year's wool production because of a weakness in the fibres. Like how humans' hair get's brittle and falls out more after an illness or emotional stress. Sheep are more susceptible to that sort of thing. A lot of the nutrients they need is in browse, however, the sheep can't necessarily absorb it into their system. Having a lot of browse seems to help their health... but exclusively...? I don't know. My personal feelings are that if it were my sheep, I would hesitate to have browse only unless the breed had a history of it AND my browse was similar to their historical norm.

Some other things eating grass does for sheep is that it helps regulate their temperature. In the winter, for example, having the right kind of hay or grass fermenting in their rumen produces the necessary heat to help them through the cold months. PH balance in the rumen is also very important to their health. Without grass, I imagine they would need some other way to keep it balanced. Bloat is one issue. Others involve being more susceptible to parasites (see Coleby above for the theory on nutrition and parasite management).

It may be, you would need to subsidize their diet with hay if they have no grass. Or possibly, goats might be the answer.

Those are my thoughts. Don't be discouraged yet. I don't know everything. It will be interesting to see what thoughts others have.
 
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Location: Northeastern Coast of the U.S.
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I wonder...why do you want sheep? If you're looking at hair sheep, then it's not for fiber, which is why a lot of people prefer sheep over other livestock.
If you just want an animal that can provide meat and milk from just browsing and little-to-no pasture, why not raise goats? They're generally smaller than sheep, but not by much, and they'll provide meat and milk pretty happily with nothing but browsing.
 
Harmony Hunden
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Hi,
I would like to get wool from sheep hence the reason I am asking about sheep instead of goats or cows. Although I have raised both in the past it was on sixteen acres of pasture that I no longer have. So I am trying to see if sheep would be feasible in the future as I am plannin moving to a rather forested semi rocky region, I know cashmere can be gotten by goats but I would love to have wool with lanolin. It would be nice to have either meat or milk. A secondary product but I do intend to have goats as well so I am primarily interested in wool for fiber crafting as my kids have an interest in knitting,
 
Ian Mack
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Location: Northeastern Coast of the U.S.
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Ah, I misunderstood your question, my fault entirely. There have been some good suggestions by the others in this thread (blackbelly, jacobs, icelandic, shetland) that I think would be worth looking into. That said, I do have another suggestion depending on how much land you're moving onto. Silvopasture!
If you did some selective clearing of trees to open up the forest and let more light get to the understory and ground, then cleared a bit of the leaf litter and planted grasses, you might be able to set up a very nice combination forest and pasture that the sheep would no doubt enjoy an awful lot. Plenty of browsing but a good amount of pasture too. I'm not sure how dense your forests are or how heavily you'd have to clear, but in the long run selective clearing would be a heck of a lot cheaper than trying to clearcut it and you'd have plenty of food for goats and heavy-browsing-light-grazing sheep as well!
 
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