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What are sheep good for?  RSS feed

 
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We're about to buy land (2 hectares) close to Lisbon. The plot is almost completely flat, at the lowest point of valley, with plenty of water, mainly green pasture with some trees (walnut, lemon, orange, pear,...). Right now it is being used to graze a horse and 15 sheep. The current owners will give us the sheep if we buy it. I want to start a permaculture project/food forest and, of course, want to start with the basics: composting and building soil, pioneer plants, a garden with annuals. I'd like to only have animals that have a clear use: for example ducks to eat snails, give eggs and for meat. I am not sure what to do with the sheep? What good are they for in my context? Also, 2 hectares seems relatively small for 15 sheep, if the main goal of the land is to have plants. Should I (gradually) downsize this number to 2-3?
 
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We had sheep and sold them because they hurt our children and myself, ramming. They are good for meat, wool, hides, milk and lanolin. Soap making. They also help maintain our hay or any vegetation. We have 10 acres of hay. The sheep help keep areas we don’t shred low. They eat a lot of hay which is necessary for their digestive systems. They also need vaccines frequently, which aren’t expensive if you do it yourself. They have to be sheared which is hard to do, time consuming or expensive if you hire someone to do it.

If you decide to buy them make sure you get good records on all of them. Ages, any registration or awards if applicable, whos related, lineage if available, vaccine schedules, vet contact. Check their health; weight, energy, any coughing or panting.

They may be looking to get out from under them? Check craigslist and feed stores for area pricing. If you can buy them cheap and sell them for a profit it may be worth it if your not interested in keeping them.

So the reason I got rid of our sheep is because one castrated male was very mean. He sent myself and my youngest son flying on several occasions. The worst time caused a soccer ball sized hematoma on my leg which still hasn’t healed completely after 3 months. You just have to be very cautious when cleaning or feeding and watering in their areas.

Good luck and congratulations on your new homestead?

 
Posts: 28
Location: Oklahoma Panhandle
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The sheep hooves are good for soil disturbance by breaking up capped, bare soil.  They will target certain plants first when grazing and can be used to control the amounts and types of vegetation around your trees.  15 head sounds like a lot for that amount of land to me but then I am not familiar with your land.  You could eat or sell the excess if you feel like you are overstocked.  
 
Stephanie NewComer
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Thought I’d add a photo of the one who rammed me.
78C43095-CEAA-496D-9405-FC5BCC67BDAC.jpeg
[Thumbnail for 78C43095-CEAA-496D-9405-FC5BCC67BDAC.jpeg]
 
Posts: 79
Location: Northern Puget Sound
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Pinnekjøtt.

That alone is about half the reason I want sheep/goats.  I'm not Norwegian, but my mouth just waters thinking about it.

That said, they're potentially good lawn mowers, depending on the breed the meat ranges from good to excellent, if a wool breed there is the fiber, the manure has advantages, some breeds are good at brush clearing.

15 is probably more than you might want for a permaculture setup.  I'd think 3-8 would work, depending on how many other types of animals you get.  You can reduce herd size by selective slaughtering over time, or sell/give away the excess.  Probably be good to keep at least one ram (maybe 2 depending on how many ewes you keep) so you can breed additional lambs.
 
pollinator
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I have a homestead farm where sheep fit nicely into the system. They are usable for all the things already mentioned. On my farm I value them for weed control, manure for making compost, meat, and milk. I use the milk mostly for cheese making. Personally, I would take the sheep. Then I would harvest one at a time for meat, starting with wethers, excess rams, and finally any old, unthrifty, or non-producing ewes. I would gradually reduce the flock size to one ram and 2 to 3 ewes, more ewes if you find that they fit into your farm scheme and you have an outlet for the lambs.

I have 20 acres and maintain 2 rams and 12 to 14 ewes. They are maintained in two separate flocks only because that works best for us as far as managing the pastures and non-pasture spaces. This gives us plenty of lambs for eating, selling, and trading.

As mentioned, some individual sheep can be aggressive. Most are not. Any aggressive ones on my farm end up in the freezer very quickly. Problem solved.
 
master steward
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It sounds like you have the ideal setup for sheep.  Sheep are wonderful at building soil when well managed.  

I have thoughts about sheep and the many things they are good for.
Sheep are amazing at multi-tasking!

 
pollinator
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Sheep are food. If thats not an appropriate food for you, then it may be best to not keep them. If eating them is on the table, make sure they are the right sheep for you longterm. If wool sheep have to be sheared yearly, letting these go for a hair sheep will be the best choice.

They will be a burden if you keep them cause they were free. First birthing is singles, after that twins are likely. Numbers can get huge fast. Know what the endgame is going into it. If you've never eaten/cooked lamb, buy a leg of lamb and some lambchops and eat them. If you decide you don't want to eat them (pets, vegan,etc), what is the sales outlet to keep the numbers manageable?



 
Posts: 213
Location: Stone Garden Farm Richfield Twp., Ohio
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Any breed of any animal can be aggressive or mean. On our farm, they leave one way or another immediately. We've had sheep for 60 years. We've never had a single mean one. And we've never given any of them any shots. We've also had/have goats. They pasture fine together. But the sheep are far nicer, easier to fence, less harmful to trees in the pasture, don't require hooves trimmed like the goats do, and have always been fairly easy to shear. They are a really pleasant animal that I find very enjoyable to watch at pasture. They have always provided us with nice companionability, wonderful sustenance, and great wool. When we were younger all us kids got special made wool blankets that carried our farm crest, made from our own wool.

As far as your questions about your particular situation and acreage, nobody has given you the most obvious answer. Spend time talking to the present owner about the sheep. Do the numbers fit the land. How much (if any) does the present owner have to buy feed beyond the pasture. What shape are the pastures in? Are they over grazed or in good shape? Where does he get any needed feed? How much is it? Does he sheer or hire it done? What's the cost? How many years has the present owner been doing what he's doing? And has he had that number of sheep for an extended period or just recently? Has he ever had any problems with his flock? Is there any problem with dogs or coyotes? How and where does he market the sheep? ~~Everything you need to know is right there by the guy who knows. Asking others not there, not intimately familiar with the situation, is likely not nearly as valuable. The most valuable advice I've received over the years has been across the farm fence. Not the internet. Both are helpful. But in person on the land, with experience on particular land, is best.
 
Posts: 85
Location: New Zealand
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I've cut down sheep numbers here from around 2000 ewes a decade ago to about 35 ewes now. For me, sheep are too much work, too little return,and they are a pain in the neck to handle, requiring expensive fencing etc. We do have a few pet lambs. To be fair our wiltshire sheep are pretty easy care, no wool so we have none of the hassles associated  with wool. Also our low-input organic certified flock now have no health issues. 20 years ago it was a different story.

If you have sheep, they can easily become the dominant part of your system, as they are great at getting out of fences and destroying anything else you try to achieve. I don't enjoy killing things, but sheep can be so extremely frustrating that I have ended up shooting them occaisonally, usually after they have done something super annoying, like destroying 50 grafted avocado plants overnight months after planting. If you have the right temperament sheep are great, for me, not so much. I don't like the person I become when I have to work with them. I'm more of  plant person.
 
Posts: 41
Location: Alekovo near Svishtov, Bulgaria
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I am no expert never having had sheep until this year.  But I think 2 hectares would be plenty for the sheep and separate (very well fenced) veg growing.  But they will decimate trees of many varieties and eat pretty much anything green that is growing!

We have a very very small smallholding in North Central Bulgaria, where lamb/mutton is the 3rd preferred meat after pork and chicken. We started off with pigs and chickens and now concentrate on pigs and ducks because it's easier to sell our piglets and adult pigs locally (within 7km radius) without any onsite processing other than slaughter.  We also prefer duck eggs so have a flock of Indian Runners who also keep us slug/snail free and just a few chickens who mainly do dung/compost cleanup duties with more eggs. Our egg production is primarily is for us, our dogs and for pigs.

This year we had sheep for the first time, as an experiment and to add to our larder variety.  Very successful on the whole.  Although expensive to purchase here (2.5 euros per kilo on the hoof for just weaned lambs) they were very cheap to run/feed kept on 3 acres of roating paddocks with the pigs, they cleared most of the weeds, dead grass, volunteer tree shoots, brambles, nettles, docks either before or running with the pigs. We used a scoop of corn for training them to come to us and only started giving them baled hayage (alfalfa) in late October when the temperatures dropped.

Sheep uses I can think of (just off the top of my head) as a novice...
  • roasting
  • companion for other livestock (horses)
  • prosciutio
  • mixed grazing
  • casseroles
  • flattening land
  • kofta
  • weed clearance
  • barbecue
  • tree maintenance (established trees - not young wood where they will strip the bark)
  • irish stew
  • bartering
  • lamb hotpot
  • leaf clearing
  • moussaka


  • I think I'd go with the sell them suggestion - after putting a couple in the freezer.  If you like the meat buy a couple of lambs to next year to hand raise once you have decided on your infrastructure.

    Very best of luck to you!!
     
    Mother Tree
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    In Portugal many of the sheep are bred as milking animals.  

    Check what these ones have been bred for.  It may be that they are already in milk and used to being handled daily.  
     
    pollinator
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    I have had hundreds of sheep, and of those, (3) have been "rammers". There is one cure for rammers, a bullet to the head. They are just NOT worth keeping as they can take out your backs and your knees, and a $25,000 hospital visit is not worth a $150 sheep. And I do not pass on problem animals to others. As a responsible sheep farmer, they are immediately put down and replaced.

    But to suggest not having a type of animal is akin to not having chickens because a rooster is aggressive.

    I would keep them, as I think you will really like them. I also think it is rather Permicultural, using what you got!

    But to answer the question, sheep provide:

    Meat
    Wool
    Milk
    Lanolin



    The benefits of meat are: Per pound basis, nothing provides more meat per grazed acre then lamb, and it happens to be nutricious and delicious. They also do not need to be wintered, They can be born in the spring and slaughtered in the fall.

    The benefits of wool are pretty evident...warm and easily to do at home with inexpensive equipment (see Raven on this)

    The benefits of sheep milk are this; unlike dairy cow milk, sheep milk can be frozen with no loss of nutrition. At 50% fat, it makes incredible soap, yogurts and ice cream

    The benefits of lanoline are so many, and easy to make at home with equipment you already have!

    The REAL question is not what can a person do with sheep, it is why aren't more sheep on permicultural farms?


    (I recognize as a 9th generation sheep farmer I am 100% biased on sheep though)

     
    pollinator
    Posts: 207
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    Jim Fry wrote:  don't require hooves trimmed like the goats do, and have always been fairly easy to shear.
    .



    I never knew that sheep don't require their hooves trimmed (we have never had sheep). That's a great quality! One major thing that has stopped me from considering sheep has been "I don't want to trim any more hooves". We have 3 goats and their hooves need to be trimmed about once a month. There are ways to lessen this, like making sure they have big stones on which to climb and putting a rock under their hay net, but still, I've never been able to extend the trimming interval beyond two months.

    Shearing is another activity that makes me wonder do I have enough time.

    The third thing that I'm afraid might not be so great about sheep is how much noise they make whenever they see a human. The sheep I've seen so far have been very vocal On a small farm like ours the sheep would often be quite near our house and would notice us every time we go out... Whether or not this is a problem would depend entirely on the person. Some may not mind at all. There may also be huge differences between sheep breeds in how loud they are, I don't really know much about this.

    If the farm is 2 hectares and you want to have a good-sized vegetable garden, you may want to make some compost. Sheep or goats would help by producing manure in more significant amounts than say ducks or chickens. But there are of course many other alternatives to how you could make compost/ keep up the fertility of your vegetable patch, animals are not a must in that respect.
     
    Nina Jay
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    Stephanie NewComer wrote:Thought I’d add a photo of the one who rammed me.



    Thanks for the photo, Stephanie! I'm sorry you got rammed, ouch!! As strange as it sounds, the innocent looking little devil in the photo made me smile.

    Nevertheless, if an animal is dangerous then it's time for it to go, that's the way it is on our farm too. We've butchered many roosters for that reason. We now have 3 very nice roosters who never attack humans (each rooster has his own harem of hens and they are housed in separate rooms in the hen house). We've also had to kill a cow because she was aggressive and bull-like.

     
    Jim Fry
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    Nina,
    Just to be clear, what I meant to say was WE have never had to trim sheep hooves. ~I don't know if that is true with all sheep on all farms. I just know what our multi-generation experience is on this particular farm. Our other family farms over the last hundreds of years may have had different experiences. And other peoples farms in other places may have had different experiences. We don't have particularly good fences, we have trees in the pastures, we have gardens that share fence with sheep pasture. WE have never had a problem with any of these situations. For US, sheep are great.

    And that was the point of what I first wrote. You have all the answers to your questions right there on your farm. You have a guy who can tell you exactly how a particular group of sheep behave and keep on a particular piece of land. You can ask folks here on these forums all you want. And you'll get replies on what they/we know. But there's only one person who can (for now) definitively answer what your land knows.
     
    Nina Jay
    pollinator
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    Jim Fry wrote:Nina,
    Just to be clear, what I meant to say was WE have never had to trim sheep hooves. ~I don't know if that is true with all sheep on all farms. I just know what our multi-generation experience is on this particular farm.



    Thank you very much for this clarification! I'll have to do more research on this


    Jim Fry wrote: And that was the point of what I first wrote. You have all the answers to your questions right there on your farm. You have a guy who can tell you exactly how a particular group of sheep behave and keep on a particular piece of land. You can ask folks here on these forums all you want. And you'll get replies on what they/we know. But there's only one person who can (for now) definitively answer what your land knows.



    That's true. However, if you have never had sheep before you may not know what questions to ask. The present owner may or may not share all they know unless you ask the right questions. When we bought our farm the owners had some sheep and they tried to get us to keep them, because they were very attached to those sheep and didn't want to send them to the butcher. We didn't want sheep at that time so we just said no thank you. Had I asked questions I'm not sure the answers would have been completely honest. I don't mean he would have lied but just not have mentioned anything negative about their experience with their sheep.

     
    Travis Johnson
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    I have never had goats, but I do trim the hooves on my sheep. I do that while the sheep shearer I getting off the wool so it is only once per year.

    Trimming hooves really depends on a lot of factors though, where they are housed (mine have a barn with a concrete floor and rocky pastures to wear down hooves), but if they get foot-rot, then I am trimming hooves a lot. Of course if they have foot-rot, then they are in the sick pens anyway so trimming hooves is not a big deal.
     
    Stephanie NewComer
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    Just wanted to say...We clearly informed the buyer of the reason we were selling and had planned to butcher him but he wanted the wither as well because he was cute and cuddly at the time of the visit. I know we could have butchered him sooner and kept the rest but his behavior just made me on edge with the others. It made me worry about the kids a lot. Also the medical expense was more than I would like to spend, given that most of my health care comes from herbs and home remedies:)

    New here and I’m absolutely loving the variety, quality and quantity of the responses!
     
    Ben Waimata
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    Stephanie NewComer wrote:Just wanted to say...We clearly informed the buyer of the reason we were selling and had planned to butcher him but he wanted the wither as well because he was cute and cuddly at the time of the visit. I know we could have butchered him sooner and kept the rest but his behavior just made me on edge with the others. It made me worry about the kids a lot. Also the medical expense was more than I would like to spend, given that most of my health care comes from herbs and home remedies:)

    New here and I’m absolutely loving the variety, quality and quantity of the responses!




    Hi Stephanie,


    It's a shame the bad experience you had with this wether put you off sheep. There are a lot of excellent reasons not to have sheep, but temperament should not be one of them.  One look at your picture of the villain in question shows me immediately he was essentially hand-reared, they get too close to humans and don't understand the usual cross species protocols. We had a pet ram (by neglect!) lamb a couple years back,  he would take on full grown cows if he thought they were too close to us humans, but he also became potentially dangerous as he aged and had to go. In my close to 50 years around sheep I have never met a commercially raised sheep that presented any deliberate danger at all, unless we happened to get in the way of an escape attempt etc. It's the hand reared ones that can be problematic, although also often they have great character. Just hand-rearing females helps. Most sheep are far more nervous around us than we are around them, and it needs to be that way.
     
    Travis Johnson
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    I could not agree more Ben with what you said.

    The thing is, it is good to tell other potential livestock owners this stuff so that they can readily see, the best course of action is to immediately put down the animal that is aggressive. But if people are new to livestock, they do not immediately know that.
     
    raven ranson
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    we follow tough love for rams on our farm.  The first ram that lived with us belonged to another farmer and they were very loving towards the ram.  The ram decided that humans were part of his flock and he needed to dominate these humans.  Things ended badly for the ram, although I must say he was delicious as sausage.

    Where I live, if an animal hurts a human, that animal gets euthanized - which means they pump a massive amount of toxic chemicals into the animal until it is dead.  Chemicals so toxic that if we bury the remains there is a risk of damaging drinking water.  Instead of the flesh being used to nurture us as food, the corpse has to go to the HAZMAT facility to be disposed of as toxic waste - at great expense to the owner of the animal.  I don't like this because, despite the 8foot fence and big sign telling people not to, members of the public come onto our farm and put their children in with our livestock as if it was a petting zoo.  In that situation, if an animal hurts a human, it's the humans' fault.  But the law doesn't see it that way.  The animal gets destroyed no matter how stupid the .... anyway, I'm a bit sour on that point.

    The solution is to train our rams that humans are 'other'.  Humans aren't competing for piggyback rides from the ewes.  We also teach our rams that humans have very predictable behaviour so we are not a threat.  Tough love for rams has been a tremendous help in teaching us how to behave so the ram understands what we want from him.  
     
    Stephanie NewComer
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    Ben Waimata wrote:

    Stephanie NewComer wrote:Just wanted to say...We clearly informed the buyer of the reason we were selling and had planned to butcher him but he wanted the wither as well because he was cute and cuddly at the time of the visit. I know we could have butchered him sooner and kept the rest but his behavior just made me on edge with the others. It made me worry about the kids a lot. Also the medical expense was more than I would like to spend, given that most of my health care comes from herbs and home remedies:)

    New here and I’m absolutely loving the variety, quality and quantity of the responses!




    Hi Stephanie,


    It's a shame the bad experience you had with this wether put you off sheep. There are a lot of excellent reasons not to have sheep, but temperament should not be one of them.  One look at your picture of the villain in question shows me immediately he was essentially hand-reared, they get too close to humans and don't understand the usual cross species protocols. We had a pet ram (by neglect!) lamb a couple years back,  he would take on full grown cows if he thought they were too close to us humans, but he also became potentially dangerous as he aged and had to go. In my close to 50 years around sheep I have never met a commercially raised sheep that presented any deliberate danger at all, unless we happened to get in the way of an escape attempt etc. It's the hand reared ones that can be problematic, although also often they have great character. Just hand-rearing females helps. Most sheep are far more nervous around us than we are around them, and it needs to be that way.



    You’re correct! My kids just thought he was so cute they wanted to love on him and he got much more attention than any other. He was also pushy with the cows like your ram.
     
    pollinator
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    Sheep are good for cooking while reading permies!
    And here is the plate.... Full mutton, and my "apple" is the "side dish" just at the back... Because of this:

    raven ranson wrote:we follow tough love for rams on our farm.  The first ram that lived with us belonged to another farmer and they were very loving towards the ram.  The ram decided that humans were part of his flock and he needed to dominate these humans.  
    The solution is to train our rams that humans are 'other'.  Humans aren't competing for piggyback rides from the ewes.  We also teach our rams that humans have very predictable behaviour so we are not a threat.  Tough love for rams has been a tremendous help in teaching us how to behave so the ram understands what we want from him.  



    So Raven, you are forgiven of being guilty of writing a too interesting article and of some burned fat in the saucepan! :))

    raven ranson wrote:I have thoughts about sheep and the many things they are good for.



    Jim Fry wrote:the most obvious answer. Spend time talking to the present owner about the sheep. Do the numbers fit the land. How much (if any) does the present owner have to buy feed beyond the pasture. What shape are the pastures in? Are they over grazed or in good shape?


    So right!
    mutton-permies.jpg
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    Xisca Nicolas
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    Ben Waimata wrote: If you have the right temperament sheep are great, for me, not so much. I don't like the person I become when I have to work with them. I'm more of  plant person.


    I love this kind of honesty! Respect...

    Bryan Elliott wrote:The sheep hooves are good for soil disturbance by breaking up capped, bare soil.  They will target certain plants first when grazing and can be used to control the amounts and types of vegetation around your trees .  15 head sounds like a lot for that amount of land to me but then I am not familiar with your land.  You could eat or sell the excess if you feel like you are overstocked.  



    Well see what they did "around my tree"! Around the branches they went!

    Hehe, maybe it was not yet mentionned how good sheep are ...at pruning trees!

    Loquat, orange tree, carob and vine! Not to mention that they also like strawberry guava, and as you can see, grass is not missing!
    I did not think they were going to scratch the bark of the loquat... At the moment I watch them often, to know what they eat or not. They do not seem to like olive leaves that much.
    nispero-sheep.jpg
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    Xisca Nicolas
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    I added pics above and found some more...
    About breeds, it is important to ask what they are for! So you will know what they are good for....

    Here we have 2 breeds, short hair for meat, and long hair for milk. They really produce more and longer, so I would not say that all heirloom and old local breeds fit all 3 goals easily. Especially if you want milk, as sheep are not giving a lot, you need a milk breed.

    I cannot imagine that the milk breed will have a less good meat, but I might be wrong!

    Here is a pic to show that sheep are also good at climbing! (of course if they want lechugon... that translate into "big lettuce")
    You will also see the difference of hair. Short hair is meat breed, and the others are mixed. They actually have less hair than my pure breed ewe. I also have a milk ram, young, that is why I am infinitely thankful to learn how I must behave with him! I had a few things wrong!

    I will look for a pic of the milk sheep....

    (Sorry for my habit to edit a lot... above and this one... fear of loosing and working on the architecture of the posts!)

    Added 2nd pic:
    2 lowest are mixed,
    then 1 of milk breed, though it can hardly be seen that she is more hairy. I call her mancha because she has a darker spot on her back.
    2 on top are meat breed, almost no hair.

    You can see them here while eating the vine and pruning the strawberry guava....

    By the way, the nearest are coming 1st, they are leaders.
    The 2 short hair are always last! But the light coloured one is not that stupid, she looks at me when the others eat, and I give her something for her, appart! Double, because of course the chief quickly comes!
    So yes, they provide a lot of observation and fun!

    I have them for 3 months only. Though they were not given the right food (very poor), and were all the time hungry at the beginning, they had been given good socialisation and there is only one that I could not remove the collar (see pic!). They had a chain inside a green waterpipe with a snap hook, which proved dangerous, as it would lock itself in the fence.

    It was easy to train them with some corn! Their character is a very good "detail" to decide which to keep, or keep some of the next children!
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    Posts: 373
    Location: Upstate SC
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    As far as a sheep's requirement for hoof trimming, it depends on your soil.  If your soil is hard, stony, or gravelly, no problems, the hooves will be worn down by abrasion with the soil.  If your soil is soft muck or clay, then you'll likely need to trim.  If you live in an area with soft soils, you can run your sheep along a gravel driveway a few times a week to wear down the hooves and prevent the need for trimming.  My soil here is a soft clay loam, but dries out into a hard "soft stone" during our dry summers, wearing down the hooves during that portion of the year.

    With hoof rot, you can select for resistance by culling sheep that have problems with it.  I initially had a lot of hoof rot problems and was having to trim and treat a fair number of sheep.  But through culling and the strategic use of gravel driveways, its been years since I've had to trim hooves or had any sheep with hoof rot.
     
    Nina Jay
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    Thank you for sharing your experience, Mike!

    It's beginning to sound to me like sheep are just like all the other farm animals then, with regard to hoof trimming that is.

    I've noticed with our goats and cows that some individuals seem to have a lot less need for trimming than others. The one that needs the least work tends to be the one who has the liveliest temperament and moves a lot, makes sense.

    So I guess the secret to not having to trim so many hooves is making them move a lot and putting them regularly on abrasive surfaces.
     
    Ben Waimata
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    Location: New Zealand
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    Nina Jay wrote:

    So I guess the secret to not having to trim so many hooves is making them move a lot and putting them regularly on abrasive surfaces.




    Actually the secret is breeding from the good ones! We changed our flock from requiring high-inputs  (animal health/internal parasites, fly issues, dagging etc) to hands-off easy care sheep in less than a decade using standard organic selective breeding techniques. This included getting rid of summer wool.  It is possible, and makes life a lot easier.
     
    raven ranson
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    Yes, breeding makes a huge difference.

    Ben Waimata wrote: This included getting rid of summer wool.



    Can you tell me more about this?

    In my climate, we encourage wool in the summer because it helps insulate against the heat.  It keeps them cool.  A bit like how some traditions wear massive amounts of wool clothing in the desert to keep the heat out.  Summer wool growth is also the highest profit for us as this has less weather stress and debris.  We generally sheer twice a year.  

    But every farm and climate is unique and has different needs.  I would love to learn more about your set up.  
     
    Jim Fry
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    Location: Stone Garden Farm Richfield Twp., Ohio
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    John Brown, the great American abolitionist before the American Civil War, lived in our town before the war. He ran a tannery and tended to several flocks of local sheep. When people being held in bondage escaped from the slave states of the American South, they would make their way north, especially to Ohio. The Underground Railroad here would smuggle them to Lake Erie then across the lake to Canada. John Brown had a false bottom wagon that he used the carry the freedom bound folks. He would fill the wagon with sheep wool and hides so as not to arouse suspicion as he traveled the local roads at night. The wool he carried made him a legitimate traveler at all hours (at the time the slave holders of the South were allowed to search anyone and anywhere for their escaped property). John Brown managed to help hundreds of folks to freedom. ~~So you see, sheep are very valuable for all sorts of reasons. You can sell their wool, eat their meat, keep your fields in order, ...and use their products as part of The Freedom Trail.
     
    Ben Waimata
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    raven ranson wrote:Yes, breeding makes a huge difference.

    Ben Waimata wrote: This included getting rid of summer wool.



    Can you tell me more about this?




    Hi Raven,


    I'm 5th generation sheep farmer (ie multi generational peasant), my father had bred up a line of good NZ Romney for the old school wool market. NZ Romney had been developed from the original UK Romney for NZ conditions, and aimed for good meat/wool sheep. So 20 years ago or so I had a good long look at the various farm economic analysis systems being used and realised they didn't fit my requirements which included environmental sustainability, ethical land use, and lifestyle as well as the standard total economic outcomes. Then first thing I noticed is that per kg of grass eaten, the cattle were returning about 3x the profit, so dropping the sheep numbers from the 2000 we had then was my first move.  So looking at sheep from an ethic/environmental viewpoint I made the following observations;
    #sheep were developing health issues with internal parasites and farmers were coming to depend on constant animal health product interventions
    #sheep had health issues related to flystrike problems in summer, particularly with a small green Australian fly that arrived in the 1980's.
    #sheep are hard on pastures as they selectively graze the plants they like to extinction and only eat what they don't like if forced to.
    #sheep are hard on the soil as they will happily graze desired plants to the ground, opening the soil up to erosion, and allowing pasture weeds in (thistle etc).
    #Sheep are hard to maintain as they require expensive fencing to keep them were we want them.
    #sheep can be hard on the microclimate as they have the ability to reduce all pasture to near zero covers, leading to shallow rooting depth, reduced rhizosphere soil interactions, and reduced pasture drought tolerance.   Cattle can be hard on soil in the wet with pugging, but they leave a much higher residual cover which is better for soil health.

    Economically the market for sheep meat was suppressed, and for wool was very poor. I sat down and calculated all the costs involved in producing wool as a byproduct of the meat industry, and worked out that producing wool cost me $15/sheep/year, excluding labour costs. This was worked out by studying the amount of energy required to grow wool versus meat, and all the wool-related costs such as dagging, flystrike etc.

    So I got to the point where I realised there was very little economic incentive to farm sheep (at least on a small farm like this), however they are kind of nice to have around, and my Dad spent a lifetime working with them and would have hated to see them all go, so the answer was to breed the sheep I wanted.

    We already had a flock that had been bred for good feet, and foot issues were almost non-existent. The first thing was to breed out any sick animal, anything sick got treated then sold. Getting the wool away has taken a long time, and mostly achieved by crossing back and forth to Wiltshire genetics, with a small amount of Dorper as well. Our sheep are now smaller than most of my neighbours, but still weigh in much heavier than they look. They are born with wool in winter, but as it warms up the wool falls off naturally, then regrows in winter.  In summer the animals have a fine layer of hair similar to goat hair, but strangely the wool is still good. In full fleece they still have bald heads, necks, bellies, legs and crutch area.  

    These sheep are a much better climatic fit for our maritime temperate climate, it's warm enough that full wool sheep suffer severely in summer while ours are fine,  but our winters are mild enough that these half-naked sheep with wooly backs are always warm enough.

    This is an example, our 'pet' orphan lamb for this season, picture taken late winter. She has never been shorn, all her fleece is nearly shed for the season in this image, just a tuft of wool left on her back.


     
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