The Importance And Potential Of Raising Sheep For Meat After Teotwawki

by Robbins97

raising sheepI have strived for the last 10 years to become more and more self sufficient. This was not the result of any event or premonition. I had no inkling there was a prepper movement or survival community. It was just something in my DNA. I wanted the security and peace of knowing I was prepared. I wanted to take care of my family if something were to happen that would interrupt our modern existence. I was very interested in how people existed on small homesteads in the 30’s and 40’s. This led to my interest in raising and eating livestock on my small piece of property.

If our modern infrastructure were to become disrupted for 1-2 weeks our supply of animal protein would disappear. This means all canned tuna, ham, salmon, spam, beef stew, chili, roast beef w/ gravy, chicken, and turkey would be used up very quickly. The fish, chicken, and beef in our freezers would go first, then the canned meat products, and finally our long term stores. Our menus would change immediately. The ability to raise your own meat supply would be vital. The time to learn how to raise your own food is before you have to. The learning curve is steep and unforgiving.

The gestation period of the animal considered would be important. The number of births and days to maturity also. I would want an animal that can produce the most offspring reliably. It would help if it could accomplish this with little assistance. Can the animal feed itself? Does it compete for resources with you? What type of work load does it generate for you?

Ideally, I would look for the highest gain with the least input. Can it be butchered easily at home? Is the amount of meat at butchering a quantity that can be preserved in one day? Preserving meat without refrigeration would mean a race against time on butchering day. How much land and fence is needed. Are you going to be able to manage its health yourself? These are all questions that I hope to answer below.

The animal I would promote for consideration is the modern sheep. Sheep are the oldest domesticated animal used for food. They have been raised by man for 7-9000 years. I have raised the Katadhin/Dorper breed for many years. I know that a lot of people don’t think they like sheep\lamb. Usually this is from a bad experience eating badly prepared lamb. Some can’t reconcile the image of eating a small adorable baby lamb. Some think it is to gamey. Let me explain.

The Lamb you buy at the grocer is by no means a benchmark for lamb palatability. They are usually from wool breeds of sheep which have a stronger taste. The katadhin\dorpers that I raise are hair sheep; they do not grow the thick wool coat that is so strongly associated with sheep. They in general are much milder tasting than wool breeds. Also the idea that you are eating a baby lamb is false. The sheep that you eat are butchered at 6-12 months. This is the age which they would begin to breed and weigh from 50 to 80 lbs.

One of the attributes I find desirable in the hair sheep I raise is of course the lack of wool. This means the sheep devote their nutritional intake to growing meat and making more sheep. No large woolen coat to trim. Their hair coat gets thicker in the winter and is shed in the spring. This means less work for you, less parasites making a home out of the wool, and more heat resistance.

These sheep will mature to around 125 lbs for a ewe and up to 200 lbs for a ram. The gestation period for sheep is an average of 150 days (5-months). This means you can have 3 lamb crops every 24 months. These sheep have the ability to breed and lamb year round. While not all ewes in a flock will breed back as quickly as others I consistently have ewes that do with zero breeding management from me. This means a mature ewe can put a lot of meat walking around in 2 years.

I can count on mostly twins out of 1 year old ewes, younger ewes will throw out single lambs, and I have triplets every year. This means lambs of all ages in your pasture year round. My small flock of 20 ewes lambed in January. I culled and sold off all but the best 14 ewes in august. Three rams went to the butcher and in the freezer. Last week (8\20) I had a ewe drop a single lamb. It looks like a few more will lamb soon. These few lambs will mature in six months and either be retained for breeding, sold or butchered.

Now the great thing about having a flock of sheep is the MEAT. Walking, baa-ing Meat. If we enter into a SHTF situation these animals are going to be life-savers. A self-renewing resource of hi-protein and hi-energy food. A flock of 1 ram and 3 mature ewes could generate between 0-6 lambs every 8- 12 months. (I include 0 because nothing is for sure, animals die, predators succeed, or you have a bad set of lambs or mother ewes) Let’s say we have a lambing success of 150%.

That means you add 4.5 more animals to your flock each year. You may save the best ewe to raise. This still leaves you with 3 or more sheep that can be added to your food supply. They will be happily grazing (gaining valuable size) until you need them. These animals will be easier to manage at butchering time weighing between 50 to 100 lbs and yielding 20 to 50 lbs of high quality meat. They could be staggered every 3 or four months to stretch out your food supply.

If you were in a teowawki situation you could smoke, can, salt cure, or jerky the meat. (You have been stockpiling non-iodized salt haven’t you?) In a grid down event meat will disappear quickly. These animals will become very valuable. They may have to be locked up at night and only grazed under supervision or guard. As a self-perpetuating food supply these animals can be a very important part of your long-term food plan.

A flock of 1 ram and 3 ewes could be raised on an acre and a half with good grass. It would work best to divide it into 3 equal 1\2 acre parcels and move the sheep every 2-3 weeks as the grass gets low. In the heart of winter you may have to bring in some hay. These sheep are parasite resistant. Keep the sheep moving from paddock to paddock to beat the parasite load that builds up when they stay to long in one place. Stockpile Wormer, preferably 2 different kinds.

Worm them before they show signs of sickness. Be proactive. Sheep have a bad rap as looking for somewhere to die. This is far from the truth. They often don’t show signs of sickness until it is too far progressed to be successfully treated, and then you waste your time and wormer treating a dead sheep walking. Make a schedule for checking your flock and stick to it. Be a smart shepherd and cull aggressively. Only the best sheep should be retained. The Ram is 1\2 the herds genetics. Breed for parasite tolerance and good mothering. Don’t reward bad mother ewes or sickly sheep by keeping them in your flock.

Each winter I cut brambles and privet hedge and throw over the fence to supplement their food. They go insane for anything green in winter. These hair sheep are browsers as well as grazers and will clean up brambles like goats do. Start small and remember to balance your number of animals to your amount of grass. They will multiply like credit card debt when you keep them healthy.

If sheep is not a fit for your situation, try rabbits, chickens, goats or ducks. All have short reproductive cycles and can be intensively managed. I like sheep because they eat grass and turn it into meat without a lot of labor from me. —good luck

M.D. adds: If you are interested in raising small livestock now and post TEOTWAWKI, I recommend you get a copy of Barnyard in Your Backyard by Gail Damerow.

Comments

  1. PrepperDoc says:

    Thanks for writing such an informative article! While I’m not in a position to start right now, there’s a fellow in my church who chose to do goats. So these midsized animals are becoming quite popular. My father-in-law does cows

    • I’d also go with goats, not as fatty as sheep, however easy to get attached like a regular pet, one couple had a goat that acted like a pet dog, was so lovable. The goat milk is lactose free and good for kids, babies or adults who drink milk. Rabbits are low key and produce fast.

  2. Neighbors have wool bearing sheep. Thank you for info on hair type sheep. Will pass on to neighbor. I have chickens and have raised rabbits commercially. Size is more agreeable to age and physical ability.

  3. Outstanding article! Seems like more and more people in our area are raising small herds of sheep on small acreage. Now that we have our chickens set up and laying we have begun to look into additional sources of home grown protein. Thanks for this intro to sheep raising Robbins97.

  4. mom of three says:

    I LOVE SHEEP! I raised 4 Suffolk wethers, they are the wool sheep, I enjoyed them bsck in high school. I’ve never had lamb, my husband likes it I guess I’m as bad as my dad, I can’t eat my own animals, I know bad, bad, bad! Thank you for a trip down memory lane! My family would sing Mary had a little lamb to me exchanging Mary, for my name because my little guy’s followed me every where just like the song.

  5. Without land I had not considered something like sheep. We are going to focus on chickens and rabbits at 1st, once we move.

    Thanks for the information.

  6. Once when our kids were still at home we raised a bummer lam. We bottle fed it and she or he I forget . It was a good project for the kids and they liked it. It was a different pet from the run of the mill ones y ou see. We had the lamb for 3 weeks or so and it was a good experience. The dogs even liked it. We gave it to a family with 5 acres of some kind of thistle that they ate. It would be a good idea to network with people who could raise a bummer so that it did not go to waste.

  7. I’ve wanted to live in “the country” all my life, now – at 70, I’m getting to. Sold “old home place” in town (once 1 1/2 miles from town, now prime property – 2 blocks from college) and bought a 10 acre foreclosed “ranch” @ 15 miles from old hometown and 4 miles from country town of 2200. I wanted to try milk goats and chickens – for milk (and some meat) and eggs /meat. So far, I bought registered yearlings in April, two LaMancha does and one Sannen buck (I knew I did not really need a buck yet, but he had horns and nobody wanted to buy him so he was a good price), all are going into breeding season (Oct – Mar like deer) so I hope to have twice as many goats by the end of next March. Had hoped I’d have time to build up the “herd” a little, but time seems to rushing at us! No chickens, yet, still working on barn & shed full of termite eaten wood.
    I did get two spotted guard donkeys from a meat goat farmer who change jobs and had to sell his herd. They came from a donkey rescue, he said, one is 20+ and the other about 3. They are my grass mowers, and hopefully will help guard the goats, especially when they go into the “back 8” for day browsing & grazing.
    I can identify with mother of 3 – I love all animals (have 2 dogs, & a cat in house, and about 10 barn cats & kittens who were here when I moved) and will have to do a lot of self-talk to eat my goats or chickens! Looked into hair sheep – American black belly, but people selling their herd found a place to keep some when they moved to CO. Just as well, I think I am a “goat person” – they are crazy! but fun, also follow me around like dogs, nosy – get into everything! Their only draw-back is they don’t eat much “grass” – prefer brush & trees, which I have some on the fence rows, but I will have to have more broad leaf hay for them for winter than I would have for sheep. Oh, well – time will tell if they are “worth it” – I drink a lot of milk and love Mozzarella cheese!

    • For me the goats eating less grass and more brush is a bonus. They are good for sharing pasture with my cattle. The cattle stick to clover and grass and the goats eat less useful plants and weeds. There are a lot of black berries in our area. Many ranches have acreage lost the berries. You can see my fence with the berries going 50 ft deep on the other side. The goats keep the berries back to the fence line on my side.

  8. Very good article. I agree with your recommendations about heard management. I primarily raise beef but also have a smaller heard of meat goats left over from kids 4H and FFA projects. I think for most people especially with limited space your sheep or a meat goat is a better choice than cattle. Less equipment needed and easier to handle with only one or two working. Gestation and the amount of young are all good points as well. I agree about the value in producing your own protein and think it could also be a good trade item as well.

    • j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

      Thank your for your article on sheep and small holding. Something many of us will have to consider if the landscape is large cattle oriented. You would be amazed how much meat comes from a cow or bull – people can’t often deal with that much at one time.

      I was also going to recommend looking at the goat, especially if your location is arid or has a lot of thick brush, vs. a grassy pasture. Goats provide a high grade of milk product as well as lean meat.

      Goats do not do well in cold, wet locations (they hate precipitation in fact and need cover) but all animals have their pluses and minuses.

      • JR what kind of goats do you have? I have Boer goats and they really clean up the fence lines.

  9. Good intro to sheep raising. Most people who don’t like lamb have probably never had home grown lamb, which is much different (better) than any store bought. I’ve had people say they don’t like lamb and I tell them they’ve never had “my” lamb. Prep is so important and most people don’t cook lamb properly.

    I’ve butchered 6 month old to 18 month old rams and the flavor and quality have been consistent. I always tend towards breeds and blood lines that are “easy” keepers, meaning it doesn’t take a ton of grain to keep them in good condition or raise them to a butcherable weight.

    I understand the attributes of hair sheep, but think that a wool sheep, even with the added work is a good choice because it will supply wool, which can be made into sellable items, used yourself or sold for income. A good dual purpose breed (meat & wool) is the Tunis. I had sheep for 40 years and if I get them again this is the breed I’m thinking of. I raised Suffolk and Suff/Hamp crosses, which are good meat breeds, but not necessarily good for wool.

    You are right about meat going quickly in SHTF. My first choice though would be chickens before large livestock because they have a short gestation, can be grown to Cornish game hen size, which takes just a few weeks or roaster size, which takes a few months, can be butchered and used the same day. They are pretty self managing, scratching for bugs, worms, spent veggies, etc. They do need to be protected, like most livestock.

    Nice to see an article about livestock, thanks.

  10. Schatzie Ohio says:

    I don’t have any experience with sheep, only pigs. Of course, with pigs comes BACON.

  11. Anonamo Also says:

    Thanks for this article on sheep. I found the information on acreage required …timely. What kind of protection do you give your sheep? What kind of hay is recommended for them? What grains do you feed? Does any one have input on how would goats and sheep do together?
    We have considered goats, rabbits and chickens… Cows are out because our neighbor has them and we do not need fences to mend either figuratively or in actuality….Have sources lined up for both rabbits and chickens as soon as be get suitable place prepared, but just not there yet…other building needs must come first.

    • test dummy says:

      I have 3 sheep and 3 goats only have to separate the buck and the ram during breeding times.They get along fine other than that even watch out for each others offspring.My herd increased bt 8 last spring.I kept 1 of each for my freezer and sold the rest and got enough money for a new hardwood floor in my livingroom. easy money.

  12. Beef producers please not that sheep are more varied in their diet than cows. I have shhep to eat weeds in the cattle fields and to rotate stock. The parasites are slightly different in sheep and cattle. I used the cattle to hoover up sheep wormers and vis-a versa.
    Google ‘lamb bacon’ for a tasty bbq treat.

  13. This is a good article on sheep. I raise Dorpers and cross them with Barbados Blackbellys. I raise my butchering sheep up to a year and have great meat. I castrate my lambs early on and there is no strong taste at all. I do my own butchering and remove all the fat that is easy to get to. I don’t like a lot of fat. Those who were raised on mutton seem to get along with the fat. One thing to remember about RAM’s they can be dangerous. Don’t turn your back on them as they will butt you. Always carry a shepherds crook with you and if you get a very aggressive RAM a good “Hot Shot” works great. They learn fast about that yellow wand, not to get to close to you. Good luck with sheep. The G Man

  14. Good to see an article on sheep! I have been thinking of adding a couple so I get a more complete use of food available here.

    I have more brush here so I chose Boer goats, they have cleaned up and now I’m getting grass coming through in the old fields. Time for some grazers, I’ll take a closer look at this sheep breed!

  15. Farmgirlwannabe says:

    Are the sheep suitable for milking? I have never tasted sheep’s milk but know that some cultures drink it I recently had farm fresh goat milk. I always heard it was an acquired taste but found that it tastes like milk….very creamy milk. Sheep’s milk cheese is really good but very expensive.

  16. I’d love to raise sheep, or goats, or rabbits or any other meat producer. However, I have a wife, who I love dearly, who will give them all names and turn them into pets. We currently have a dozen Rhode Island Red chickens, two of which are roosters. There will never be fried chicken with one of the chickens in the pen as the guest of honor. Maybe one day, before I get too old, I’ll get to raise goats.

  17. Agh, goats. We used to raise goats, starting with two wild Irish naneins that were rescued as kids from the mountain we live on. Those little sh*** can go OVER a fence, under the fence, through the fence, and when all that fails they’ll just take down the fence or trick you into leaving the gate open for them. We kept them for weed control, garden manure and milk, but I only lasted five years LOL.

  18. If you are building a fence for goats remember, if water can get through the fence, so can a goat.
    There always are wanderers in the herd. They get others to follow. I try to get rid of the wanderers and keep the content ones.

    A friend of mine told me about an uncle who raised goats after he came back from WWII. The uncle rotated the herd between two pastures. The pastures were separated by a steep canyon and thick brush. The first couple of times he walked this herd between pastures, he had problems with certain goats wanting to run off into the brush and poison oak. As he walked he ended up shooting the ringleaders that kept trying to lead an escape. After the first couple of trips the herd settled down and went to the pasture without problems. The uncle seemed to figure he had removed the wandering gene from the herd and the others were “just no longer interested” in seeing what was in that brush.

×