Homesteading

The Ultimate Guide to Raising Sheep

sheep

Raising sheep will supply a survival homestead with not only meat and wool, but a money making opportunity. Selling the raw wool, dyed wool, or clothing and toys made from wool, can become quite a lucrative home-based small business.

Sheep are typically extremely docile animals, making them a great way to introduce homesteading and self-reliance skills to children. Showing sheep at the local county fair through a 4-H program will not only foster increased independence and responsibility in the children, but give them the opportunity to earn spending money from their very own labors.

It is true that sheep will not produce as much meat as you would garner if raising cattle, but they are also far less expensive to buy, feed – and require far less pasture to roam.

Sheep, like goats and cattle, are ruminant livestock. Ruminants have four chambers in their stomach. Like goats, sheep are “browsers” and not necessarily grazers.

Keeping sheep can save you copious amounts of time clearing brush and cutting back the woods on your survival homestead. Sheep will browse for about half of their daily diet even during the winter months in many climates.

Basic Sheep Facts

  • A mature female sheep is called a ewe.
  • An intact male is known as a ram.
  • A castrated male is deemed a wether.
  • A young sheep is called a lamb.
  • When a pregnant sheep is giving birth, that is called “lambing.”
  • There are more than 200 different sheep breeds currently roaming our planet.
  • Most breeds of sheep live between 10 to 12 years.
  • The gestation period of sheep is approximately 152 days.
  • Rams typically weigh about 300 pounds.
  • Ewes typically weigh approximately 200 pounds.

Best Sheep Breeds

The type of sheep to raise depends on many factors. First, the climate in which they will be raised must be taken into consideration. Next, the terrain in which they will be kept and will browse for their primary food source also must be factored into the mix.

  • Dorset – This sheep breed typically producers good milkers. They tend to lamb in the fall, which is not common for many sheep breeds. Typically, they birth twins when lambing, can become too dependent on feed, and produce a light colored wool.
  • Suffolk – This breed of sheep is likely the most prevalent in the United States. They too are good quality milkers, produce less fat and more edible meat than many other breeds, and typically have an easy time during lambing.
  • Merino – These sheep are often used for cross-breeding and bred nearly exclusively for their soft wool.
  • Hampshire – This sheep breed produces a prime meat, but they are less hardy in rugged pastures.
  • Dorper – These sheep are highly regarded as being easy keepers. They do not even have to be sheared for their wool, it merely sheds. Dorper sheep, thanks to their thick skin, are exceptionally hardy in cold climates.
  • Rambouillet – Sheep in this breed are dual purpose, meaning they are often bred for both their meat and wool. Rambouillet sheep are known to be robustly healthy, and to live extremely long lives.
  • Columbia – These highly adaptable sheep are hardy in most climates, and create a wool that is known to be incredibly easy to spin.
  • Cheviot – Sheep of this breed are cold climate hardy. Cheviot ewes are known to be attentive mothers who have easy lambings.
  • Corriedale – This is another dual purpose sheep breed. Both their meat and wool at top quality. Corriedale sheep are also easy to herd, making them ideal for novice keepers or prepping homesteaders on large acreage.
  • Karakul – These sheep produce a wool that has an incredibly low amount of grease. Felt is often created from karakul wool.
  • Lincoln – The wool created by these sheep is both heavy and coarse. These large bodied sheep also produce a large amount of meat.
  • Southdown – This dual purpose sheep breed is short in stature, but incredibly hardy in rugged terrain and cold climates.
  • Katahdin – Sheep in this breed repel internal parasites well. Their wool is fibrous, so they shed it and rarely need to be sheared. Katahdin sheep are considered quality meat producers, as well.
  • Iceland – This may be the most pure sheep breed left on the planet. Herds were left nearly entirely on their own in their native land, surviving without any type of human intervention. They are prized for their wool, milk, and meat production.
  • Leicester Longwool– Sheep in this breed create a coveted curly type of wool. They make a good amount of meat as well, but are typically kept for wool production.
  • Targhee – This dual meat and wool sheep breed tends to be substantially resistant to both hoof problems and internal parasites. They lamb easily, often producing twins or triplets. Targhee are great free rangers and thrive equally well in both small and large spaces.
  • Navajo Churro – This heritage sheep breed is adaptable and hardy in almost any climate. They are the oldest recorded breed of sheep in America. Navajo Churro produce a double coat of lovely wool and a quality meat.

Best Sheep Breeds for Small Homesteads

  • Rambouillet
  • Targhee
  • Border Leicesters
  • Columbia

All sheep breeds are capable of producing meat, milk, or wool. Some breeds simply offer a higher quality of one of these commodities – several breeds are capable of being excellent in two of the categories.

Best Meat Only Sheep Breeds

  • Suffolk
  • Hampshire
  • Katahdin

Best Dairy Sheep

  • Awassi
  • East Friesian
  • Lacaune

Best Wool And Meat Sheep Breeds

  • Dorset
  • Corriedale
  • Romney
  • Polypay
  • Columbia
  • Tunis

Sheep Habitat

Sheep can typically be kept in the same barn and pasture as horses, goats, and cattle. Most folks worry about these avid eaters destroying a pasture before the cows and horses can get their fill.

To best keep the sheep safe from predators, a barn stall of shed that is barn in style that can be fully closed at night to ward off predators, is highly recommended.

Use sturdy 2-step latches and not a simple board pounded into the door and wall panels that flips into place. A bear can easily rip such a simple enclosure type of hardware off with one easy swipe.

Keeping sheep in a separate pen and pasture area is highly recommended if you are dealing with small acreage grazing areas. Because we have a 56-acre survival homestead, we can rotate all of our herds into and out of a grazing space throughout the year.

I move the herds from one pasture to the next every two weeks to ensure they do not “eat down” or “ “Play out” the pasture.

Keeping to this type of a pasture rotation schedule will also give enough time for any worm larvae present in a pasture to die out before the livestock is reintroduced to the area – and consumes them.

If the sheep eat the grass down to the ground, return growth will be sparse and exceptionally slow. Typically, sheep prefer to eat grass that is about six inches tall, and weeds.

When fencing in the sheep shelter and pen, consider the likely predators in your area before purchasing materials. Wood, barbed wire, and high tensile wire fencing are the most commonly used materials when fencing in a sheep pen or pasture.

But, if predators in your area include bears, mountain lions, and coyotes, consider adding electrical fencing through or on top of the fencing sections. Some folks with large predators opt for the more expensive metal gates or corral panels as a pen perimeter to better deter bear.

Sheep pen fencing should be at least four feet tall to deter climbing by the herd and many predators. Corner fence posts should be made of pressure treated locust posts or a similar hardwood.

8 foot tall T-posts are recommended for the side fencing supports – about 1 ½ feet of the metal posts will be underground after being pounded into place.

Pasture Size

A herd of four sheep (or a mob as they are sometimes called) will require 1 acre of browsing space if the quality of the pasture is good. On poor pasture, place no more than 2 sheep per acre.

Supplementing the diet of the herd with grain feed, and hay may be necessary on a seasonal basis, depending upon your climate.

Sheep tend to be far more efficient at converting grass and hay consumed to meat than cattle. Because lambing typically occurs during the winter through the spring, additional hay and feed supplements for the pregnant ewes will be necessary.

Because the lambs are born so early in the year, you can butcher or take them to market in the fall and avoid the extra cost of wintering them over – only keeping your breeding pair.

Sheep Pen

Sheep can live in a barn horse stall, 3-sided lean to, or a wood or metal pen that resembles a shed shape. A housing unit for four sheep should measure 12 feet by 12 feet in size.

Ideally, you should be able to separate a ewe and her lamb(s) for at least several weeks after they are first born. This will protect the lambs from rowdy ewes and a potentially mean ram. Lambs are tiny and can be easily trampled and killed.

Sheep Diet

Sheep can consume between one to four gallons of water per day each – depending upon the season. When pregnant or lactating, ewes will require more feed and water than usual.

Either a fresh natural water source like a creek or pond, or a livestock waterer, must be always accessible to the herd of sheep.

All stock livestock feed, the same type you can feed to your horses, cattle, and goats, can be fed to the sheep, as well. Buying 50-pound bags of feed in bulk for all of the animals on the survival homestead can be a great money saver.

Although the price varies by brand and location, typically a 50-pound bag of all stock grain feed is about $10.

50-pound bags of cracked corn can be mixed in with the all stock grain feed to add extra nutrients to the diet of the sheep and other farm animals. Cracked corn usually ranges in price from $4 to $8 per bag.

The price of hay simply varies too much by variety (square and round bales in several sizes) and location to price. Being able to bale your own hay is not only a massive money saver, but also serves to make your survival homestead far more self-reliant.

Do not expect to be able to purchase hay for the winter during a long-term SHTF scenario. In my area of Appalachia, large round bales typically sell for $30 to $40 each and 50-pound square bales sale for about $5 each. Sheep generally eat up to 1 pound of hay per day.

What Sheep Can Eat – Best Safe Treats

  • Pears
  • Lettuce
  • Oats
  • Carrots
  • Pumpkin
  • Celery
  • Watermelon
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Squash

What Sheep Can’t Eat

  • Acorns
  • St. John’s Wort
  • Yew
  • Oleander
  • Blue Lupin
  • Foxglove
  • Ngaio
  • Azaleas
  • Rhododendron
  • Iceland Poppy
  • Lilacs
  • Rhubarb Leaves
  • Goat’s Rue
  • Avocadoes
  • laburnum
  • Cestrum
  • Delphinium
  • Kale
  • Poison Hemlock
  • Nightshade
  • Mountain Laurel
  • Lily Of The Valley
  • Buttercups
  • Ponderosa Pine Trees
  • Plum Trees
  • Elderberry Trees
  • Bracken Ferns
  • Chokecherry Trees
  • Cherry Trees

Bread and raw potatoes should be fed in very small doses, if at all.

sheep eating hay

Best Hay for Sheep

All hay is definitely not created equal. If you are already baling on your survival homestead you know this fact quite well. Rarely is first cut hay (spring hay) the best quality, it is usually the second cut that is more rich in nutrients.

If you are purchasing instead of baling hay for your sheep herd, always ask from which cut the hay bales originated.

Maintenance of a hay field is key to developing nutrient rich hay. Where you live will play some part in dictating what type of hay is commonly grown. There are multiple common classification of hay: legume, grass, mixed (legume and grass) and grain straw – like oat hay.

Hay Falls Into Several Categories

  • Grass
  • Orchard
  • Bluegrass
  • Legume – like alfalfa hay
  • Timothy
  • Mixed – grass and legume
  • Cereal grain straw such as oat hay
  • Brome
  • Country fescue
  • Ryegrass
  • Sudan
  • Reed canary

Sheep and goats both prefer leafy fine hay, especially alfalfa hay. They will shy away from eating coarse hay unless it is their only option for a food source.

Lambs tend to grow best on a legume hay but more sheep can thrive when offered only a grass hay – as long as it is of good quality.

Always use some type of a hay feeder for the sheep – and all of your livestock, actually. Sheep and goats both waste a lot of hay if you merely toss it onto the ground.

Hay that is eaten from the ground is most likely going to be mixed with manure and possibly worms or other bacteria that can make even ruminant livestock incredibly ill.

You can purchase a hay feeder at an agricultural supply store for about $25 to $100, depending upon size.

But, making a wood manger style feeder out of scrap on your prepper homestead or turning a clean 50-gallon drum made of plastic into a hay feeder by cutting out part of a side or slicing it in half, makes an ideal and super cheap hay feeder, as well.

Keeping both salt and mineral blocks inside the sheep pen is also highly recommended. Never feed sheep (or any livestock) on the ground but always in a clean homemade or store bought feeders. Eating from the ground in their pen area invites bacteria and worms from manure that is also on the ground, into their bodies.

Routine Sheep Care

The health of the flock and the meat you get from them depends largely on how diligent your husbandry techniques are on a regular basis.

  • To maintain strong health, hoof trimming will need to be conducted if rugged terrain is not filing them down naturally.
  • Sheep will need to be sheared to avoid excess weight from the heavy wool from causing back and leg problems. Sheep that are not sheared (if they do not naturally shed) will become overheated in many climates, and become ill or die from exposure to the elements.
  • Sheep tails are docked. Some folks think this is just a “for looks” type of maintenance but others believe it helps prevent parasites from living on the soft and cozy area just above the rear – where flies and bugs attempt to congregate and the accumulation of feces. Tails should be docked by the time the lamb is six weeks old, if you decide to go this route. Docking tends to make the shearing process easier, as well.
  • Tail docking is usually done with the banding method. There is some pain with this but it is short lived just as with castrating. The blood supply is cut off and the tail will fall off in seven to ten days. The length of the tail is debatable, some say to take to the tail no shorter than the distal end of the tail fold, show lambs are usually docked extremely short. If the tail is too short then the nerves and muscles of the anus could be damaged, this could also result in rectal or vaginal prolapse.
  • Keeping only one or two rams – possibly in separate pens, is highly recommended. Two mature rams can and will fight, that is why many folks just keep one. But, being a prepper, you already know that “two is one and one is none.” If you ram becomes ill or dies, or has to be eaten during a survival situation, do not bet on being able to go out and purchase another one to keep your herd growing.

How to Determine Lamb Sex and Castration

To figure out if the adorable bundle of joy that just arrived in your barn is a male or female, you must check for a vulva. Female sheep have a vulva at the rear end next to the anus.

Male sheep will not have a vulva but a testicle sac dangling down from his belly, and a penis centered in the same area. If you lift the lamb’s tail and see two holes, congratulations – it’s a girl.

To castrate a male sheep when it is still being weaned or just after, it will need to be banded, a veterinarian can do this for you, but most homesteaders take on this simple chore themselves.

You must purchase a bander and the right size bands from an agricultural store like Tractor Supply or Rural King. The bander and rings cost approximately $50 – the bander can be reused many times.

Once you castrate the male lamb, it becomes a wether and will never reproduce. Rams are far less likely to fight with wethers than they are other rams. Typically, castrating a male lamb will make it far calmer.

Common Sheep Diseases

  • Enterotoxemia – This is an overeating disease that can be a primary cause of lamb death. It typically happens not many days after the lamb is born, and is caused by Clostridium perfringens bacteria. Symptoms are convulsions, severe indigestion, and colic. Sudden death is not uncommon, but immunization can prevent the lethal condition.
  • Lockjaw – This tetanus disease is almost always fatal in sheep. It is caused by the Clostridium tetani bacteria. Common symptoms include: muscle spasms. Bloat, muscle stiffness, inability to drink or eat. There is no treatment for this sheep killer. Animals typically die within four days of becoming infected. The CDT vaccine can help protect sheep from contracting this disease.
  • Coccidiosis – This illness is most common in lambs and young sheep. A protozoa damages the intestinal tract so severely that food can no longer be absorbed. Symptoms include: loss of appetite, scours that is black or bloody, and lethargy. Sulfa drugs and the feeding of ionophores can help save an infected sheep.
  • Scrapie – This ewe disease always carries a death sentence. It occurs when a transmissible spongiform encephalopathies infects the central nervous system. This is a slow moving killer that can take even years to cause a death. It is transmitted via an infected placenta during lambing. A blood test by a vet can help determine if the ewe you might want to purchase is “scrapie resistant.”
  • Pneumonia – Signs of pneumonia in sheep include respiratory distress, loss of appetite, fever, and coughing. Quickly discovering the signs and getting proper antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs into the sheep can save its life.
  • Caseous lymphadenitis – corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis bacteria causes both external and internal abscesses. Although there is not a cure or even a treatment for CL, having the abscesses properly drained and cleaned can heal them and prevent the spread of bacteria to other sheep. It is highly recommended to quarantine any sheep with caseous lymphadenitis.
  • • Fly strike – This sheep illness happens when a fly lays eggs in either soiled areas of the wool or in an open wound or abscess. Once the eggs hatch and turn into maggots they bury themselves deeply into the wool and ultimately under the skin of the sheep. The maggots feed on the flesh of the sheep as more eggs are laid by flies and infection develops. A sheep with fly strike is often irritable, has more matted wool than normal, and stinks at the sit of maggot entry. To treat fly strike, trim away wool from areas of entry and treat with an antibacterial natural remedy or a commercially manufactured livestock wound spray like Blu Kote. Untreated fly strike can lead to a serious to potentially deadly infection in sheep.

sheep shearing

Sheep Shearing

Shearing sheep is hard work, and really takes two people to do each animal. Expect both you arne the sheep to abhor this part of the husbarndy. Shearing does not hurt the sheep, unless you nick them. Expect to nick both the sheep and yourself when you are first learning the skill.

Shearing is traditionally done during the late spring once the sheep no longer need the wool for warmth and to ensure they will not get too hot during the summer months.

Never shear sheep when they are wet. It is also recommended not to feed them the evening before shearing because they will become more uncomfortable when their bodies are manipulated around during the shearing process.

Sheep shears come in both a manual hand shearing and electrica shears option. Electrical shears are obviously faster, but as a prepper, investing in a manual pair as well is highly advised.

It is far easier to put a halter on the sheep and tie them to a livestock stand to limit their freedom of movement and to save yourself a lot of back pain.

A shearing stand, or a goat milking stand, can be built out of pressure treated lumber for about $75. Commercially manufactured wood or metal shearing stands cost between $150 to $250 on average.

A lamb stand is handy to have so you don’t have to bend over the whole time you are doing the job but it is not necessary.

The sheep stand and their head is strapped down so they can’t get away, but they can wiggle around a fall off the stand and can get hurt, We like to do this with two people present to prevent any injuries.

Hoof Care

Inspect the hooves of the sheep at least one a month to gauge the wear and tear and to check for signs of injury. Hoof infections and bacteria can cause lameness or even death in an otherwise healthy sheep.

A set of manual hoof trimmers typically costs around $50 to $75 at most agricultural stores. A livestock veterinarian typically charges about $15 50 $25 per sheep to trim hooves.

Sheep Reproduction

  • A ewe will show absolutely no interest in a lamb unless she is in estrus – heat.
  • A mature female sheep will go into heat about every 17 days.
  • Typically, most breeds of sheep do not go into heat until the time of year gets colder and the days turn shorter.
  • Signs of going into heat include a mucous or watery discharge from the vulva, a swollen or red vulva, loss of appetite, anxiousness, wagging of the tail – even a docked one, and trying to mount just about anything and everything in sight.
  • Do not allow ewes to breed before they are seven months old, for the best results. Breeding too young is difficult physically and can result in stillborn lambs, abortions, and stunted growth.
  • Once they enter estrus, ewes remain in heat for approximately 36 hours.
  • Typically, one encounter with a ram is all it takes for a successful mating, but some sheep keepers have had to allow the ram and ewe to mate a second time.
  • Increase the ewe’s feed rations about 30 days before a planned breeding.
  • The first time a ewe becomes pregnant she is usually has a shorter gestation period.
  • Penning a pregnant ewe into a birthing stall about one week before you expect the lamb or lambs to arrive is highly recommended for both the safety of the ewe and her lambs.
  • A ewe’s abdomen many look lopsided as the lamb or lambs grow inside of her.
  • Visible signs of an enlarged abdomen typically present at about 12 weeks after a successful mating.
  • Measure the ewe’s abdomen weekly to record the girth increase and help estimate the size of the lamb or lambs.

Lambing Tips

Only a few days before the lamb is set to arrive the vulva of the ewe will get more red and swell. The ewe will make a lot of noise, and become incredibly restless on the day of lambing.

During active labor, the water sac will become visible and then rupture. The ewe typically laws on her side when giving birth and tilts her head up toward the roof of her pen as she contracts.

In a typical lambing, the ewe will come out with its nose and front legs firsts. During this type of delivery it is unlikely she will need any human assistance at all.

If more than one lamb is being born, it would be a good idea to wipe away the mucus from the lamb’s mouth and nose because the ewe will not be able to immediately lick this away since she is still in active labor.

Moments after lambing the baby should be up and nursing on the colostrum from its mother – this is the first and most nutrient rich milk it will consume. Allow the lamb to nurse as much as it wants and the mother will allow during its first 10 days on your survival homestead.

Lambing Materials

Keep these items on hand just in case the lamb or the ewe needs your assistance during and right after the birthing process.

  1. If the ewe needs help getting the lamb out and you are not (or cannot) call a vet, wash your hands, put on the gloves, and apply the lubricant to your covered hands.
  2. Form your hands into a cone shape.
  3. Insert your lubed and gloved hands into the ewe’s vagina and feel for the nose and front legs of the lamb.
  4. Manipulate the ewe as gently as possible to help get her into a better position to allow gravity to help you gently but firmly pull out the lamb. You may have to try multiple positions before you get the right one – the ewe is not going to enjoy this process.
  5. Pull the front legs of the lamb downward each time the ewe has a contraction. A strong lamb should help itself move along.
  6. Pour the iodine on the lamb’s umbilical cord to help deter bacteria from getting into it courtesy of the human intervention.

The ewe should get rid of the afterbirth about a half an hour to an hour after lambing. Make sure the afterbirth is expelled within 12 hours of giving birth.

If the ewe does not expel the afterbirth, call a vet or glove up as you did before and help gently pull it out. If the afterbirth remains in the ewe a deadly internal infection will almost certainly develop.

Expect the ewe to eat the afterbirth. This is a natural instinct done to get rid of all signs of the lambing to protect her young from predators.

Lamb Growth

  1. At about four weeks old a lamb should be browsing for some of its own food.
  2. When the lamb is eight weeks old it should be able to get at least half of its diet from browsing. If lambs do not eat enough roughage they will have a lack of protein in their diet that can cause a growth stunt or health concerns.
  3. At three to four months old the lamb should be weaned. You may have to separate the lamb from the ewe to prevent nursing.
  4. Once the lamb is weaned it is old enough for both worming and vaccinations.
  5. A ram will often try to breed a female lamb after weaning.

Sheep Herd Health

Conduct weekly health checks on the entire sheep herd to look for signs of parasites in their manure, reduce appetite, a change in drinking habits, scours (diarrhea) murky eyes, runny nose, and general bodidly wounds.

It is a good idea to weigh the sheep or at least estimate their weight once a month to ensure they are putting on weight and not losing weight – which could be a sign of worms or illness.

I like to snap a weekly photo of all livestock from various angles to review once a month (sooner if necessary) to review for signs of weight changes, injury healing, and to document the look of the eyes and nose.

Jot the weekly findings down in a notebook to record them. Keeping a sheep herd binder to track the results of the weekly health checks, monthly hoof checks, eating habits, drinking habits, wool and meat output, as well as lambing details.

Possessing detailed health records like these will help you determine far more quickly if a lamb, ewe, or ram could have a health problem or is becoming too old to lamb.

Most Common and Deadly Sheep Predators

The type of pen and housing unit you construct will either go a long way in keeping your mob of sheep safe, or making then incredibly vulnerable to predators. The types of sheep predators you will likely encounter depends almost exclusively on where you live.

But, following the pen and shelter recommendations noted above will help keep your sheep safe from the majority of predators that are common around the country.

  1. Hawks – lamb only predators
  2. Coyotes
  3. Wolves
  4. Fox – lamb only predators, usually
  5. Bears
  6. Dogs
  7. Bobcats
  8. Eagles – lamb only predators
  9. Mountain Lions
  10. Panthers

If you encounter an injured or dead sheep after a predator attack, it is highly useful to know exactly what type of wild animal you are dealing with. Once you determine the predator type, you can take any steps legal in your state to kill or to trap the killer.

  • Coyotes typically attack a sheep by its throat.
  • Dogs are opportunistic predators, and will attack a sheep in any spot that is easy to reach. Dogs often start at the heels to pull the sheep down so they can hold it on the ground while attacking.
  • A bear will rip at the sheep at any part of the body to put it down but usually focuses on the broad torso area during the attack. Bears typically prefer to eat only meat and not the viscera and often dine on the udder if the sheep attacked was a lactating ewe.
  • Bobcats, foxes, mountain lions, and coyotes will typically consume nearly the entire sheep carcass including the viscera.
  • An eagle will generally leave most of the lamb skeleton intact and “skin out” the carcass. Eagles also often eat the ribs of a lamb.
  • It is unusual for a bobcat, coyote, or a fox to attack mature sheep.
  • Mountain lions, bears, and coyotes often kill more than one sheep during an attack, but do not usually eat both of the dead sheep.

Investing in a quality pair of livestock guardian dogs can help keep your sheep safe from predators.

Herd dogs can also be useful if your homestead is large and the sheep have ample and sometimes secluded, pasture to roam.

How to Buy Sheep

Once you have decided purchasing sheep is definitely part of your survival plan, learning how to differentiate between a healthy and potentially unhealthy sheep is essential to your success.

Review each sheep entirely and closely before whipping out your wallet – even (or especially) if seller is offering a great deal.

  1. Inspect the eyes of the sheep to ensure they are both bright and clear.
  2. Check the lower jar to ensure it is neither overshot or undershot and lines up flushly with the mouth.
  3. Look for worn or missing teeth.
  4. Review the hooves for signs of regular and proper trimming.
  5. Watch the sheep walk about for as long as you feel is necessary to be certain the animal is not limping or favoring a foot because of an illness, abscess, or rot.
  6. The neck and head should be free of any swelling or lumpiness. The presence of either could be indicative of an abscess or worms.
  7. When purchasing a mature ewe, her udder should not be lumpy. Any signs of lumpiness could be a sign of mastitis – a condition that might cause problems when attempting to produce milk for lambs in the future.
  8. The body of a healthy sheep should be deep and wide, but neither too fat or too skinny. If the sheep has the look of being potbellied, the animal might have worms.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to raise sheep?

This will depend on several factors: number of sheep, whether or not you bale your own hay, and the cost of feed and pen – shelter building materials in your area. The average price of sheep varies greatly from region to region, and by breed as well.

The median price of sheep in my southern Ohio area ranges from $150 to $550 each, depending upon breed, age, and exact location of purchase. Refer to the example prices above to average how much it would cost to supply grain feed rations.

A mature sheep eats about one-half to one pound of grain feed daily if it does not also have access to free range areas of a quality pasture.

If you live in a suburban area and do not have access to much land and the prices for supplies is higher than in a rural area, expect the cost to raise each sheep to be around $100 per year.

Cut that cost in half if you live in a rural area where natural grazing and baling hay is far more feasible and the cost of supplies is far less expensive.

Is It Profitable to Raise Sheep?

The answer to this is basically – depends. You can sell the meat or wool of the sheep to make money. Selling the raw milk of sheep (and other livestock) is illegal in most states. But, in some states, it is legal to sell a herd share in an animal so the holder of the share can come milk the animal.

Basically, you will get out of a sheep business as much as you put into it. The first year of operation you will not likely see a profit if you have to invest a lot of money in buying materials for a habitat, buying all of your hay, have land too small to support pasture rotation and have to rely on purchased grain – in addition to buying the animals themselves and basic husbandry supplies.

If you are going to sell the meat from the sheep for profit, you will either need to pay for the services of a professional butcher or set up a home butcher shop that passes a government inspect – after paying application and – or permit fees.

So, can you make a profit from raising sheep?

Yes. Homesteaders and farmers do it every day. But, you have to invest both time and money in purchasing and breeding quality sheep, all the materials and supplies needed to keep them safe and healthy, as well as setting up a website or an online store to sell the wool and wool products you make.

Is raising sheep for me?

This is the most important question you can ask before actually buying sheep. They are very low maintenance animals, but if you buy so much as a single sheep you are making a daily commitment.

It does not matter if you want to go on vacation, broke your leg, or it is 10 degrees below outside in the middle of an ice storm – the sheep will need to be fed, watered, and both turned out and put up for the night.

You must be willing to deal with plenty of blood and gore, as well. Even if you are inclined to turn over all health and injury concerns to a vet instead of taking care of as many as possible by yourself – you will not always be able to call a vet or get one there in time, if you can.

When keeping sheep (any livestock) as part of your survival plan, I strongly recommend learning about not only animal care as much as possible, but how to naturally treat illnesses and injuries with items that grow on your prepper homestead in addition to ones that can be stockpiled. Failing to do so will most likely result in a lost herd not long after the SHTF.

Sheep are largely docile animals, but rams can get a bit feisty at times. If you have kept goats before, you will likely find that keeping sheep is very similar. In my personal experience, you can house many breeds of sheep and goats together – a great materials and space saver.

One of my homesteading pals, Sarah Rodriguez, has a ewe that is at least as mean as any ram or Billy goat that I have ever seen. It rammed a goat of nearly equal size so hard that it soon died, we figure of internal injuries.

So, never count on everyone getting along and sharing space will work in each situation.

raising sheep pin

Tara Dodrill

About Tara Dodrill

Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, 'Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out', Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.
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2 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Raising Sheep

  1. Well Tara, I had Polypay sheep. The ewes are ok, but the ram put me in the hospital.

    He came here young, I was kind to him. Did not treat him as a pet. One morning before daylite, there was a knock at kitchen door, it was a teenage young Amish man, he said that his baby brother fell out of baby carrier and his parents think the infants has a broken leg, could I come and get him to the hospital. Well I got truck out and drove about 12 miles to their home. Took parents and baby to hospital. Then to bone specialist then to heart specialist. Infant Ben had a broken leg and they found a heart defect. By the time I got home, morning chores started in the dark, it was nite. When i walked out with grain and put it in feed pans. The ram hit me and took me off my feet and backed up to hit me again, i jumped on one leg behind the door and he kept trying to get me. Called a neighbor lady who took me to hospital. That ram left immediately. I survived the encounter. That same year, on two different farms, on my road, the two farmers were almost killed by their rams. The one had his ribs run thru his lungs. So my advice to anyone considering sheep, your nice ram can turn on you in one second. The three of us injured all raised different breeds of sheep. Rams are mean. I tried to tell this to my one young farm family, about 5 years ago. Told them, their ram took him down, he got his gun and shot him on the spot.
    I rest my case.
    Folks need to know this.

  2. To learn more about lambing look on you tube.. Sandy Brock channel. raises sheep in big tunnel…in Canada.. go back a to mid Dec. can watch her treatment and care for critters. she also looks at the fiscal side of it.
    No sheep for me.

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