Every sheep farmer regardless of how long they have been a sheep farmer, was at one time a beginning sheep farmer.
Learning to be a sheep farmer is a journey, you do not become an expert in a day. During my journey there have been ups and downs, joys and sorrows, mistakes and miscalculations. As I continue on my journey with the sheep there will be more ups and downs, more joys and sorrows, a few more mistakes and miscalculations. The purpose of writing these posts and sharing my knowledge and experiences is to help you not go through all the downs or the sorrows I had in the beginning. As a person, realize you will make mistakes or miscalculations, do not get down on yourself, go forward, learn from the mistakes and miscalculations and become an expert sheep farmer. I have not reached being an expert sheep farmer yet. I was a beginning sheep farmer in 2016 and today I am a better sheep farmer.
In 2016, I wish I had started at the beginning, instead of deciding to be a sheep farmer after I had purchased the sheep. When I purchased the two ewes from my stepson my thoughts were not on what do the sheep need. When I decided I was keeping the ewes, I was not prepared to take care of the ewes.
What do sheep need? Sheep are living breathing animals. Obviously they need food and water. Sheep also need protection from the cold of winter weather and the heat of summer weather. Sheep need protection from predators including the neighbor’s dog, and sometimes protection from themselves. There are basic health care sheep require such as deworming and vaccinations. Sheep need their hooves trimmed and wool sheep need to be sheared. It is best to be prepared for the sheep by having a food source, water, shelter and some basic supplies for their health before you purchase the sheep.
What type of food source do sheep require? Sheep are herbivores or plant eaters. Sheep eat grasses, legumes such as alfalfa, broad leaf plants we call weeds, various hays, silage, and grains. On some sheep farms the sheep never graze on pastures or open fields, but are fed a balanced diet of hay, silage and grains. Other sheep farms have the animals on pasture until the season changes and the grass stops growing, then they feed hay, silage and/or grains. Some climates the sheep graze pastures year around. Depending on how you want to manage your sheep farm will determine the exact food source for your sheep. I have my sheep on pasture in the spring, summer and fall and they receive hay in the winter.
Just because the pasture is green does not mean there is food for the sheep. Where I live the majority of grass in the pasture and hay is bermuda coastal. This grass grows fast and is good for erosion, but does not have a lot of nutrient value. The soil of my pasture contains sand and sand does not contain minerals. We fertilize the pasture yearly and I feed a supplement year around to meet the protein, vitamin and mineral requirements of my sheep. In the United States, the local agriculture extension office can test soil and hay to determine the food value or total digestible nutrient value of the sample for a small fee.
Water is an important need of every living thing. On an average day a sheep will drink 2-3 gallons of water, lactating ewes up to 6 gallons a day. Multiply the number of sheep and that can be a lot of water. A sheep farmer can provide clean water for the sheep using troughs or automatic waters or fresh water sources such as creeks and springs. I use water troughs. Water troughs need to be cleaned periodically to keep down algae and get rid of debris. I have cut down the height of my water troughs to make sure young lambs are able to drink when the water level drops. Automatic waters are a good for providing a source of water, but they need to be checked daily as sometimes debris or objects can plug them or cause them to provide too much water for the sheep and there is flooding. If you are able to use fresh water sources such as creeks and springs, they need to be checked to make sure the sheep have access and there is sufficient water, especially in drought season or dry weather. If you live in a climate such as Wyoming with very cold temperature a heated water might be a good consideration. Warm water in the cold temperature helps the sheep maintain body temperature making it easier for them to maintain good condition and grow lambs.
Sheep do require shelter from the seasonal weather. The type of shelter that will work for your sheep depends on how sever the weather is in you area. Where I live a three sided building with a roof is good shelter, but it would not be good in Wyoming where the winter weather produces blizzards of blowing snow. In north central Texas we have mild winters for the most part. But we do get some cold weeks. Our worse weather to be prepared for is freezing ice storms. During the freezing ice storms it rains and the rain turns to ice when it lands on a surface including the sheep. I have lost sheep due to these freezing ice storms and these storms kill cattle as well. Sheep need a place to keep dry and out of the wind as well as provide shade with ventilation in the heat.
How big does a shelter need to be for the sheep. An average size sheep needs 20 square feet or 4 foot by 5 foot space. If you have ten sheep your shelter need to be 200 square feet such as a 10 feet by 20 feet. When considering how big your shelter needs to be, take time to think about how many sheep you want in your flock. I started with two ewes, and grew up to 80 ewes. I had to make my shelter larger and larger as my flock grew. This year we are building a bigger shelter to eventually provide shelter for 100 ewes.
Another building needed is feed storage. If your sheep need hay or silage for winter feed there will need to be a place or method to store the feed to keep it dry and from molding. Supplement feeds such as grain need to have a storage place to keep it dry and away from mice and rodents.
I will write about was is needed for the health of the sheep in my post “Healthy sheep are happy sheep”.