There are many questions for those who want to raise sheep. The main question is “What do you want from your sheep?”. There are thousands of different breeds. And if you talk to a breeder, they will tell you all about their breed. In order to determine the breed of sheep to buy and raise, first determine what you want from the sheep.
I want to raise market lambs or meat from my sheep. I raise Dorper sheep. First, I like the taste of the meat, it does not have a heavy lanolin taste. Second, I do not have to shear the sheep. I know how to shear, and I am very slow, but I do not want to shear. Third, they live well in my climate, grow fast and I can sell the lambs in 90 days.
What do you want from your sheep? Various breeds produce meat, wool, and milk. Breeds of sheep have been bred for those specific purposes.
When I lived in Colorado near the Navajo Nation, I was acquainted with some weavers. They choose to raise the traditional Churro sheep. The Churros sheep is a mild tasting meat, even as mutton in my opinion having eaten the meat. The fleece on a Churro has two lengths, really long guard hairs that can grow 24 inches or more, and an under fleece that grows approximately 14 inches. The weavers chose this breed as the long guard hairs were use to make the warp for weaving their Navajo Rugs and dresses. The under fleece was used to make the yarn for weaving. They raised sheep to supply what they needed in traditional weaving.
Once you decide what you want from your sheep. What breed to you want to raise? Often the breeds we choose from are those that are in the area. Where I live in Texas, there are very few wool breeds available. Take time, talk to different sheep breeders and if possible visit their farms to see and touch the type of sheep you are thinking about raising.
You have decided on the breed of sheep you want to buy, now where to go to purchase the beginning of your flock.
First, the sheep auction house or sale barn has lots of sheep and different breeds. The prices are lower than from breeders, and breeders sale some of their sheep at these sales. SHEEP AT THESE SALES ARE LAMBS GOING TO MARKET OR CULLS – SHEEP OTHER BREEDERS ARE GETTING RID OF. Not the best place to buy your starting flock, but if money is limited you can get a start here. I got my start buying sheep at the auctions. If I had it to do over, I would buy ewe lambs. Ewe lambs have fewer health issues and have years of use instead of middle aged to old ewes. I have sold at these auctions market lambs ewes and rams, that would have been a good start for someone wanting to begin raising sheep.
Speciality sheep auctions are when a breeder or group of breeders of one breed come together to auction off young breeding stock. At these auctions you can purchase good sheep to begin your flock, both ewes and rams. But a word of caution, sometimes the sheep at these auctions sell for more than the breeder would have asked if purchased straight from the farm. Do some research on breeders and their breeding practices. I know some Dorper sheep farmers who practice a high inbreeding and line breeding in producing sheep for sale. There will be average quality sheep and excellent quality sheep at these types of sales. These sales can be at a physical location or online and sometimes both at the same time. If the auction is online, make sure where the sheep is located at the time of auction as you will be responsible for shipping the sheep to you.
Last, go direct to the sheep farm. Research the sheep farms raising the breed of sheep you want. My first question to the sheep farmer is “Why do you raise this breed of sheep?”. The answer will give you insight into the sheep farmer choices and breeding practices. Some answers will be long, some very short. Ask about guarantees on the sheep, if you purchase. I personally like to purchase my rams from an individual I know, have seen their sheep and know their breeding practices.
The first registered ram we purchased, I did not ask questions, basically went off the information on the website. A year later we went to assist with docking tails and vaccinations and learned that although this sheep farmer tagged their lambs, they had no record of which lambs went with which ewes. They ran a mixed ewes with their registered ewes and everyone was in one group. I began to doubt the bloodlines on the registered ram we purchased after helping them that one time.
Before you buy any sheep, find a veterinarian that knows and treats sheep in your area or near you. In my area we have horse veterinarians on every corner, they will not even look at a sheep. I struggled to find a veterinarian that will even look at a sheep without having to travel three hours to get there. I did find a veterinarian who raised some goats, and used to raise sheep, but they do not have a large sheep clientele, mostly dogs and cats. They are good for treatment and emergencies, but if I wanted to do artificial insemination, embryo transfers or semen collection I will have to travel three to four hours for a veterinarian with the experience and more importantly the equipment to perform the procedures.
When talking to sheep farmers that you are thinking of buying sheep from, ask about what they feed their sheep and where they purchase the feed. I am from Colorado, everything had alfalfa hay, and there were grain mills that would make feed to your specifications. Then I moved to Texas, where they only have coastal bermuda grass hay and feed mills concentrate on cattle feeds and nothing is custom made. It took me years to learn of a feed mill that makes sheep feed specific to feeding coastal bermuda hay grown in the area. Having feed that is nutritionally balanced with the hay has lowered my feed expense and increased the productivity of the ewes and growth of the lambs.
Good luck in this awesome and exciting, never a dull moment of being a sheep farmer.