8 Tips for Starting Sheep Farming

Tips for getting started raising sheep

Posted by Brooke Loeffler on Dec 21, 2021 9:31:24 AM

1. Find Your “Why?”

Asking yourself “why do I want to start sheep farming,” can help you clearly lay out objectives and define what success would look like for you. Here are some possible “whys”:

  • Help maintain your land: Sheep are not picky grazers, and are ideal for vegetation and weed control. Their smaller hooves also reduce soil compaction and erosion compared to other grazers.
  • Learn animal husbandry: Sheep are a great livestock option for 4H programs, homeschooling, or simply learning together as a family. Their gentle nature and social qualities make them a fun animal for children to learn to care for.
  • Dog training: Some dog breeders invest in a flock of sheep (large or small) to expand their training opportunities. Many dog breeds can be taught to herd, gather, and retrieve sheep from a wide range of acreage sizes.
  • Providing food and fiber for your family: Increase your self-sustainability by adding sheep to your farm or homestead. 
  • Selling food and fiber for profit: Operations large and small can benefit from selling milk, wool, and meat to diversify production.

2. Find Trusted Sources of Information

Social media and online forums are fun for sheep related humor or anecdotes, but should not be your only source of information. Especially when it comes to the health and safety of your animals, you need to have trusted sources in place before you encounter a problem. Find a respected livestock vet, reach out to your local ag extension, and talk to other local sheep raisers so you can make sure you and your operation are sheep friendly and ready to go. 

Different sheep breeds

3. Buy the Right Sheep

There are dozens of sheep breeds to choose from. Identifying why you want to raise sheep will help you narrow down which breeds are best for your goals.

Once you have narrowed down the breeds you are interested in, it is important to research your breeding source and their stock. This research will give you an idea as to health histories, growth rates, temperament, wool traits, and help you avoid problematic genotypes.

Be sure to physically inspect any sheep you want to purchase. Here are some things you should look for:

  • Clear and bright eyes
  • Healthy teeth: watch out for worn or lost teeth and misaligned jaws
  • No lumps or swelling around head and neck
  • Healthy walk/gait: no limping or swelling in legs, hoofs clear of foot rot
  • Good body condition: not too thin or fat
  • Healthy udder for ewes: no redness or swelling
  • Having your vet inspect sheep before you purchase will help you choose a strong and healthy flock.

4. Secure Shelter and Fencing

Proper fencing not only keeps your grazers where you want them, it also keeps them safe from predators. There are plenty of wild and even domestic predators out there who would like to help themselves to your flock. Talk to other sheep raisers in your area to learn about local threats. Predators can include:

  • Wolves
  • Bears
  • Mountain lions
  • Bobcats
  • Coyotes
  • Foxes
  • Dogs
  • Wild pigs
  • Eagles/Birds of prey (especially for lambs)

Even if you have other grazers already, you may need to fortify your pre-existing fencing before adding sheep. Sheep are pros at finding flaws in your fencing, so use their help to fix flaws in a timely manner. If you plan on breeding lambs, have lambing shelters prepped and ready well before birthing starts. During winter and storms, sheep need someplace to find relief from wind and the elements. Make sure they have access to a barn, shed, or 3 sided shelter where they can escape to.

Sheep being sheared

5. What to Know About Wool

Most sheep breeds continuously grow wool. So, even if wool production is not one of your goals, you will likely need to come up with a plan for shearing. Sheared sheep have an easier time gathering around feeders and waterers, are less likely to get caught in fencing and can nurse lambs more effectively.

Shearing is a specialized skill, but it can definitely be learned. To protect the safety of you and your animals, don’t just rely on Youtube videos. Get hands-on instruction from one of the trusted sources we talked about earlier: local ag extension, vet, other local sheep raisers, etc. If you prefer to outsource this task, find a shearing service that fits in your budget and make sure they can take you on as a client and keep your needs met.

6. Learn How to Handle

Sheep can be pretty easy to handle once you learn a few things about their instincts:

  • Food always helps. Offer food to gain trust and train sheep to respond to their handlers, young and old.
  • Sheep like to group together and tend to move toward and follow other flock members.
  • They like to move uphill and toward open spaces.
  • Sheep always move away from things that are frightening to them.
  • They don’t always need to see where they are going, which can work toward your advantage. You can herd, entice, and lure them around corners and curves where they can’t always see what’s coming.

Visiting a farm with sheep before you purchase, can provide an opportunity to try your hand at handling.

7. Choose Sheep Approved Feed and Supplements

Make sure you use feed and mineral supplements that are safe for sheep and follow the recommended rations. Sheep have narrower tolerances for certain minerals, such as copper and need to eat in the recommended amounts. Copper is an essential mineral that sheep need for bone formation, wool growth, proper pigmentation, healthy nerve function, red blood cell formation, immune health, and more. However, their bodies process copper differently than other livestock species.

How much copper should sheep eat

8. Rumen Health = Total Health

The best way to improve and maintain the overall health of your sheep is to prioritize their rumen. Just like goats and cattle, sheep are ruminants and their digestive health is of utmost importance. Supporting proper acid and ammonia levels and nourishing their rumen microbe colonies ensures they are getting the nutrients they need from their feed and forage. Fortunately Redmond Minerals can provide a simple solution to your sheep's rumen and mineral needs.

Sheep rumen and mineral program

For over 50 years, Redmond has supported healthy farming operations with our ancient sea mineral and volcanic clay deposit in central Utah. Our customers tell us that their animals “just do better on Redmond.” Redmond Mineral Conditioner is the perfect way to support your herd’s healthy rumen function and improve their feed efficiency. Our conditioner:

  • Naturally buffers rumen pH levels as well as sodium bicarbonate
  • Improves fiber digestion
  • Increases nutrient absorption
  • Supports healthy gut microbiota
  • Binds to harmful toxins
  • Increases wool production

Mix 1 part conditioner with 2-3 parts Redmond mineral salts (like Redmond Sheep Mineral) and take your animals’ health journey even further. Our expansive profile of 60+ minerals naturally contains the essential electrolytes and trace minerals your herd needs. When offered a choice between Redmond and other mineral mixes, they choose Redmond every time! Give us a call today at 866-709-3192 and start your sheep journey on a healthy note.

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Topics: raising sheep

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