Sheep are kept for a number of reasons: earning a living from their wool, hides, meat, cheese and milk; hobby farming to obtain organic home-grown meat and their other products; vegetation control; or simply as a pet.
WELFARE REQUIREMENTS ⎜LICENCES & DOCUMENTS
To produce organic sheep, the farm must be registered with an approved organic control body which expects a rigorous set of standards to be followed – it is these organic standards that ensure the animal’s welfare is priority. As well as requiring that animals are genuinely free range, organic standards also cover living conditions, food quality, the use of antibiotics and hormones, as well as transport and slaughter. These standards mean that animals raised in organic systems enjoy the very highest welfare standards of farmed animals.
FOOD & WATER
Sheep eat weeds other livestock species would otherwise avoid and are relatively inexpensive to keep; reproducing quickly and with minimal upfront costs. They are also happy to graze lawns, ditches, woodlots and mature orchards but hate to be alone, so if you are just starting out, be sure to buy two or three female lambs. Sheep do well grazing with other species, such as cattle, goats, horses and even pastured poultry, however, are not as easily fenced as cattle (but easier than goats!). Although less susceptible to diseases than other types of livestock, be aware, they are more susceptible to parasites.
Ideally, organic sheep graze in a rotation with cattle. By moving sheep onto land which hasn’t had sheep grazing it the previous year means that different grasses are available for the sheep and cattle to eat. This varied diet is good for their health.
Always have fresh water for your sheep to drink.
HOW MUCH LAND DO YOU NEED?
Raising sheep is an especially good choice for small property owners who don’t have the space to raise cattle but still want to produce their own high-quality meat. Typically, 5 to 7 ewes (female sheep) and their offspring (lambs), can comfortably occupy the same amount of land as just one cow and calf.
Approximately half of the nation’s sheep (organic and non-organic) are found on hilly upland areas. Most sheep are able to roam free range for the majority of their lives, although some may be brought inside to give birth. Stocking rates will generally be lower on organic farms than other farms.
A healthy animal is better able to resist disease than a stressed one. Organic livestock farming aims to prevent disease from occurring by promoting health. This is achieved through appropriate diet, high welfare standards for housing, amount of housing space for each animal and taking measures to reduce stress.
Organic farm animals must have access to fields (when weather and ground conditions permit) and are truly free range. This must be spacious, which in turn, helps to reduce stress and disease. The sheep must be fed a diet that is as natural as possible and free from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Drugs are only given in the event to treat an illness, the routine use of antibiotics is prohibited. Likewise, hormones cannot be given to enhance growth or make them more productive. Lastly, they cannot be produced from a cloned animal.
The big difference between organic and non-organic sheep systems are the methods used to prevent and control diseases. Non-organic sheep are likely to receive many more veterinary treatments than organic sheep. For example, many non-organic lambs will be wormed every four to six weeks, regardless of whether they actually have worms.
Organic farmers manage their flocks carefully to reduce the disease risk to new-born lambs and use clean grazing systems to minimise the need for worming. Clean grazing involves managing pastures so that sheep, and particularly lambs, are only put into fields that have very low or no worm infestation. If worming is necessary certain treatments can be used, provided the farmer gets approval from a vet and permission from the Soil Association before using the treatment. Many non-organic farmers also use organophosphorus dips to control sheep scab, which are banned under the Soil Association’s rules. Double-fencing can help to prevent sheep scab, which spreads when infected sheep rub on fences dividing them from healthy ones. However, this method is impractical on upland areas. Maintaining a closed flock (no bought-in stock) can also prevent disease.
CHOOSING A BREED
· Wool breeds – Merino & Rambouillet
· Meat breeds – North County Cheviot, Southdown, Dorset, Hampshire, Suffolk & Texel
· Dual purpose breeds (both wool and meat) – Columbia, Corriedale, Polypay & Targhee
· Triple purpose breeds (milk, wool and meat) – are bred mainly in Europe.
INFORMATION ON RARE BREEDS
The Rare Breeds Survival Trust is the leading national charity working to conserve and protect the United Kingdom’s rare native breeds of farm animals from extinction. They rely on the support of our members, grants and donations from the public to raise the £700,000 a year needed to maintain our conservation work with rare UK native breeds of farm animals. Visit their site here to find out more about rare sheep breeds.
USEFUL TIPS & WARNINGS
|If you are intending to breed sheep, allocate additional time to care for the ewes and lambs at lambing time. Predators must be kept at bay, the young and their mothers need to be shepherded to safe birthing places and orphan lambs will need hand-raising.Ask the breeder any questions you may have. Ensure that you keep the breeder’s contact details, as you may have questions for many months to follow.Ask the breeder any questions you may have. Ensure that you keep the breeder’s contact details, as you may have questions for many months to follow.
Sheep waste is an excellent garden fertilizer – sheep manure contains more nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium than horse or cow manure.
You must be strong to raise sheep. Or, have someone in the family who is strong enough to flip sheep over for various activities such as checking feet, trimming feet, shearing, vaccinating, birthing etc.
|Dogs and foxes are number one enemies of lambs. Make sure that adequate precautions are taken ahead of lambing to keep predators out of the birthing area.Make sure you are in a position to care for the sheep for a while.
Know the price of hay; and see if it works in your budget.
Make sure that you are permitted to raise sheep where you are.
Order only from a certified breeder.
GLOSSARY OF SHEEP HUSBANDRY
The raising of domestic sheep has occurred in nearly every inhabited part of the globe, and the variations in cultures and languages which have kept sheep has produced a vast lexicon of unique terminology used to describe sheep husbandry. A few of the more major terms can be found here.
FUN SHEEP FACTS!
|Sheep were domesticated 10,000 years ago in Central Asia.Man learned how to spin wool in 3,500 B.C.There are approximately 1 billion sheep worldwide and about 900 different breeds.Sheep have best friends!
They have an excellent good long term memory, they can remember as many as fifty faces for up to 2 years and most particularly they have a keen recall of unpleasant experiences.
Sheep have appeared on bank notes.
The ancient Egyptians believed that sheep were sacred and would even have them mummified when they died.
Sheep have excellent hearing but poor vision.
Female sheep are very caring mothers and form deep bonds with their lambs, the lamb identifies her mother by her bleat.
Sheep are common symbols in mythology and religion.
The Ram, Aries is the first sign of the Zodiac.
|The sheep is one of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac, sheep are seen to represent righteousness, sincerity, gentleness and compassion.Rams are used to symbolise virility and power.
Sheep are extremely intelligent animals capable of problem-solving. They are considered to have a similar IQ level to cattle and are nearly as clever as pigs.
Sheep are known to self-medicate when they have some illnesses. They will eat specific plants when ill that can cure them.
The fat (tallow) from sheep can be used to make soap and candles.
Milk from sheep has higher levels of fat, protein, riboflavin, calcium, zinc, niacin and thiamine than milk from goats and cows.
Healthy lambs can stand within minutes after birth and are able to move with the herd almost immediately.