If you’re toying with the idea of adding hoof stock to your small farm, I encourage you to consider sheep. Despite the bad (and incorrect) reputation of being insipid or distant, sheep can make clever and friendly additions to any small farm.
Sheep are incredibly diverse in what they offer smaller operations. Few other animals can provide the farmer so much on only a few pounds of hay and grain a day. If you have a bit of pasture and patience, the rewards far outweigh the work and can provide a variety of options for income.
Right Sheep for the Job
Regardless of where you live, there is a breed of sheep suited exactly to your needs. Consider the following:
- Want a hardy flock (you mean a herd? Nope, a group of sheep is a flock) of winter woolies that provide meaty lambs for your Montana homestead? Consider the Romney.
- Want a smaller breed for your east-coast backyard fiber flock? Hear the good word about Icelandics.
- Do you live in the dense humid heat of the deep south? Check out hair sheep like Katahdin or St Croix, which shed their own fleeces and never need to be shorn.
Whatever your needs, there is a sheep breed up to the task.
And if you’re going to take on a flock, know that, if you’re clever, you can raise sheep for profit (not to mention joy) all year round.
Most of us shepherds focus on wool and meat, for reasons that are tried and true. If you can get ahold of local knitters and spinners, you can offer wool shares the same way other farmers offer CSAs for meat. Since sheep are usually shorn in early spring or later winter to aid with ease of lambing, this provides income during the time they require the most attention. It’s also usually the time small farms are the farthest away from fall lamb harvests.
Play your cards right and the same ewe can offer a wool sale in spring, lamb sales to other shepherds in the summer and meat sales in the fall. Not a bad return on an animal that only requires a wind- and rain-proof, three-sided shelter in most regions and a section of pasture. And as an added bonus, the shepherd also gets lawn-mowing service to boot.
A Range of Experiences
On this small farm, I’ve raised sheep many ways. I’ve had lambs I bought and raised on summer grass for an early-winter harvest. I’ve had a wool-producing flock I tended year-round on my four-season farm. I have also had a breeding flock and spent early spring nights checking fields for new lambs by lantern light.
All of the memories and experiences have been deeply rewarding—even when they tested my grit.
As someone who has raised both a small herd of dairy goats and a flock of sheep at the same time, I can assure you sheep were less work than their capricious counterparts, who required regular milking and enjoyed frequent escape antics. If you like animals that mind a fence more reliably, sheep are it.
Alpacas are great. Horses are a joy. Cows are pleasant and worth their weight. But all of these other animals are very niche in what they can offer smaller operations for the cost of feed and keeping.
If you want a profitable return on your land and wallet, sheep are a perfect year-round charges for the hobby farm!