Raising sheep on your acreage
One of the best things about living in the country is you have room for animals. If you're looking to add some livestock to your acreage, sheep are a good option. In addition to making you a little money, sheep can teach your children a great deal, as well.
Dan Morrical, professor of animal science at Iowa State University, says sheep are an excellent choice. "One of the reasons that sheep make such a good option is they tend to be a small, low investment with low facility needs, so people can have a small acreage and run quite a few sheep," he says. But like any new venture, it's important to do your research before getting started.
You'll want to consider the amount of land you have available, as well as its productivity. Morrical says the two go hand in hand. "Use about five to six ewes per acre in a well-managed, continuously grazed pasture. That way, you can get a lot of productivity out of the land," he says.
Housing needs vary by climate, lambing season, and individual preferences. More elaborate housing is generally required if lambing will occur during periods of inclement weather. Simple shelters may be adequate if lambing will occur on pasture during periods of mild weather.
There are many different types of housing that can be used for sheep, and facilities do not need to be built new. Old dairy and hog barns make good shelter, and many facilities can be remodeled to accommodate sheep. Understand that sheep should have an open, cold, dry barn rather than a tight, warm, humid barn. They wear thick coats and generally do well in the cold.
While sheep aren't extremely needy, they do require some general maintenance, and it's important to be sure you have the equipment necessary to tend to them. You will need tools for shearing, foot trimming, tail docking, and ear tagging, as well as proper fencing, sorting and lambing pens, and corrals. Additional standard maintenance includes cleaning the barns and harvesting hay (or being prepared to pay for it).
Sheep are ruminants, which means they have a four-compartment stomach and live off of grass and hay. They can use the high-fiber diet and digest it because of the bacteria that live in their stomachs. While sheep are typically sustained by hay or grass, it is sometimes necessary to feed them grain, such as corn, for energy. Situations such as late pregnancy, lactation, and rapid-growing lambs require such nutritional attention.
If you have children, taking care of sheep is a great way to teach them responsibility. "As we think about youth development, there's nothing better than having those kids have to get up at 7:00 in the morning to go out and do the chores, especially when it's -20º in the wintertime," says Morrical. "Just like my father told me, if your sheep don't eat, you don't get to eat. So we had to do chores first, and then we got breakfast."
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