Friday, April 10, 2015

Why Sheep?

(Note: it's been raining here so I haven't been getting photos taken. I'll add them later once the sun returns.) 

April asked via email, "Why are sheep often recommended for a homestead farm?" 

Well I can't say why others think sheep are good homestead farm animals, but for me they have proven to be a good choice. 

...Size. They are small enough to handle and big enough to produce something useful. (Size has a factor in most of the other reasons that sheep make good homestead animals.)
...They can grow and maintain pretty well on just good pasture. No need for large amounts of expensive grain. I do give mine a small handful of grain daily, but it's a training aid to keep them friendly and coming to me when I call them. 
...They turn my grass into a useful product. It's one way to utilize pasture and create something that helps sustain the homestead. Since I have both rams and ewes, about every 8 months I get a new batch of lambs. 
...They fertilize the pastures. Historically sheep were used to fertilize farm fields. While I pick up some of the manure for the garden, most goes to fertilize the pastures.
...If I didn't have some sort of grazing livestock my pastures would be out of control. In fact, when we moved here those pastures were impenetrable. The overgrowth was a solid tangle. So pasture control is a big plus with my sheep. 
...Meat. Lamb is a great addition to the dinner table. Along this same line, sheep are easy for the homesteader to home slaughter and butcher. 
...No big equipment (other than fencing) or expensive shelter is needed, say, compared to a dairy cow. A simple 3 sided shed for protection from wind and rain is enough. And the sheep don't mind if its not fancy. No special heavy duty stocks or chutes are needed for working my sheep. 
...Restraint is easy. My sheep all wear a collar, which makes a handy "handle" to grab them. And if I need some restraint in order to do something like foot trimming, hubby can flip them into their backs and hold them there for me. It's easy enough to do. In reality, most allow me to trim a foot without being flipped over. 
...They are easily fenced. Some livestock are great escape artists. But sheep tend to stay in their fences. 
...They produce milk. I've only had one ewe that I milked. I could easily train them all, but I'm lazy. The milk is rich, tastes good, and makes nice cheese. A plus for me is that they don't produce a lot. I'm not interested in gallons, or even quarts of milk. 
...Wool. In my case, I don't produce wool. I prefer hair sheep. But I know of several small operations that harvest the wool and use it. 
...Hides. I've never attempted to process a hide but I know of other sheep people who have. Tanned fleeces can be quite useful. 
...Sheep are not all that dangerous. Ewes are generally pretty safe. Rams may or may not be dangerous depending upon the individual ram and the breeding season. And while sheep could hurt me if I'm not careful, it's not like a bull that aims to kill this human....gore it,  toss it around, then mash it into an unrecognizable pulp. This is not to imply that sheep are cute, loving, Mary-had-a-little-lamb plush toys. Plenty of times I've been bashed, dragged around, knocked over, and run over. Actually it wasn't all that bad an experience. Really. 
...Fairly hardy. While not as rock solid as a cow, sheep are not real fragile either. There are certain husbandry issues that I needed to master, but all in all it wasn't a complicated mystery learning how to keep sheep. 

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