One Community feels that modeling ethical and humane animal stewardship is essential and for The Highest Good of All in today’s world of diverse needs. We anticipate many cultures and communities globally and for the predictable future will either need or choose to use animals as food and/or raise them for their by-products. With this in mind, we see an opportunity for One Community to demonstrate Highest Good methods of doing this. We discuss this and more with the following sections:
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Our team will raise sheep mainly for milk, wool, to utilize their manure as fertilizer, and engage them in rangeland management. Their milk has health benefits and can be used to make butter, cheese, and yoghurt. They will consume/recycle green food waste and produce manure for use as a fertilizer, and they have a natural ability to improve rangeland by aerating and introducing soil surface variability that can positively affect vegetation growth. Their grazing can also help replace the need for tilling. We may eat some sheep, but we are not intending to raise them for this purpose. We approach this process with respect, gratitude, and love for these creatures and will be further expanding this page with our open source collaborative efforts and experience once on the property.
SUGGESTIONS ● CONSULTING ● MEMBERSHIP ● OTHER OPTIONS
Like any form of animal husbandry, raising sheep requires understanding the creature you are responsible for and appropriately providing for its needs. We discuss these details here with the following sections:
We scoured the internet for informative videos about raising sheep and the ones below were the best we found. Our notes and linked timestamps are included for easy reference. Here are the sections we discuss covering the things we feel are most important about raising sheep:
Note: If any video below ever becomes unavailable, please contact us using this page (click here) and we’ll repost it using the backups we create of all quality resources we identify.
Summary of the video below: Sheep are generally docile animals and if adequate pastures exist, you only have to supplement with minerals. No additional feed is required. Lambing ewes may need a high quality alfalfa or additional protein if your soils are not of good quality. Sheep on fertile pastures though generally only need mineral salts as supplements.
While lactating ewes of any breed can be milked, as with other species of livestock, there are specialized dairy sheep breeds. Worldwide there are more than a dozen dairy sheep breeds, but only a few are available in the United States: East Friesian and Lacaune (what we’ll be starting with) especially dominate, and since 2013 both Awassi and Assaf have been introduced. Specialized dairy breeds produce 400 to 1,100 pounds of milk per lactation, whereas the milk production from conventional sheep breeds is only 100 to 200 pounds of milk per lactation.
The East Friesian Milk Sheep, Ostfriesisches Milchschaf, is the most common and productive breed of dairy sheep in the world. Their average production is 990 to 1,100 pounds per 220 to 240-day lactation. They are highly specialized animals and do poorly under extensive and large flock husbandry conditions. Friesian sheep cross well with local adapted breeds. Two other highly productive breeds of dairy sheep are the fat-tailed Awassi and Assaf breeds from Israel. In France, the Lacaune is the breed of choice for making the country’s famous Roquefort cheese.
Worldwide, most sheep are milked seasonally by hand. This is because many dairy sheep are raised in remote areas where no cow could survive. Modern sheep dairies use sophisticated machinery for milking: milking parlors, pipelines, bulk tanks, etc. Ewes are milked once or twice per day.
In the United States, dairy ewes are managed in different ways. On some farms, ewes are not milked until their lambs have been weaned at 30 to 60 days of age. Another system allows lambs to suckle for 8 to 12 hours per day, after which time they are separated for the night and the ewes are milked the following morning. After the lambs are weaned at 28 to 30 days, the ewes are milked twice per day.
We discuss this and more with the following sections:
Most sheep grow wool coats that require shearing at least annually and lamb tails are usually docked (shortened). They have an upper lip that is divided by a distinct philtrum (groove). Sheep have face or tear glands beneath their eyes and foot or scent glands between the toes.
The life expectancy of sheep is similar to large breeds of dogs, about 10 to 12 years. Some breeds are known for being longer-lived, e.g. Merino. According to the Guiness Book of World Records, the oldest sheep lived to be 23, and was a Merino.
However, the length of a sheep’s productive lifetime tends to be much less. This is because a ewe’s productivity usually peaks between 3 and 6 years of age and begins to decline after the age of 7. As a result, most ewes are removed from a flock before they reach their natural life expectancy. It is also necessary to get rid of older ewes in order to make room for younger ones. The younger animals are usually genetically superior to the older ones.
In harsh environments where forage is sparse, ewes are usually culled at a younger age because once their teeth start to wear and break down, it becomes more difficult for them to maintain their body condition and consume enough forage to feed their babies. It is possible for a ewe to be productive past 10 years of age, if she is well-fed and managed and stays healthy and sound.
Feed, water, body condition, diseases, and parasite status should be checked on a regular basis. Teeth are a good indicator of animal health and if the teeth are in poor condition, consider culling that individual from the flock or herd. Hooves should be trimmed and treated as needed. Ammonia levels and bedding should be checked on a regular basis as well. Ruminants tend to cluster to conserve heat, which increases the chances of injury and parasite and disease transmission. Parasite occurrences are generally thought of as a warm weather issue. Though, mites can become a problem in colder weather.
Sheep and goats can be vaccinated for many different diseases, but there is only one universally-recommended vaccine, and it is the CDT for overeating and tetanus vaccination.
Enterotoxemia, or overeating disease, is a major cause of death of kids and lambs from shortly after birth through the entire feeding period. It is caused by a bacterium called Clostridium perfringens. It is characterized by acute indigestion, convulsions and other nervous system signs such as colic and sudden death. It commonly affects single kids and lambs, nursing dams(mothers) that are heavy milkers, and feeder animals that are on high energy diets. With proper feeding, management, and immunization, the disease can be controlled. Tetanus is a common, fatal disease in sheep and goats caused by a bacterium known as Clostridium tetani. Common symptoms are muscle stiffness and spasms, bloat, panic, uncoordinated walking, and/or the inability to eat and drink. It is sometimes referred to as lockjaw. Death is inevitable, usually about three or four days after symptoms appear.
Clostridial diseases are often fatal and strike ruminant livestock suddenly, often causing a mysterious death without any clinical signs. The Clostridia bacteria are widespread in the environment and normally found in the soil and manure. They are also present in the digestive tract and tissues of healthy animals. For these reasons, vaccination is the best way to prevent disease outbreaks. CDT vaccination helps to protect healthy sheep and goats against Clostridium perfringens type C and D (overeating disease) and Clostridium tetani (tetanus).
Enterotoxemia vaccines are available and are an important aspect of controlling the disease. To prevent the disease in nursing kids and lambs, vaccinate does and ewes at four weeks prior to kidding/lambing. Lambs and kids will receive passive, temporary immunity to overeating disease when they consume colostrum from these vaccinated animals. At about six weeks these kids and lambs will begin to lose the immunity that they received from this colostrum. These kids and lambs should receive their first CDT vaccination by the time they are six to eight weeks of age, followed by a booster three to four weeks later. If the herd or flock has good clostridial protection, kids and lambs should not need the tetanus antitoxin, but many people administer it at the time of docking, castrating, and disbudding to assure protection.
A disease naturally transmitted from animals to people is called a zoonotic disease. There are a handful of diseases that people can get from contact with sheep:
If infective sheep feces are handled, diarrhea infections such as cryptosporidia, salmonella, or e. coli 0157:H7 are possible, though uncommon. The risk is greatest for children and those with compromised immune systems. Prevention is simple: wash your hands in warm, soapy water after handling sheep and/or their feces.
Orf virus is a member of the parapoxvirus genus in the Poxvirus family. This virus primarily causes an infection in sheep and goats, although it can be transmitted to people by handling infected sheep or by administering the live vaccine to animals. A study in England showed that 23 percent of sheep farmers and sheep farm employees have been infected with orf. The infection in animals is commonly referred to as sore mouth, scabby mouth, or contagious ecthyma. Animals infected with orf virus typically develop scabby sores (lesions) around their lips, muzzle, and in their mouth. Humans that are infected usually develop ulcerative lesions or nodules on their hands; sometimes on their arms and face. Infection with orf virus occurs throughout the world, wherever small ruminants exist.
Ringworm is a fungal disease that can be transmitted from sheep to sheep and sheep to people. The lesions in people appear as a red, thickened rash. In extreme cases, ringworm can cause disfiguring scars.
Sheep (and goats) can get scrapie, a fatal, neurological disease that is in the same family of diseases as “mad cow” disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), chronic wasting disease (of mule deer and elk), and classic and new variant Creutzfeld-Jakob’s disease (affecting people). There is no evidence to suggest that people can contract scrapie or any other transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) from contact with livestock or by consuming sheep meat or products made from sheep milk.
The biggest health risk sheep pose is to pregnant women. This is because some of the same organisms that cause abortion in ewes can cause a woman to abort (miscarry). The most common causes of abortion in sheep are enzootic abortion (chylamydia), vibrio (campylobacter), and toxoplasmosis. Domestic cats are the common carrier of toxoplasmosis. Because of the risk, pregnant women should not be involved with ewes that are lambing. It is always a good idea to wear gloves when assisting with the delivery of lambs or handling fetuses or placental fluids.
Though ruminants can digest grain (starch), their more natural diet is forages: grass, weeds, browse, hay, and silage. If too much grain is consumed at one time or the diet is switched too quickly to grain, a large amount of lactic acid is produced in the rumen and the pH of the rumen drops. This can be a fatal condition to the ruminant animal. Grain must be introduced slowly to the diet of ruminants to give the rumen time to adjust, which it can easily do. Sheep “love” the taste of grain. It’s like “candy” to them. They will overeat if grain consumption is not regulated. If grain is slowly introduced to the ruminant’s diet, grain can be supplemented and in some cases replace some of the forage in the diet. Whole grain is better for sheep because it requires them to do their own grinding of the grain. Digestive upsets are less common with whole grain as compared to processed grains (ground, rolled, or cracked). Some forage should always be fed to ruminants to keep their rumens functioning properly and to keep them content. Sometimes, if a sheep doesn’t get enough forage in its diet, it will pick at another’s wool.
Older people and children can suffer injuries when working with livestock, including sheep. Safety should be the primary concern when handling all livestock. Safe handling is also less stressful to the livestock. The use of specialized handling equipment minimizes the stress and risk of injury to both the shepherd and animals.
Some shepherds have been seriously injured by rams (intact male sheep). Rams don’t need to have horns to be dangerous. Under no circumstances should a person trust a ram and turn his or her back on a ram. Even the most docile ram can become aggressive when you least expect it. It is a ram’s natural behavior to charge, if he thinks you are challenging his dominant position in the flock. Rams are especially aggressive during the rutting (mating) season. Overly aggressive rams should not be kept.
There are two types of dogs used on sheep farms: herding dogs and guardian dogs. Herding dogs are used to manage sheep. They are also called stockdogs or working dogs. A well-trained herding dog works in partnership with its handler and obeys commands to perform its job. Properly trained, the dog is able to move the sheep just about anywhere. Good herding dogs control sheep with calm authority and without excessive “commotion.” A poorly trained dog has the opposite effect on the sheep.
Not just any breed of dog is used for herding. Common herding breeds include the Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, Australian Kelpie, New Zealand Huntaway, and Australian Cattle Dog. Other breeds with herding instinct include Corgis and Shetland Sheepdogs.
The most popular breed of herding dog in the U.S. is the Border Collie. The Border Collie originated in the border country between England and Scotland. It is considered the world’s premier sheep herding dog. The Border Collie is noted for its intelligence, work ethic, and desire to please. Since Border Collies are bred for working ability and intelligence rather than for physical beauty, conformation varies widely. One of the most trainable breeds, the Border Collie also serves well as a narcotics and bomb detection dog and is a frequent high performer in obedience, agility, Frisbee(TM) trials, police work, search & rescue, Flyball, performing tricks, and competitive obedience. Border Collies are not ideal pets for people who have no plans to spend a lot of time with them. These dogs are too intelligent to lie around the house all day with nothing to do. These lively dogs have boundless energy and thrive on hard work and play. Prospective owners who are looking for just a family pet should consider other similar, but calmer breeds, like show line Australian Shepherds and Shetland Sheepdogs. Many people get their start raising sheep because of their love and interest in training herding dogs. They raise sheep so their dogs have sheep to work. Some people keep flocks of mostly wethers(a castrated ram) whereas others develop productive sheep flocks that they simultaneously use to work their dogs.
Sheep’s milk is highly nutritious, richer in vitamins A, B, and E, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium than cow’s milk. It contains a higher proportion of short- and medium-chain fatty acids, which have recognized health benefits. For example, short-chain fatty acids have little effect on cholesterol levels in people. They make milk easier to digest.
According to a German researcher, sheep’s milk has more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than the milk from pigs, horses, goats, cattle, and humans. CLA is a cancer-fighting, fat-reducing fat. The fat globules in sheep’s milk are smaller than the fat globules in cow’s milk, making sheep’s milk more easily digested.
Sheep’s milk can be frozen and stored until a sufficient quantity of milk is available to sell or make cheese. Freezing does not affect the cheese-making qualities of the milk.
Sheep’s milk has a higher solids content than goat’s or cow’s milk. As a result, more cheese can be produced from a gallon (or liter) of sheep’s milk than a gallon (or liter) of goat’s or cow’s milk. Sheep’s milk yields 18 to 25 percent cheese, whereas goat and cow’s milk only yield 9 to 10 percent.
While sheep usually produce less milk than goats and much less than cows, sheep’s milk sells for a significantly higher price per pound, almost four times the price of cow’s milk.
Most of the sheep’s milk produced in the world is made into cheese. Some of the most famous cheeses are made from sheep’s milk: Feta (Greece, Italy, and France), Ricotta and Pecorino Romano (Italy) and Roquefort (France). Sheep’s milk is also made into yogurt, butter, and ice cream.
Sheep grow wool continuously. If they are not sheared at least once a year, they become very stressed and uncomfortable, especially when it is hot and humid. Eventually, the wool becomes matted, stained, and difficult to remove. It is inhumane to not shear sheep that require it.
Hair sheep are sheep that do not require shearing because they lack sufficient wool fibers or because their coats naturally shed. However, crosses between hair sheep and woolen breeds may need shearing. Their fleeces are not desirable because they contain a mixture of hair and wool fibers. They should not be mixed with wool because they will degrade the value of the wool. It takes anywhere from 1 to 3 generations of crossing to eliminate the need for shearing of the crossbred progeny. The skins from hair sheep produce the highest quality leather. This is because the numerous fine wool fibers, as compared to the lesser number of coarse fibers of the hair sheep, cause the skin to be more open and loose in texture.
Shearing is a necessary practice for the health and hygiene of each individual animal. Unlike other animals, most sheep are unable to shed. If a sheep goes too long without being shorn, a number of problems occur and the excess wool impedes the ability of sheep to regulate their body temperatures and can cause sheep to become overheated and die. Domestic sheep do not naturally shed their winter coats and if one year’s wool is not removed by shearing, the next year’s growth just adds to it. Urine, feces and other materials become trapped in the wool, attracting flies, maggots and other pests. This causes irritation, infections, and endangers the health of the animal.
Shearing keeps sheep cool in the warmer months and reduces the risk of parasitic infestation and disease. It also reduces the risk of sheep becoming ‘rigged’ or stuck on their backs, which can make them vulnerable to attack by crows or other predators.
While sheep are not necessarily cold during shearing, they can develop cold stress afterward. Sheep wool keeps the animals insulated from the elements while shearing the wool removes some of their natural protection and makes it harder for the animals to self-regulate their body temperature. Therefore, the shearing should take place in a timely fashion and undertaken by an experienced sheerer. Often the sheering is done prior to spring lambing to make the udders readily available for nursing the young.
We reviewed a bunch of shearing videos and, though the one below not a true step-by-step, it is the best we found regarding shearing. The women has done this professionally and treats the animals well, showing a respectful bonding between human and animal that we found lacking in most of the others:
Homestead Sheep Shearing, by Molly
Sandi Brock video. Another shearing video worth viewing. View the comments for further understanding of the process, and though it may sometimes appear cruel or uncomfortable, the sheep are not suffering.
Click here for more details about step-by-step sheep shearing.
The amount of land required to feed a sheep is determined by the soil quality, rainfall amount, and pasture management (including proper rotational grazing). An acre of pasture in the wet season (spring and fall) can support more sheep than an acre in the dry season, and your sheep will require more grazing land during the dry season(usually summer). Plants do not grow at the same rate all year round and some plants do most of their growing in cool weather (spring, fall), whereas others produce the most growth during the warmer months. If different forage species are planted, it is possible to provide year-round grazing for sheep, with snow cover being the only limiting factor. An improved acre of grassland in the Eastern U.S. could support ten sheep whereas the arid ranges of West Texas may require ten acres to support a single sheep’s nutritional requirements. Reproductive rates and lamb growth rates are lower in arid climates than high-rainfall areas that grow more plentiful forage. As a result, wool production tends to be of greater importance in arid and semi-arid environments, as it takes less nutrition to grow good quality wool than to produce milk and raise lambs.
While there is no one sheep stocking rate per acre which is considered ideal for all climates and pasture conditions, a good rule of thumb is 10 ewes and 15 lambs per acre of pasture. This assumes you will use a well-executed rotational grazing regimen, allowing your sheep to graze and fertilize each paddock well, and moving them to new grasses before they have the opportunity to over-graze and damage the roots of the forages in your fields. Sheep in different geographical areas eat different plants. Tropical forages are usually not as nutritious as those that grow in temperate climates. Either protein or energy may be the limiting nutrient in a forage diet. All forages are more nutritious if they are eaten in a vegetative state. Sheep are grazers, preferring to eat short, tender grasses and clover. Their dietary preference is forbs (broadleaf weeds), in fact, it is usually their first choice of food in a pasture and they like to graze close to the soil surface. A forb is a broad-leafed plant other than grass. It is a flowering plant and often very nutritious. As compared to cattle, sheep eat a greater variety of plants and select a more nutritious diet, but less so than goats.
Sheep will graze for an average of seven hours per day, mostly in the hours around dawn and in the late afternoon, near sunset. When supplements are fed to pastured sheep, it is best to feed them in the middle of the day so that normal grazing patterns are not disrupted. We discuss this and more with the following sections:
While sheep have been used for centuries to control unwanted vegetation, grazing as a fee-based service is a relatively new phenomenon. Along with goats, sheep are the best livestock to use to control unwanted vegetation, such as noxious weeds and invasive plants. Sheep and goats have long been used to control unwanted vegetation. Their use has increased in recent years because of the desire for biological control agents in environmentally sensitive areas. Grazing is also a more economical alternative in many situations.
Many of the growing number of solar farms utilize sheep for vegetation control. Combining the two activities provides both an economic and environmental benefit. Most of the vegetation under the solar panels is available for grazing. Without sheep, the site would require frequent mowing and be managed differently. To allow grazing, the panels are simply positioned high enough off the ground to allow grazing. Power companies are “hiring” sheep (and goat) herds to keep areas under power lines in forested areas grazed, thus reducing the chance that an errant spark from the lines might start a wildfire and destroy the power line and surrounding forest.
Managed or “prescribed” grazing is good for the environment. A grass-covered sod is the best protection against soil erosion and runoff. The vegetation and soils on grazing lands are a large reservoir for organic carbon.
Properly managed, grazing lands help reduce atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and may reduce greenhouse gas accumulation. Private grazing lands provide habitat for two-thirds of our wildlife, water for urban and other users, and visually-appealing open space.
Some people believe that we should not allow sheep or any other livestock to graze our public range and grasslands, due to the damage that was caused by overgrazing in the past. Past overgrazing was caused by lack of management and should not be a reason to ignore the potential benefits of grazing.
Now, rangelands can be improved with managed or “prescribed” grazing, whereby you control how many, when, and for how long livestock graze a certain area. Research has shown that light or moderate grazing is usually more beneficial than no grazing.
Sheep are currently used throughout the Great Plains and Intermountain regions to control noxious and invasive weeds. Many of these weeds could not be controlled by means of chemical, mechanical, or cultural practices due to the high cost associated with these control methods or their relative ineffectiveness. One such weed is leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula), a Eurasian weed which has consumed millions of acres and is so competitive that it quickly crowds out all other plants to form a monoculture.
Another weed, which has impacted many areas throughout the West, is Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea maculosa). This weed invades native ranges and threatens even pristine areas such as our national parks. Sheep readily graze knapweed and are viewed as another tool to fight this aggressive invader.
Sheep will readily consume kudzu (Pueraria montana), a vine that completely replaces all vegetation where it grows in the Southeast. Larkspur (Delphinium sp.) is a weed that is poisonous to cattle. Because sheep can tolerate up to 3 to 4 times more larkspur than cattle, they are used to help control the weed in cattle pastures.
Sheep are used in many places to reduce the threat of wildfire in areas where wildlands interface with urban communities. A fuelbreak is created by allowing the sheep to graze the vegetation, thereby reducing fuel amount and height and creating an effective fire break while lessening fire intensity, should ignition occur.
Numerous studies have shown how sheep and goats, used under prescribed conditions, can help increase the plant biodiversity on western ranges. Since sheep prefer to graze and bed on upland areas away from wet lowlands, they are easier to manage in grazing areas where critical riparian and watershed issues are a concern.
When sheep are grazed in the same areas for several years, the level of perennial grasses within the plant community tends to increase which has been shown to increase water infiltration and decrease erosion.
Prescribed sheep grazing has been shown to enhance wildlife habitat in a variety of ways. By allowing sheep to graze different areas at specific times of the year, the quality and quantity of certain critical vegetation types can be enhanced.
Sheep producers in Canada are now paid up to $35 per sheep to graze newly planted tree plantations. This method of prescribed grazing increases the viability of the new tree seedlings by reducing the competition of grasses, forbs, and weedy species for water, soil nutrients, and sunlight. “Trained” sheep have been used to graze in vineyards.
Sheep have many natural predators: coyotes, wolves, foxes, bears, dogs, eagles, bobcats, mountain lions, etc. Sheep are vulnerable to predators because they are generally defenseless and have no means of protecting themselves. Sheep run when something frightens them. Their only protection is to stay together in a group.
While there are no documented differences among breeds in vulnerability to predators, breeds with a strong flocking instinct would likely be less vulnerable to predators than those that scatter. Some primitive breeds of sheep may have developed unique flight patterns which enable them to successfully elude predators.
While no technique is 100% effective, there are some techniques that shepherds can employ to protect their sheep from predators. The most obvious way is to keep sheep and lambs away from predators by penning them at night or bedding them nearby.
Employing sheep herders will provide some protection from predators.
How to choose a livestock guardian animal? Livestock guardian animals live with and protect animals from common predators. For hundreds of years, people who raise sheep and goats have used guardian animals to live with their livestock and deter predators. Dogs, donkeys, llamas and occasionally large-horned cows or steers have served this purpose. Any large animal that the flock can bond with and feel safe with can work. It’s difficult to guarantee protection of livestock from large predators such as wolves, bears or cougars, but guardian animals can discourage coyotes—the most common predator in every geographic region. Whether you choose guardian dogs, donkeys, or llamas depends on your situation, livestock, terrain, and the predators in the area.
Guard dog breeds are generally large—more than 100 pounds—and unfriendly toward other dogs, keeping stray dogs away from the flock. They are bred as work animals, not pets; their focus is to detect and deter predators. Most predators stay away from dog-protected flocks to avoid being confronted by the guard dog.
There are many guardian dog breeds, but the Great Pyrenees is the most widely used in North America. Originally bred by Basque shepherds in the mountains between Spain and France, this breed is probably the least aggressive toward people, but its thick coat makes it a poor choice for hot, humid regions.
If you have livestock in large pastures and a lot of predators, you might need a more aggressive breed. The Turkish Akbash is thought to be the most aggressive and protective, though it is a bit smaller than most other guardian dogs.
The Anatolian Shepherd is also from Turkey. This large, imposing breed is extremely devoted to the herd, but it might be unfriendly toward humans. Being shorthaired, these dogs can withstand hot weather.
The largest Anatolian-type dogs, often called Kangals, can fight wolves and big cats, being more athletic, faster and more vicious in a fight than other breeds. A large male Anatolian or Kangal weighs 150 to 175 pounds.
The Komondor from Hungary has long, heavy, felt-like cords of hair similar to dreadlocks; it protects against weather and bites from wolves. This thick coat requires a lot of care, and some people just clip it. These dogs weigh 80 to 100 pounds and are as tall as 27 inches. They are very protective and territorial.
Individual dogs vary, regardless of breed, and some work better than others. If you start with a puppy, put it with the flock when it’s about 2 months old, so it can start bonding with the animals it is supposed to protect.
These dogs must live with your livestock, not with you, in order to be guardian animals. They guard and protect the animals they imprint on as a pup. It usually takes 12 to 24 months for pups to become effective guardian dogs.
They intimidate predators by barking and aggressive behavior, and might attack a predator if it doesn’t leave. Some stay with the livestock all the time, while others prefer to roam the perimeter of the herd.
Guardian dogs require very little care, except more feed (and feed of higher fat/energy content) during cold weather. Some people provide self-feeders for the dogs. These dogs often choose to stay outdoors in all weather conditions, or they might use the same shelter as the sheep they protect. A disadvantage with dogs is the feed expense.
Donkeys eat what the sheep or goats eat and are self-sufficient. Donkeys also live longer than dogs and with good management might provide 15 or more years of protection. It usually costs less to purchase and maintain donkeys than guard dogs.
Avoid lush pasture or high-quality legume hay; donkeys have a low energy requirement and can get too fat or develop metabolic disorders and laminitis (an inflammation of the lamina inside the hoof, aka founder) or hyperlipaemia (too much fat in the blood). Donkeys do well on good grass hay and the same basic care you’d give any equine, including hoof trimming as well as regular vaccinations and deworming.
A donkey can deter predators because if it sees or hears one, it will bray. This loud response is often enough to make predators leave. Donkeys are very territorial and instinctively aggressive toward canines. Donkeys can also be formidable—biting, striking, kicking, and chasing intruders. Horses (being herd animals) tend to flee from danger before using their teeth and hooves to protect themselves. A donkey’s fight instinct is triggered more quickly because in the wild it generally lived alone. If a donkey bonds to its flock and stays with it, flock members regard the donkey as a protector and gather near it if a predator approaches.
A jenny (female donkey) with a foal (offspring less than 1 year old) is the best guardian. She’s extremely wary of potential threats. A foal raised with a flock usually becomes a good protector because it’s so bonded to and comfortable with its pasture companions. Not all donkeys make good livestock guardian animals. Some are overly aggressive with the sheep. Jacks (males) aren’t recommended.
Some people use llamas because the animals can bond and stay with the flock and tend to approach any canine that comes near. A predator approached by this large, tall animal generally leaves. Llamas can guard for 15 to 20 years and don’t require special feeding. Dog-fearing livestock readily accept llamas. Another benefit is their calm, docile disposition. Llamas can become livestock protectors because they are social animals that don’t want to live alone. If one is the only llama in a pasture, it tends to bond with the other animals and be aggressive toward canines.
When the llama sees a predator, it often responds with a high-pitched scream, followed by posturing, spitting and moving toward the predator. Llamas might charge, strike, or stomp on small predators.
Some llamas place themselves between the threat and their flock or try to herd them away. Llamas generally scan the surrounding area for potential danger or patrol their area. For a small herd near your house, llamas might be able to dissuade many predators but can’t deter wolves or cougars.
A single llama will have difficulty deterring multiple dogs or a pack of coyotes. Not all llamas are suitable livestock guardian animals. Some ignore dogs. Others run from dogs and are vulnerable to attack themselves. Immature llamas don’t have the confidence to guard successfully. A guard llama must be on duty at all times, so it can’t be a pet or a pack animal. Females work best. Male llamas—even if gelded—might be too aggressive or might try to mate with the sheep.
While some people may find lethal control methods (shooting, trapping, snaring, denning, and poisoning) distasteful, sometimes they are the only method to remove individual predators, particularly those killing large numbers of sheep. Producers are required to follow federal, state, and local laws governing predators that may prey on their sheep. New and better techniques for controlling predators are constantly under investigation, especially more environmentally-friendly methods. New and improved traps and snares are being developed. Lethal methods are more target-specific.
Scientists are evaluating the potential for using reproductive inhibitors in coyotes to reduce the incidence of predation on sheep and other livestock. Sheep farmers in South Africa have developed a protective plastic collar that covers the sheep’s cheek and underside of the neck, thus preventing predator access to the throat.
Swiss biologists developed a collar that sends a text message to the shepherd’s phone when the heart rate of attacked animals goes up.
When weather extremes approach it is important to consider the comfort of sheep. Extreme durations of heat and cold can be stressful for livestock and owners need to reduce that stress by providing shelter, proper care, feeding, and management practices. Adjusting management practices will help to ensure that sheep under your care will thrive through the cold winter months.
Shelters can be built from inexpensive materials. They are needed to provide shade, repel wind, and reduce winter risks of cold stress and hypothermia. Position your shelter on slightly elevated ground with good drainage. Shelters with puddles of water or muddy floors will chill livestock seeking shelter. They also create manure management problems. Tree lines and windrows are also considered as shelter.
Ranchers have made simple Quonset-covers on wheels, converted carports, pallets or reclaimed lumber, even tarps stretched over frames. Shelters can include barns or three sided sheds and have adequate ventilation so moisture does not build up and cause respiratory problems for the sheep. New ranchers often think they have to completely enclose and insulate a barn to protect their livestock, allowing ammonia from urine and fecal odors to build up rapidly, but livestock do better with good ventilation and open air. Ideally, these shelters should face south for additional warmth in the winter months and block out the cold northerly winds. Wind speeds above 5 mph can cause cold stress in youth and adults alike. Ruminants know when they are too cold and need to seek shelter, so you should not have to worry about rounding up sheep and goats when temperatures drop below 0°F.
Sheep must have enough space in the shelter so they can use it. A mature ewe or ram requires eight square feet of space; lambs and kids need about six square feet. They will not distribute themselves evenly across the floor, but they will cluster together to share body heat.
Some producers worry when they see their sheep or goats lying outside on a cold day and try to move them into the shelter, only to have the animals return to the pasture as soon as their back is turned. As long as the weather is dry and not too windy, animals will probably prefer outside conditions that allow the sun to warm them. If they get too cold, they will go to the shelter on their own.
Hair sheep and wool breeds that have been recently shorn require more shelter than animals with longer wool. Ewes that are lambing during the cold winter months should be housed in a barn and monitored regularly. Newborns must be dried quickly after birth as hypothermia can set in quickly. Young lambs are able to withstand cold temperatures quite well, but drafts and dampness can lead to losses from baby lamb pneumonia. Heat lamps can be used to help keep lambs warm, although care must be taken to prevent electrocutions and/or barn fires. Remember to use caution with any type of electrical device with sheep and lambs as they may chew the cord—place the lamps well out of reach of animals in the structure.
Most of us enjoy spending these cold winter days indoors next to the fireplace or with the furnace working overtime. So with their thick wool coats, are sheep actually keeping as warm as you think? Are they just used to the cold? During the winter extreme temperatures, precipitation, and wind can create substantial problems when raising ruminants. Contrary to the idea that our livestock can deal with the cold better than we can, they actually feel the same temperatures that we do.
The Lower Critical Temperature (LCT) is the temperature threshold for the amount of energy it costs to remain warm for livestock and other mammals. These temperatures are affected by coat condition, wind chill, and rainfall. Sheep will often handle cold temperatures better than goats, so long as they have their wool coats. If they have been sheared recently, sheep will be more at risk for cold stress. As temperatures drop, ruminants will eat more, and their feed will have to be adjusted to make up for the loss in energy. A good way to determine how much more to feed is to add ¼ lb. of total digestible nutrients for every 10°F below the LCT. If temperatures outside are 0F and the LCT is 25°F, you would want to add 2.5 lbs. of supplemental feed, such as corn, oats, sweet feed or complete pellets, to maintain body condition. Quality hay can generate additional warmth when digested as the breakdown of cellulose produces heat. Full fleeces also work well to keep sheep warm when temperatures drop below freezing, but if precipitation and windy conditions occur or temperatures drop below 0°F, even sheep with full fleece will undergo cold stress.
Extra care should be provided for pregnant and young ruminants. Newborns are more susceptible to hypothermia since they are coated in amniotic fluid until cleaned. Hypothermia can inhibit immune function, increasing risk of disease. Frostbite and cold stress may also occur, so it is important to provide pregnant small ruminants to barns that are sanitary and warm for lambing or kidding.
Sheep require more energy in the winter to help them maintain body temperature. The highest quality hays should not be fed during gestation. Utilize average to good quality hay during the early gestation period, when ewe nutrient requirements are low compared to late gestation and lactation. If high-quality hay, such as alfalfa, are fed during gestation it is important to limit intakes as overfeeding is costly. Ewes up through 15 weeks of gestation should receive 4 lbs of a good quality grass/legume hay daily. In the last 4 weeks of gestation they should receive 4 lbs of a good quality grass/legume hay plus 1 lb of corn daily. To prevent wool picking and other problems, ewes should receive a minimum of 1.5 lbs of hay per day and one pound of corn can be substituted for 2 pounds of hay. Once ewes lamb and begin to lactate, they should receive 5 pounds of good quality hay and 2 pounds of 15 percent crude protein grain mix a day. Hay should be fed in feeders to help minimize waste and help prevent the spread of disease. Sheep should have access to fresh water at all times. This may require changing water a couple of times a day to remove the ice or some other type of heated waterer. Salt and minerals formulated for sheep should also be available at all times.
Water should be one of the first items to check during the winter months and should be checked twice daily. Make sure that ice is not building up in water tanks or pipes. You can use submersible heaters to prevent ice from forming or use partially buried water troughs to slow ice formation. Much like humans prefer hot drinks during winter months, sheep prefer warm water over cold. Water temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s are preferable. Cold water can result in greater energy loss, which means that animals will need to consume more feed to make up for this loss. Water use increases during lactation and consumption of dry matter. With adequate water provided, digestion becomes more efficient.
Keeping your forages healthy is also important for ruminants. Snow cover can actually provide protection for forages, allowing opportunities for winter grazing.
Longer grasses that appear through the snow take less energy to locate, whereas overgrazed pastures may require more energy for the ruminant to locate forages under the snow. Winter injury is also a concern – younger stands tend to fare better in harsh conditions than older stands, and overgrazed stands are more susceptible to winter injury. Good pasture management for ruminants can extend the grazing season well into winter.
We discuss this and more with the following sections:
It is usually recommended that ewes be vaccinated during late pregnancy for the clostridial diseases that most commonly affect sheep and lambs: Clostridium perfringens type C & D (overeating disease) and tetanus. Clostridial diseases are caused by gram positive bacteria that are commonly present in the environment. See this link for definition of gram positive bacteria.
By vaccinating the pregnant ewe, the lambs will acquire temporary, passive immunity when they drink the colostrum, the first milk produced by the ewe after lambing. In fact, a pre-lambing vaccination is the only way to protect lambs against type C and provide protection for early docking and castration, though anti-toxins can be administered to provide immediate, short-term immunity.
The “sheep year” begins in the middle of October when the rams are put in with the ewes for breeding. Only one ram is put in with a group of ewes so that the sire of the lambs will be known. The rams are switched around after the first and second heat cycles in case some ewes do not become pregnant after being exposed to the first ram.
With fall breeding, most ewes will get pregnant within the first 17 days of the breeding season. This is the average length of one estrus (heat) cycle. Fertility is high when breeding is during the most natural time (fall). The flock will stay on pasture until the grass is depleted, usually around Christmas time, earlier if it was a drought year.
Wooled sheep are usually sheared prior to lambing or in the spring before the onset of hot weather, though Katahdin sheep naturally shed their coats, a mixture of hair and wool fibers, so shearing is not necessary. In fact, many lambs will shed their coats their first year.
Lambing starts in the middle of March and ewes usually give birth to 1-3 lambs at each birthing event. Yearling ewes are bred to lamb three weeks later. Birthing is called lambing and the technical term for all species is parturition. Twin births (two babies) are most common in well-managed flocks and with many breeds of sheep. First-time moms, especially yearlings, are more likely to have single births, although twins are not uncommon in some breeds. Most ewes give birth to twins or triplets, sometimes quadruplets. Ewes produce their largest litters of lambs when they are between the ages of 3-6. Ewes give birth to their lambs in a large community pen. Sometimes, if the weather is nice, the ewes will have their lambs outside. Ewes almost always lamb on their own, without any assistance or interference from the shepherd. The lambs are quick to get up and have their first meal.
There are some breeds of sheep that average more than two lambs per litter. In the U.S., the most prolific sheep breeds are Finnsheep and Romanov. The hair sheep breeds (Katahdin, St. Croix, and Barbados Blackbelly) also tend to be quite prolific, averaging more than two lambs per lambing. The more lambs a ewe has the more feed she needs to produce milk for them. Extra lambs are often cross-fostered onto other ewes or artificially reared. Prolific breeds are not recommended for novice shepherds or in situations where nutrition or management are limiting factors.
Because some sheep are raised in more difficult environments, sometimes it’s more desirable for a ewe to have just one lamb. This is because there may not be enough food for the ewe to support the growth of two lambs. If the flock has to travel far for food and water, it’s usually better to have one strong lamb than two or three smaller lambs that may struggle to keep up. Smaller, weaker lambs that lag behind the flock are more likely to be killed by predators.
The weight of newborn lambs varies by breed, gender, litter number, and ewe nutrition. The lambs from medium to small breeds are similar in size to human babies, usually between 5 and 12 pounds, with an average of 8 to 10 pounds. When birth weights get too large (relative to the size of the breed or cross), difficult births can be encountered. In fact, there is a similar relationship between birth weight and survival. Medium-size babies (for the breed or cross) tend to have the highest survival rate.
Following is a routine example of “A Day in the Life of a Sheep”.
How sheep are raised varies by farm (or ranch), geographic region, and production system. This is what it’s like to be a sheep on the farm where George lives: The Baalands in Clear Spring, Maryland USA.
After a litter of lambs is born, they are put in a small pen (5’ x 5’) called a “jug” with their dam (mother). Being together in the jug helps the lambs and ewe bond and provides for easy observation by the shepherd. On the second day, the lambs are weighed and ear-tagged. The birth date, sex, weight, and ear tag number of each lamb is recorded. At the Baalands, lambs are not docked or castrated. Docking would be a common practice on farms where wooled breeds are raised. Lambs will generally stay in the jugs for 1 to 3 days.
After several days, the lambs and ewes are moved to mixing pens: larger pens with approximately four ewes and their lambs. After being butted a few times by other ewes, the lambs quickly learn how to recognize their own mothers. Once they get used to each other, the lambs will huddle together to sleep and keep warm.
After a week or two in the mixing pens, groups of lambs and ewes are put with the rest of the ewes and their lambs. The lambs can go anywhere in the barn. Ewes nursing triplet lambs are penned separately from ewes nursing twins, because they receive extra grain to produce milk for their extra lamb.
By the time the lambs are two weeks old, they will have access to a creep area for creep feeding. A creep is a pen that is fenced so that young animals can enter but adults cannot. Creep feed is feed given to young nursing lambs. Creep feed is a mixture of soybean meal and cracked corn, but content can vary depending on the source. The lambs will also have access to fresh water, high quality hay, and minerals in the creep area. Even when they are not eating, the creep area is a place where the lambs like to hang out.
Remember, this is merely an example, if you raise sheep your experience will be different, but have some crossovers.
We discuss sheep fencing needs with the following sections:
Woven mesh fencing is most commonly used with sheep and goats. It’s durable, safe, and prevents escapes. The most important safety aspect with this type of fencing is choosing a weave pattern small enough to prevent heads from getting stuck.
Electric fencing or “hot wire” is versatile and beneficial. For smaller pastures, it can be placed as a top strand (or at any level) on many different fencing types to keep animals from going over, under, or leaning against it. It is also used effectively for temporary fencing when you wish to strip graze part of a field for consumption control or rotational grazing, of which One Community will implement. Building our fences for durability and longevity, we can add the electric option later if necessary, and that will be determined shortly after we begin grazing our sheep and goats.
Fencing is particularly effective when incorporated with other methods of predator control, such as livestock guardians. Because sheep are not confrontative with predators, guardian animals that are living with the sheep are best for keeping predators out. If a predator jumps over or goes under a fence, a well trained livestock guardian animal will protect sheep. A livestock guardian dog generally stays with the sheep without harming them and aggressively repels predators. As we go through the process of raising livestock, we will update our readers with what combination works best for us. With our plan to rotation graze sheep and goats together, we will need a sturdy fence to keep the goats within a fenced area and to prevent infiltration of predators.
NOTE: After conducting further research we will not raise goats and sheep together. We will begin with sheep and after successfully raising sheep we may bring on a few goats; the goat we will raise for meat and grazing of noxious weeds. If we bring on goats there are numerous reasons to separate them from sheep. The top three reasons our research has uncovered are as follows:
With all of the above in mind, the fencing needs below are being re-evaluated because they were originally designed with goats in mind. Our plan for goats has since been reduced and we’ve added many more sheep. The plan below would work for sheep but is much more extensive than you’d probably need. We’re revisiting electric fencing too, and this will probably also change the fencing plan.
The first step in laying out your fencing is to set the corner posts, then follow that with the fencing. One can use steel or wooden posts and we will show videos using both options. Our final decision will be made on site when we know our soil conditions. Our smaller operation with the initial 5 sheep will utilize steel posts. If we size up our herd we may convert to wooden posts if our soils allow.
This corner post installation and bracing video is 32 minutes long and provides a detailed step-by-step process for installation. It is an excellent and detailed video demonstrating the components and how they are installed. The narrator has years of experience, communicates his objectives clearly, and provides an effective end result. This video is highly recommended, and viewing the comments provides additional details of value for the entire process. Many thanks to Pete B. for providing this video. We provide a summary below of the most important points and will create and add here our own set of videos after our own fence installation.
Here is another helpful video. It shows how an already treated post is treated again to greatly extend its longevity. Treatment is with diesel, motor oil, and Henry’s asphalt roofing coating – a 50/50 mix of diesel and motor oil thins out the motor oil and soaks into the wood better than applying Henry’s 201. Thinning Henry’s 201 with a little diesel makes it easier to apply and soaks into the wood better. Based on the extensive comments, people weigh in on both sides of the discussion. We are not advocating this treatment, simply showing you the process and you can make up your own mind. Feedback would be appreciated from anyone who can substantiate both the negative and positive claims that have been posted.
Next you’ll need to install a sturdy and durable gate. A 10’ wide tube gate is what we’ll be using and here is what you’ll need to install it:
This video describes the installation process:
Note from comments: “I prefer the threaded bolt hooks that use 2 washers and 2 nuts, drill through the post, slide in the bolt hook. Infinitely adjustable with 2 wrenches, no need to pull the gate. If the far end is a bit high or low, adjust the nuts on the top bolt. If the gate latch is a bit too close or far from the part on the post, adjust both top and bottom bolt hooks to bring the gate in or push it out a bit.”
Pete B’s Reply: “I have those threaded bolts that hook the gate on my front entrance gate. I should do an update video on the gate. I added 1 1/4 EMT conduit on each end of the gate tube. It fit perfectly in the gate tube and put barbed wire across each conduit.”
With all the corner, H, and gate posts set, the fencing can now be installed.
The installation pointers in the following video from Pete B. are good but we will not use this welded fencing material for goats. We will likely use it though as a perimeter fencing for keeping deer out of our orchard and gardens. For that purpose we will utilize 10’ treated wooden posts and taller fencing with a possible run or two of barbed wire at the top. This video is still a great video for installing goat fencing though, just replace the welded wire shown in the video with stronger and more flexible/goat-friendly woven fencing.
Now watch this 15-minute video from the Hill Family Homestead. It explains how to build a woven wire fence.
What we’re choosing for goat and sheep fencing is pictured at right. It is Square Deal® Sheep & Goat Fence 330′ L x 48″ H Class 3 and purchased via this link from Red Brand. Red Brand offers 4” square woven mesh sheep and goat wire fencing with a Square Deal Knot that is designed to hold tight to both the horizontal and vertical wires. These wires won’t slip or move, preventing openings in the fence from forming. These fences are built to last and resist buckling or sagging and should cause no harm to the goats or sheep. Installation can be accomplished on flat or hilly terrain. The company is reluctant to reveal fence longevity as it depends greatly on the weather in your location, though one can expect 10 years on class 1 and 20-30 years on class three, but some of the class 1 has lasted up to 30 years, again weather dependent. The class 3 designation has a higher galvanized count than class 1 (0.80 oz vs 0.28 oz). Class 3 is recommended for coastal areas and northern climates as it better withstands the weather extremes.
Here’s a feed additive suggested by Geoff Lawton during a course he taught with Bill Mollison. If you’d like to buy the DVDs of this course, you can find them here.
Australian Pat Coleby was a pioneer and extremely knowledgeable source of natural farming. A keen observer, she penned seven books based on her extensive experience in the animal and farming world. To increase animal health, she offers the following recipe that is presented here by Geoff Lawton. Large animals like dairy cows can be fed daily, while smaller animals can suffice with a weekly feeding of this same recipe. The feeding frequency varies depending on the size of your animals. Feeding animals this mixture of minerals improves their health and mineralizes their manure. The manure will have all the below ingredients in a plant soluble form whereby they take in those minerals. Additionally, the manure can be composted, added to gardens, and/or fed to fruit trees, worm farms, etc.
The ingredients can be sourced from most any farm supply. At feeding time, simply add the solution to a bucket of forage and stir. The result is a highly mineralized feed and among other benefits helps keep animals parasite free. Animals have mineral deficiencies which people incorrectly diagnose as a health issue—the minerals help break the cycle of parasites in the pasture.
Water quality is also critical for healthy animals, especially chickens. Add garlic to chicken water and scrub and cleanse bowls regularly. The above recipe is good for 10 chickens fed once/week.
Sheep belong to the ruminant classification of animals. Ruminants are characterized by their four-chambered stomach and “cud-chewing” behavior. Cud is a food bolus that is regurgitated, rechewed, and swallowed again.
The rumen portion of the digestive system occupies a large percentage of the abdominal cavity of the ruminant. It is a large storage space for food that is quickly consumed, then later regurgitated, re-chewed, and re-swallowed in a process called cud-chewing. Rumination or cud-chewing occurs primarily when the animal is resting and not eating. Healthy mature sheep will chew their cuds for several hours each day.
The rumen is a large fermentation vat. It contains billions of microorganisms, including bacteria and protozoa, which allow ruminants to digest fibrous feeds such as grass, hay, and silage that other animals cannot efficiently utilize. Fermentation in the rumen produces enormous quantities of gas that ruminants get rid of by belching (burping). Anything that interferes with belching is life-threatening to the ruminant and may result in a condition called bloat. Mild cases of bloat are usually successfully treated with an antacid or sodium bicarbonate.
The reticulum is closely associated with the rumen. Contents mix continually between both sections. The reticulum looks like a “honey comb” in appearance. Relatively little digestive activity occurs in the omasum. It is called “many piles” because it contains many layers of tissue. The abomasum is the “true” stomach of the ruminant. It has a similar function as the stomach of a non-ruminant: secretion of enzymes and acids to break down nutrients.
At birth, the lamb’s rumen and reticulum are not yet functional. As lambs begin to nibble on dry feeds, these two compartments become inoculated with microorganisms. As the microbes multiply and begin to digest feed, they stimulate the growth and development of the rumen and reticulum. The lamb’s rumen and reticulum are usually functional by the time the lamb is 50 to 60 days old.
Because lambs are not born with a functioning rumen, supplemental feeds, such as creep feed, need to be highly digestible. Creep rations typically consist of feedstuffs that have been cracked, rolled, ground, or pelleted. Creep feeding enhances development of the rumen in the young lamb. The rumen in creep-fed lambs will develop quicker than the rumen in lambs that are fed strictly a forage diet.
When fresh forage is not available, sheep are usually fed stored or harvested feeds: hay, silage, green chop, or crop by-products. Hay is grass that has been mowed (cut) and cured (dried) for use as livestock feed. Silage (short for ensilage) or haylage is green forage that has been fermented and stored in a silo or other system that keeps air out. Moldy silage can cause listeriosis or “circling disease” in sheep. The pieces should be chopped smaller for sheep as compared to cattle.
Sometimes, pasture plants are cut, chopped, and brought to the sheep. Fresh harvested forage is called green chop. This “cut-and-carry” system of feeding is common in developing countries, where labor is not a limiting factor. Many types of plants can be cut, chopped, if necessary, and fed to sheep.
Grain is often fed to sheep with higher nutritional needs, such as pregnant ewes during late gestation, ewes nursing two or more lambs, and lambs with the genetic potential for rapid growth. Grain is the seed part of cereal crops such as corn, barley, wheat, and oats. It is not “unnatural” for sheep to eat grain. They have always eaten the seeds of plants.
A protein source, such as soybean meal or cottonseed meal is usually added to the grain ration, along with vitamins and minerals to make a 100 percent nutritionally-balanced feed. Unbalanced grain rations can lead to a variety of health concerns.
Sheep love the taste of grain and can experience digestive problems if they eat too much grain too fast. Grain consumption needs to be regulated, introduced slowly and gradually increased in the diet.
Ruminants, such as sheep, should always have some roughage (fibrous feed) in their diets. at least a pound per day for sheep. Producers in many parts of the world cannot afford to feed grain totheir livestock. Whereas in some parts of the U.S. and in some years, grain is a more economical source of nutrients than forage.
By-products from crop production and food processing can also be fed to sheep. This is another advantage of ruminant livestock: they can be fed products that would otherwise go to waste and/or require costly disposal. Examples of by-product feeds include soybean hulls, peanut hulls, corn gluten feed, wheat middlings, and whole cottonseed. With more corn being used in the production of ethanol, distiller’s grains are becoming a more popular (and more economical) feedstuff for sheep and other livestock. Distiller’s grains are the solids left after ethanol is made. They are also a by-product of the brewing industry. Distiller’s grains can be fed wet or dry, but are usually fed dry. Distiller’s grains can contain high levels of phosphorus and sulfur, so their inclusion in sheep and lamb diets is usually limited to a certain amount or percentage.
Raising and harvesting sheep ethically is essential. This will be handled exclusively by the people choosing to drink sheep milk and/or eat sheep meat so that respect is paid to the preferences of non-participation for vegans and vegetarians. Any of our animal enthusiasts interested in working with sheep will assist in grassland management, alongside an experienced sheep herder until we learn the finer points. Raising and harvesting animals will also be handled with respect and gratitude. Because the sheep are primarily maintained for milk and wool, the specifics of how we will choose to harvest any sheep for meat is not something we have discussed yet.
Ethical harvesting of sheep, or any other animal, is and will always remain a controversial topic. At One Community those who consume meat and/or animal byproducts will, at least once, harvest an animal. A few of our residents will readily volunteer while others will find the process emotionally challenging, though we deem it necessary to understand the process of bringing an animal to the table for consumption. For some, ethical harvesting is a spiritual process and necessary to experience for clarity and understanding of the cycle of life for our interaction with animals. Vegans may choose to opt out of animal harvesting if they do not consume animal products.
Here are four common methods used in harvesting animals:
We will most likely use the bleed-out method. Of critical importance is the calming of the animal beforehand. Below are some quality videos* demonstrating the process of calming sheep/goats before harvesting.
Note: In regards to the “Mercy Halal Islamic Slaughter” videos below, here is One Community’s philosophy on spirituality. We do not endorse any specific religion and our source of spiritual sense is based upon our core values. We attempt to see the Divine in all beings and creations and each person’s spirituality is considered a personal choice of their own individual growth.
Mercy Halal Islamic Slaughter Part 1 — Calming Before the Slaughter
Humane (Halal) On-Farm Slaughter of Sheep and Goats — Step-by-step slaughter process in article form
Demonstration of Hide, Internal Organs, and Intestine Removal
Brandon Boyd step-by-step demonstration of butchering a goat or lamb, including breaking down to specific meat cuts ready to wrap. This is an exceptional instructional video.
At One Community we will start with five East Friesian/Dorset cross-breed sheep. Our primary purpose is to raise them for milk and the East Friesians crossed with Dorsest are hardier and produce the most. We will begin with five ewes, lamb them down and get used to managing them, not milking them, but simply learning to raise them properly. We will add Lacaune once we’re comfortable managing the East Friesians.
Friesians are not durable sheep but produce large quantities of milk, careful tending is important and close attention to their health is critical in developing a healthy herd. Litter size in the East Friesian is reported as averaging 2.25 lambs with milk yields of 1100-1550 pounds (500-700 kg) per lactation and testing 6-7% milk fat, the highest average dairy milk yield recorded for any breed of sheep. Wool production is about 4.5 kg per ewe with a clean wool yield of 65% and a fineness of 50/56s / 48/50s (German Ministry of Agriculture). The mature weight of this breed is between 150-200 pounds (70-90 kg)
Purchasing a lamb will cost from $75-$100 and ewes will go for $200-$500 depending on if they are registered or not.
Once on the property, One Community will open source project-launch blueprint the complete process of taking care of sheep from purchasing to milking, sheering, harvesting, and every detail in-between. We will do this so that people with zero prior knowledge can raise sheep and integrate this into their own individual lives or as part of the One Community complete open source self-sufficient teacher/demonstration community, village, or city model. Upcoming resources will include:
This TED Talk by Allan Savory shares how to green the world’s deserts and reverse climate change with livestock.
This woman’s videos and experience are outstanding. This video is her talking about everything she’s learned through her urban homesteading experience, including being forced to get rid of almost all her animals.
Our team will raise sheep primarily for milk, utilizing their manure as fertilizer, and to help with rangeland management. We approach this process with respect, gratitude, and love for these creatures and will further expand this page with our open source collaborative efforts and experience once on the property.
Q: How does the raising of animals fit into your Highest Good of All and Earth Stewardship Philosophy?
Our Highest Good of All Philosophy is non-dogmatic and supportive of diverse viewpoints (and diets). We recognize humanity will most likely and for the foreseeable future continue using animal products and we believe it is in the Highest Good to demonstrate the most ethical methods. In areas like this where some ideologies may prefer a 100% vegan or vegetarian organization, we do our best to communicate what can be expected on the property so people can choose whether or not that fits with their own desires.
Q: How is your raising of sheep in the Highest Good of sheep?
We feel that humanity’s dietary needs and desires will stay diverse for the foreseeable future. Because of this, we see that demonstrating a process of reconnecting people to their food, the process of raising and caring for animals, and sharing and spreading ethical and humane animal husbandry that treats the animals and the entire process with respect, love, and gratitude is beneficial to animals being raised for food around the world.
Q: I’m vegan/vegetarian, will I have to participate in harvesting or eating animals? Will animal parts be cooked with my food?
No, you will not have to participate in any part of animal husbandry that you don’t want to if you are not using animal products. Additionally, all vegetarian food will be prepared separately from animal foods.
Q: Who will be processing the animals into food and other byproducts?
Omnivore team members will take responsibility for this. We believe that part of ethical animal husbandry starts with education and awareness, and that it is in the Highest Good of all life on the planet for humans to be educated and aware of the process the animals go through to become food and other byproducts. Our values model is also one that includes the aspect of not asking someone else to do for you what you yourself are not willing to do. With all that in mind, we have elected to have ALL members that will be consuming animal products participate in the entire process of the animals’ lives, from birth to table. Yes, that means that if you plan on eating meat at One Community, you would be expected to assist in processing that type of animal from beginning to end, including ending an animal’s life, at least one time. (For children, the parents will help determine the age and level of participation of processing.)
Q: What if I do not ever want to participate in processing animals or animal products?
Only those who have elected to participate in eating or using a specific animal product will be asked to participate in processing of that animal or its byproducts. Vegan community members will not be asked to partake in any part of the animal life cycles. This also means that if no one wants to process a particular animal (or any animals), we will then agree on a different sustainable source of food for our community.
Q: Will you be using hormones and/or antibiotics for any of the animals?
No, as a practice and a policy we will not put anything on or in our food (plants or animals) that we would not want to eat.
Q: What if I really want to be a part of One Community but I don’t agree with raising animals for food?
We hope the larger global vision and benefits of One Community outweigh the food choices of some individuals and we believe that being a vegan or vegetarian at One Community will be an opportunity to educate and demonstrate to pioneers and our visitors how to eat a plant-based diet properly and sustainably. We hope this will lead to plant-based dietary choices growing worldwide and we also respect the choices of those who prefer to remain omnivores.
If our model does not suit you, you may want to instead consider joining us as a Satellite Member (click here for the Invitation Form), consultant, or volunteer (click here for the Consultant’s/Volunteer’s Page), and/or just follow our progress. We expect other communities will follow with different views on these issues and we will happily promote the success of those that are part of the open source and free-sharing network of teacher/demonstration communities, villages, and cities that we are helping to create. Here are the best ways to follow our progress:
Also, the objective of One Community is to build living blueprints open source so everyone can then use them for duplication in whatever diverse way suits their needs and desires. If you feel like you’d like to see a different version of One Community, we invite you to embrace the task of working with us and using everything we’ve already created to form another iteration of this idea, with a new set of rules/policies/guidelines. That way you can attract the people who share your values and thus like your rule sets, which provide another for The Highest Good of All option with a potentially very different approach.
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