Sunday, March 1, 2020

Sheep Plans

Sheep were in our initial farm plan, we had researched goats as well, as a versatile small ruminant to run in balance with sheep. Our first choice for sheep was Barbados Blackbelly. Sadly the work finding them did not work out.

 Deciding not to get goats  has been one of the most interesting modifications to the farm. The change  from goats  actually started when we bought a Jersey milk cow, we had the most amazing milk and a source of beef through the jersey calves.

Then the re-evaluation of our land, extremely limited browse but a lot of grazing land to be utilized. The sight of hair sheep flocks in the area got us thinking, to be honest I do prefer lamb to goat as far as meat goes,  research also showed sheep milk quite versatile for home use (just a bit more challenging to get).

I started to watch craigslist and we talked to our feed guy about Amish sheep breeders. Initially  we were looking into Registered Dorper. They are lovely meaty white sheep with startling black heads. They are also quite pricey.

We found a small flock for sale and went to see them. They were lovely. There were 6 bred ewes and one ewe with twin lambs at foot. The price tag floored us... $8000.00 was just too much so we thanked the breeder very much and went home trying to figure out a realistic method to get this breed of sheep. Then I saw a photo of a White Dorper Ram. Just as meaty but not that amazing color combination.

This got interesting, White Dorper are considerably more affordable. However we could not find any close to us.  At times we wondered if we were ever going to get sheep.

Of course between Craigslist and Flock for sale signs at the feed store we looked at lots of sheep. Then one day I cam across a listing for 12 ewe lambs of Katadin X Suffolk parentage. They were really nice and very affordable. By now I was desperate to have sheep, the fences were ready and we had lots of grass. So Ralph and I loaded up and went to look at them. We planned on six head.  Of course I should have known better, Ralph love’s  a deal, we arrived to find 11 very very nice lambs and 1 dreadfully lame one. We toured the Rams and ewes to see good feet and good conformation sheep, who were quiet and friendly. So Ralph got a deal on 12 lambs. Plus delivery and the seller would show us feet trimming and give them their CDT boosters.

The lame lamb responded to foot trimming and her lameness disappeared, they all settled in quickly.  It has turned our extremely well. Not Dorper though, I thought you might notice that. Last year we found a very good White Dorper Ram. Not cheap at all but we felt getting a good ram would get us the replacement ewes we want.  We do know one reason we got such a good deal on our little group....they do not all shed! Hand clipping is not fun but I got it done.

The first lambs arrived last July and August. Samson left his mark and we have 6 beautiful replacement ewe lambs. The off season breeding was not a huge success with only 4 ewes settling in lamb. The amazing thing was we did get all girls.

A good start to building our flock. We are aiming for 25 ewes and the ability to sell lambs to pay winter feed costs.  Our next breeding cycle was this past November, we turned Samson out on November 15th. Two ewes snuck by and got bred earlier so we have 4 lambs now. Redlegs had two more Samson daughters and Katadin had our first ram lambs. Katadin lambs are not Samson babies but from a Katadin Ram lamb we bought to butcher. We thought he was much too young to breed and found out differently.

Twin ram lambs...pure Katadin.

Samson sired ewe lambs.

It is quite interesting to see the breed differences. The Katadin lambs have longer tails and are very hairy. They are shorter backed and not as wide. The Samson babies are quite leggy and have short wool mixed with hair. They are heavier boned and have much wider backs. They look like their sisters did. We like all the lambs but it is going to be a learning experience watching them grow.

  The last summer lambs have turned into stocky, deep bodied young ewes. Very much what we had hoped for.

The replacement ewe lambs

The young ewes seem to have more hair sheep characteristics with the exception of my favorite “Mocha”, she is wooly all over! The rest have little to no fleece on their bellies and are starting to shed. They have the Dorper disposition which is much calmer than Katadin. We bought a Katadin ewe lamb with the two ram lambs, she is much more flighty and nervous than the Dorper Cross.

Mocha, a Samson daughter. 1/2 White Dorper, 1/4 Katadin, 1/4 Suffolk. Lambed August 6th, 2019

April will see the rest of the lambs arrive, we had 3 ewes bred in one day and all of them bred in 15 days so it will be busy and exciting. Overall the sheep have been very satisfying. We spot worm during the summer and have several ewes that did not need worming at all. In winter we worm everyone in March unless their eyes are exceptionally good color. Samson shows good worm resistance as he did not need worming from his arrival last February until last week . He did have signs of worms and when we checked his eyes he was paler than we like to see them. 

From our experience so far the sheep fit our farm very well. Ralph has them trained to follow for food and they are easy to move around. They come when called and we put them in at night, we prefer them to be secure and sheltered. They worked wonders on the grass last year, following the cows. This year with less cows it will be another learning experience, the drought last September/October showed us things we need to change and how critical rain is to this country. 

We have been feeding average quality hay and recently added a sheep specific mineral lick tub, we think that will help ease their need to graze as we do not want to put them out on pasture until it is well started. Our pasture did get stunted from the fall.(we have been here 5 years now and every year it is different!)

If your considering sheep for your small farm or homestead, we would recommend Dorper or White Dorper, at least as a terminal cross. Their easy keeping nature is well suited to small production.

God Bless and keep you safe.