Sunday, September 13, 2009

New farm addition: More sheep

Last year I purchased a ram and 3 ewes to see what sheep husbandry was like. I grew up reading the James Herriot books about being a country vet in the UK during WWII and remember clearly the stories about how birthing was difficult. So when I started keeping larger animals, my first concern was the difficulty when they reproduce. In the case of sheep, how difficult lambing is/was. By the way, I highly reccomend Herriots books; they're G rated, the have a lot of animal stories in them, and I really liked the portrayal of small english farms.

So I purchased 4 animals so that I could get a feel for what it's like to work with sheep, and to get some experience in a small way with the birth. Unfortunately, while the lambing did go well, I lost all of the lambs, but the lambing portion of that went pretty smoothly.

Sheep graze differently than to cattle; they graze closer to the ground, and given the choice between long grass and short, seem to prefer the short. As you can see from the above picture, they keep their paddock pretty groomed. It looks a lot like a lawn.

It's interesting to note that given the choice between grass and shrubs, they'll eat the shrubs first, as will the cattle. Guess the shrubs are tastier.

I paid a bit more for these sheep than I really wanted to, but I wanted to buy quality. Anytime you're buying livestock from someone who breeds that animal, you should expect to pay a bit more for quality, because the breeding farmer wants the same things you do -- a relatively trouble free animal with a long future of productive seasons. the first three ewes I purchased last year were culls from his herd because I don't know much about sheep, and didn't want to lose a bunch of money if I screwed up the husbandry. Doctors bury their mistakes, farmers eat them. So I'll confess here. I actually purchased 4 ewes, and one of them did die over the winter, and I did eat it. It's part of the learning curve whenever you start a new endeavor. I always plan on a setback or two.
My reasoning behind sheep is from my overall philosophy on the farm: Only animals that I eat. I love lamb and mutton, in curries and stews, and have eaten it for years. I chose this particular breed because they shed their wool every year -- you'll see in the picture there's a patch of wool on the rear leg of the brown ewe; they've shed the rest of their coat.

Traditional sheep breeds don't shed, and for folks who want or need the fiber, that's a good thing. but for a farmer primarily raising the animal to eat, having to shear the sheep every year is a big chore, especially if you have a lot of sheep.

These ewes are all from triplet-breeding stock. All of their mothers and the ram they were bred from produced triplets, and the hope is that they will produce triple lambs as well.

The gestation period for sheep is 5 months. I'll be keeping these ewes away from the main sheep herd until November, when I'll put them in for breeding. I'd rather not have to deal with lambs February or march, so I'll delay breeding so that the lambs show up in April, when conditions are a little better, and a little warmer.


Anonymous said...

I would be concerned about triplets in an animal that only 2 teats.

Bruce King said...

They seem to do fine at the farm I purchased these ewes from.

Anonymous said...

mybe not, as long as everything goes as planned. but surely your animal experiences have taught you that things can (and will) go wrong.
But maybe you will be happy with these - so much goes into which breeds work where.