9 Reasons For Sheep on a Small Homestead

9 Reasons for Sheep on a Small Homestead

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When we first moved to our mountaintop homestead, the idea of having sheep never crossed my mind. After all, our land is mostly wooded; we don't have pasture, per se. How could we economically raise sheep? And why would we want to? 

As we learned, however, there are many good reasons for small homesteads to have sheep. And even though we lost our small flock of Soay sheep to a predator this year, we hope to add sheep back onto our homestead very soon. The truth is, we hate being without them!

Reason #1: Sheep are excellent brush eaters.

Many people believe sheep only eat grass, but they actually enjoy eating brush, too. If you choose a heritage breed, they will even prefer brush over grass, making them better brush eaters than goats! Unlike goats, heritage sheep are not picky eaters; they also prefer vegetation that's lower to the ground, whereas goats tend to eat vegetation that's at their eye-level or above. Truly, this is the most important reason for sheep on our homestead; they eliminate a great deal of mower and weed whacking work!

Although all sheep will eat brush and forbs (leafy green plants other than grass), particularly good breeds for brush-eating include St. Croix, Alpines Steinschaf Hebridean, Babydoll Southdown, Bentheimer Landschaf, Braunes Bergschaf, Drenthe Heath, and Soay.  

Reason #2: Their fencing needs are less expensive. 

One prohibition to having larger livestock is the high cost of fencing. Pigs need a good electric fence, cattle need acres of fencing, and goats? Well, they need Fort Knox! But sheep are generally docile, not overly-curious, and pretty willing to go where you want them to go. It doesn't take much of a fence to keep them where you want them. Simple sheep fencing and t-posts are all they need.

Courtesy of Andrei Niemimäki

 Reason #3: Sheep don't require fancy housing. 

Unless you live where predation is high, your sheep won't need a fancy barn. A simple three-sided shelter made from inexpensive, upcycled materials is all they'll need to help them shelter from wind, rain, and snow. (If you choose to allow your sheep to lamb during winter months, they will require more substantial housing.)

Reason #4: Sheep are not expensive to feed.

Assuming they have decent forage, you won't have to supplement with store-bought feed. This is especially true with heritage breeds. If your winters kill off grass and brush, you will only need to buy hay during these colder months. 

Reason #5: Sheep don't require a lot of time. 

If you give your sheep forage and clean water, they can essentially take care of themselves. Some breeds need their hooves trimmed once or twice a year (depending on breed and pasture conditions) and their fleece shaved, but some heritage breeds don't even require this. 

Reason #6: Sheep manure is excellent for the garden.

Your garden will love any sheep manure you add to it. It's high in phosphorus and potassium - both important for good plant growth. Because it's a "cold" manure, it doesn't require aging or composting before it can be used, and it makes a wonderful mulch or top dressing because it's virtually odorless.

Courtesy of Antony Stanley

Reason #7: Lamb chops and mutton. 

Need I say more?

Even if meat isn't the main reason you raise sheep, there will always be the opportunity to benefit from thinning the flock. The best meat breeds are widely considered to be Soay, Suffolk, Texel, Dorper, Southdown, Border Leicester, Corriedale , Barbados Black Belly, Shetland, Cheviot, Dorset, and Katahdin.  

Reason #8: You can sell their fleece. 

Even if you have a very small flock, you can probably find somebody who wants their wool and is willing to pay for it. Any sheep's wool can be used for spinning, but some more popular breeds for wool include Blue Faced Leicester, Dorset, Finnsheep, Lincoln, Shetland, Longwool, Merino, Suffolk, Coltswold, and Navajo-Churro.

Reason #9: You can milk sheep. 

All across the world, people drink sheep's milk and use it to make dairy products. In fact, cheese maker's consider sheep's milk the finest raw material. 

As it happens, sheep's milk is easier for human's to digest than cow's milk and is higher in protein, vitamin C, vitamin B12, magnesium, folate, and calcium than either cow's or goat's milk. It's also considered the creamiest milk available and is naturally homogenized. 

http://amzn.to/2hqpMQIJust understand that some breeds will give more milk than others. For example, East Friesians are the highest milk producers in the sheep world; they give 79 to 158 gallons of milk over a 200 to 300 day lactation period. Other good milk breeds include Lacaune, Assaf, Awassi, British Milk Sheep, Chios, Islandic, Bergamasca, Clun Forest, Bovec, Karayaka, Rideau Arcott, and Katahdin.

For more information on adding sheep to your homestead, I highly recommend Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep.

* Title image courtesy of Peter Shanks

** A version of this post first appeared in November of 2017. 

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