How do I Start Raising Sheep?

Erin J. Hill
Erin J. Hill
Coyotes pose a threat to sheep.
Coyotes pose a threat to sheep.

There are several things to be considered before you start raising sheep. First, you need to check with local government officials about zoning and space requirements for owning sheep. Depending on the size of your flock, you may need several acres for grazing. You will also need to consider what the sheep will be used for, the money required to properly house and feed your flock, and the time you will be able to commit to the care of your sheep.

Sheep are social animals.
Sheep are social animals.

Sheep are able to survive solely on things like grass and foliage if the land you have available has a large enough quantity and quality of these things. Otherwise, you will need to provide supplements of grains and hay in order to properly feed your sheep. You should also consider that, by nature, sheep are social animals. When raising sheep, whether as a hobby or for profit, you will need to have at least four or five animals to start in order to provide suitable social interaction.

Area predators, such as mountain lions, must be considered before raising sheep.
Area predators, such as mountain lions, must be considered before raising sheep.

There are several options available for raising sheep. Various breeds are available and some are more suitable for certain purposes than others. Some breeds are bred primarily for meat production, while others are used for their wool. You should consider the reasons behind your desire to breed sheep and choose the type you will need based on your reasoning.

Sheep need shelter and food during bad weather.
Sheep need shelter and food during bad weather.

Sheep generally mate during August or September when the days begin to shorten. The gestation period, or the amount of time a sheep is pregnant, is around five months. This means that lambs are usually born during early spring when it becomes warm again. There are several breeds that mate and give birth throughout the year, so if you desire a faster mating time, one of these breeds may be a good choice.

Believed to have poor depth perception, sheep have been known to stampede off cliffs when panicked.
Believed to have poor depth perception, sheep have been known to stampede off cliffs when panicked.

Other things to consider when raising sheep are limitations you may have. You will need several acres of land to house your sheep as the flock grows, as well as a shelter large enough to house them during inclement weather conditions. Also, you should consider the costs of medical care and the number of predators in your area. Sheep are especially susceptible to mountain lions, coyotes, wolves, and even the neighborhood dogs.

Before you decide on whether or not raising sheep is for you, talk to someone locally who has been raising sheep. Discuss the exact start-up costs in your area as well as any particular things to consider such as average weather conditions and market value of sheep and by-products. This will allow you to get an idea of how long it may be before you turn a profit on your investment as well as how big the market is.

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Discussion Comments

Mor

@Ana1234 - I don't know if I'd recommend many rare breeds to relative new-comers, just because there is less information on them around. It's probably easiest for someone who has never raised sheep to start off with a few orphan lambs and see how it goes. In my experience, if you can handle a few bossy lambs that grew up thinking they were the boss of the house, you can handle any larger flock of sheep.

KoiwiGal

@Ana1234 - While I agree that anyone who is raising sheep without attempting to be completely commercial should definitely consider raising rare breeds, they need to be prepared for the temperament of the breed. Some of them will be more friendly than usual and some of them might be more fierce or stubborn.

Also if you're going to raise rare breeds you need to be committed to keeping the bloodlines documented and relatively pure. That doesn't mean that you can't ever produce mixed-breed lambs, but you need to keep track of them and ensure you allow the bloodlines of the original stock to run through as well.

Ana1234

If you're thinking about keeping a few sheep around on a lifestyle block it would be really good if you have a look at some of the rare breeds available in your area and go with those.

Often these are types of sheep that were once popular with farmers and fell out of favor when product demand changed. They might not mature as quickly as standard meat breeds, or they might not produce the exact right kind of wool.

But they still have valuable genetics and if they all die out it will be lost forever. And often they are worth the extra investment, as they are usually fairly hardy and have different beneficial properties that have been bred out of other breeds.

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    • Coyotes pose a threat to sheep.
      By: Michael Ireland
      Coyotes pose a threat to sheep.
    • Sheep are social animals.
      By: Vera Kuttelvaserova
      Sheep are social animals.
    • Area predators, such as mountain lions, must be considered before raising sheep.
      By: SandmanX
      Area predators, such as mountain lions, must be considered before raising sheep.
    • Sheep need shelter and food during bad weather.
      By: roibu
      Sheep need shelter and food during bad weather.
    • Believed to have poor depth perception, sheep have been known to stampede off cliffs when panicked.
      By: Gekon
      Believed to have poor depth perception, sheep have been known to stampede off cliffs when panicked.