What’s for Dinner?
- Provides meat, fiber.
- Decent pasture. Additional grains for ewes carrying lambs.
- Meat is high protein with with a fair feed conversion ratio.
- Can raise a lot of meat in a descent space.
- They are your compost pile. All your grass clippings, vegetable and garden scraps go to the sheep. Their wastes are used to fertilize the plants.
- Generally a single lamb per season though some breeds will produce two lambs per season. Reproductive rate is good.
- Time to market is longer, typically nine months to a year.
- Moderate space requirements.
- Can be pastured. They do however need to be penned to control access. You don’t want them grazing down the garden.
- Storage of end product. In the larger breeds, single slaughter can end up with lots of meat. If you don’t have reliable refrigeration then you need to have a trade/buy deal setup with neighbors or friends for the excess.
- Start up costs are higher than with fowl.
- The USDA classifies sheep as livestock. As a consequence keeping sheep in some locales is restricted due to zoning laws. Check before you proceed.
- To maintain a sustainable herd requires a couple of animals impacting the housing requirements.
Sheep are raised primarily for meat, hides and wool. Though ewes produce milk it is not of a quantity compared to a goat or cow to be worth considering for that purpose. There are several hundred breeds of sheep, domestic and wild. Practically all the breeds weighing in less than 100# are virtually ignored by the commercial growers as not economically viable. Much to their loss.
The smaller breeds are known to to lamb twice a year. They can forage on subpar forage that would starve a commercial breed. Their temperment is generally more forgiving. Some breeds have even developed a natural immunity to certain parasites that would bring down a larger breed. If there is any disadvantage it is their smaller size tends to promote higher predation rates amongst the flock.
West African Dwarf
Rams 70#, Ewes 50#. Full grown in 6 months. Excellent disease resistance. Fast breeder.
Rams 50#, Ewes 30#. Well known for fine fleece. Fast grower much like the African Dwarf. Heat tolerant.
Rams 70#, Ewes 50#. Yugoslavia. Excellent forager on marginal lands. One of the few breeds that can be used for meat, fiber and milk. Unfortunately has a low birth rate.
Rams 40#, Ewes 30#, though some have been known to reach 100# on good lands. As you might suspect this breed was maintained and used by the Navajo to make their famous (and some very expensive rugs.) This breed arrived in the US via Coronado in the 1500’s making it the oldest breed in the US. There is an active effort to reestablish this breed thoughout the SW. It can survive on marginal pasture and has extremely low water needs for a sheep. Wool is fetching high dollars in the right markets.
Goats for the homesteader are the more verstile animal. But if you can’t provide the proper containment sheep might be considered an alternative. Culture has a lot to play in choice between the two as well. Any self respecting Irishman would much prefer roasted mutton with mint jelly over a similar offering of goat.