For a smallholder, sheep might be as big as you get in the livestock world.
They eat your grass, give you (some say) the best fertiliser for your compost and garden, as well as meat (lamb and mutton) for your freezer, sheepskins, and wool to be creative with. Some people just have them as pets or companions and they are easy to tame with food. I find it helps if you talk ‘sheep’, they will respond to you with a corresponding baa!
Type of sheep
Here at Fife Smallholder we love our sheep and have found a way that works for us with the resources we have available. We chose not to go for one type but decided, like our hens to breed in the characteristics we wanted. Our large girls contain a mix of commercial (suffolk, border leceister, mule, texel) and traditional (shetland, ryeland). Don’t know Shaun the sheep from Larry the lamb? Click here for the A-Z of sheep breeds from the National Sheep Association.
Tup or Ram
This year we will be using a Beltex tup and look forward to seeing what he produces.
Who’s the daddy?
This is a first for Fifesmallholder, the picture below shows twin lambs born April 2012 on the smallholding. One is black and the other is white, it would appear that both of my tups shown above had a hand in the making of these two!
Income from sheep
We mostly sell our excess lambs at market for slaughter and have been successful in maximising the price we get. This helps to pay for our winter feed, and hay or haylage when it snows.
Small or starter flocks are occasionally available for sale. Please contact us to discuss.
Rare breeds of sheep
We also have a small flock of herdwick sheep and shetlands. The herdwicks were bought because I fell in love with them during a holiday in the Lake District, the shetlands are because of their range of colours and soft fleece.
click here for a copy of
the Scottish Sheep Welfare Guide
(Before you buy or acquire sheep I would advise you to read the sheep welfare guide).
“The novice sheep keeper has generally had to learn the hard way, by making mistakes and more mistakes to accumulate the necessary experience to run an efficient enterprise. Experience so gained is not easily forgotten, but it can be expensive in terms of money, time and temper. It can be hard on man and beast. The whole process of starting a new enterprise can be so much more enjoyable and rewarding, but no less exciting and full of surprises, if forewarning is given of serious pitfalls and a more direct path shown through some of the tedious and disheartening tasks.”
Quote from ‘Sheperd’s Calendar’ by Val Stephenson. A guide for both starter and seasoned shepherds alike. Published by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.
ISBN 0 9509279 0 2
Here at fifesmallholder we started off with some unwanted bottle fed lambs from a local farmer. We felt it was easier to start small and learn as the lambs grew. Our sheep are not registered or pedigrees and this is a cheaper option if you are starting out or on a limited budget.
However please note that bottle fed lambs are not a cheap option in other terms:
- unless you have a goat or access to a cheap supply of goats milk, then feeding your lambs will cost you money (why do you think the farmers give them away?)
- feeding a lamb is a very tying task and they will need to be fed for quite a long time
- the health of a bottle fed lamb may have been compromised and they may be sickly requiring medication or vets attention, or even die
- we have found that bottle fed lambs can be more prone to bloat as they can be too greedy
Read more from my blog about looking after animals, or sheep.
The Sheep Book For Smallholders
Another sheep hero of mine is Tim Tyne, someone with a wealth of experience from a smallholders perspective. This is encapsulated in the book below which (in my opinion) should have pride of place on every sheep owning smallholders bedside table.
- Sheep usually live to be about eight years old
- Sheep are very gentle animals and are easily frightened. They flock together for protection because they can’t really protect themselves.
- Sheep have a 270-degree radius of view, almost 3/4 of a circle. Humans only see 170 degrees at best. This makes sheep very difficult to sneak up on or surprise. They also have excellent hearing.
- Each sheep has it’s own flight zone, the distance the sheep feels it needs to get away from danger. A sheep will not allow anything to come within it’s flight zone.
- Sheep use various sounds to communicate different emotions and messages among flock members. A farmer can easily tell when a sheep is in pain or sick. A lamb can recognize its mother by her bleat.
- Each sheep is individual and unique and can distinguish between all other sheep. They can recognize fellow flock mates even after years of separation.
- Sheep would rather walk up-hill than down and would rather drink running water.
- Sheep usually give birth once a year and have 1-3 lambs. Ewes typically give birth to twins.
- Sheep grow two teeth a year until they have eight.
- Female sheep are called ewes, baby sheep are called lambs, and male sheep are called rams or tups. A group of sheep is called a flock. A one-year old sheep is called a hogget. A two-year old sheep is called a shearling.
- Sheep are also raised to provide meat. Lambs are ready for market when they weigh somewhere between 90-120 pounds. Lamb as food is an outstanding source of vitamins and minerals, and is one of the easiest to digest. The meat from a grown sheep is called mutton and that from a young sheep is called lamb.
- Sheep can be milked just like cows. Sheep milk is often used to make gourmet cheeses.
- Sheep are usually shorn once a year. One sheep produces eight to ten pounds of wool per year, enough to make a man’s suit. One pound of wool can make ten miles of yarn.
- Sheep are the only source of lanolin – grease that comes from wool before it has been washed. Lanolin is used in lotions and cosmetics.
- The fat from sheep, also known as tallow, can be used to make both candles and soap. The tallow is cooked to purify it and then moulded into candles or further prepared into blocks of soap.
“Wool is everything from a fisherman’s sweater
to a feather that’s as light as silk,”
Quote – Tim Blanks on wool’s adaptability