Raising sheep for beginners (what not to do)
Don’t be fooled by their sweet, teddy bear faces. Make no mistake. They may officially be called a “flock”, but in reality this is a gang of sheep made up of clever thieves, escape artists and head butting scallywags determined to make my life anything but boring.
Let’s just say being a shepherdess and raising sheep has had its challenges. It’s not all warm, woolly, hugs and cute, bouncing lambs. So let’s start from the beginning…
What to expect when you bring home your sheep
It was like Christmas Eve. After anxiously waiting all day, it was almost midnight when the delivery truck bearing our four Olde English Babydoll Southdown Sheep finally arrived.
Our Babydolls came from Our Little Flock in Ontario, which I highly recommend. Unlike me, Jamie Neeb is an excellent shepherdess and a real sweetheart always ready and willing to answer my hundred and one questions about raising sheep. This was especially appreciated by me since I really didn’t know that much about raising sheep four months ago when they arrived at my back doorstep. And when I say nothing, I mean very, very little.
We were invited to ask any questions we had about homesteading. I raised my hand and stated that we were getting sheep in two months and could anyone tell me anything about raising sheep.
But it wasn’t a joke, my friends.
Their reply was, “Don’t worry. Next to goats, sheep are a breeze.” This should have been consoling — except we don’t have goats. Sigh.
So the sheep finally did arrive and it was magical, of course. It was the first time I heard a sheep bleat. And I laughed at their high-pitched “baaing” sounds and was enamoured with their cute wooliness.
The Sheep “Piggies”
At first, those little bouncing lambs acted like they were completely innocent and sweet until…
I noticed our livestock guardian dog, a “Great Pyrenees” named Buddy by our kids (Note: I wanted to call him “Gryffin”, but was outvoted. I never seem to win those battles!) seemed to be constantly hungry. That surprised me since I was feeding him several very large bowls of food a day.
I had no idea what was going on until one day after leaving the barn, and realizing I forgot to fill up the water bucket for the sheep, I returned to the barn and caught them chowing down on Buddy’s food like it was made of the tastiest morsels of grass and not chicken. Who knew sheep have secret hankerings for chicken?
Beginner Tip: My vet recommended I always have a bottle of Anti Gaz Emulsion on hand in case of such emergencies. Apparently, I am not the only one who owns sheep who are actually little piggies. You do not want your herd to bloat and die. Sheep bloat can be a fatal condition.
Hara, Hanley, Hunter and Henley, as my woolly friends have been named, thought they were so smart to wait patiently until I had left the barn before stuffing their faces in Buddy’s bowl. And Buddy just let them because he wasn’t going to mess with those gangsters. In fact, it looks like the sheep may be guarding him. Yes, they are little “guard sheep”.
Of course, the sheep were not happy about losing their daily chicken treats. So they decided to show their outrage by staging an escape.
The Great Sheep Escape
The kids came running in from playing outside yelling that the sheep were in the yard frolicking around the trampoline — most likely trying to figure out how to bounce their woolly bums.
Unfortunately, Jérémie was conveniently at work so it was up to me and me alone to catch them. The kids thought this was the most fun they had all summer watching me chase those sheep around the yard hollering and shouting and pulling out my hair. Of course, they couldn’t resist joining in the fun shouting and chasing right along with me.
I panicked when the sheep started going down the driveway. You should have seen me run. I sprinted down in front of them like I had been training for the 100 yard dash my entire life. The kids brought up the sides and we were able to corner them between the garage, the fence (the one they were supposed to be inside) and the car.
There was only one problem. Babydoll lambs weigh approximately 60 lbs each. And I had to carry them all about 100 yards to the barn. But let’s hear it for “girl power” because I did it!
There was, of course, some panicked “baaing” by the sheep and a few choice words from me but I got those woolly escape artists back where they belonged — only to discover that my darling husband (not the kids surprisingly) had simply left the barn gate open.
Beginner Tip: You will definitely need to be able to pick up your sheep, so start training those muscles now. Your sheep may not escape, but you will need to trim their hooves, give them medication or occasionally trim extra wool around their eyes. The best way to do this is to place them on their bums. As long as their hooves can’t touch the ground, your sheep shouldn’t try and fight you. At least not too much.
The Porcupine Incident
Sadly, my woolly adventures didn’t end here. Another evening we went into the barn to discover Hanley had had an encounter with a porcupine. Why does a sheep, which is terrified of coming within metres of another stranger, decide to go chasing a porcupine? Well, she now knows better. She had about dozen quills stuck in her muzzle. Each one having to be painfully removed. Thankfully that was over a month ago and she seems to have completely recovered from the ordeal.
Beginner Tip: Our sheep have all been given the TASVAX® 8 vaccine, which may not be necessary, but it is cheap “insurance” against diseases that commonly affect sheep and lambs including tetanus (which was a concern after the porcupine incident).
We have only had this gang of sheep for four months. Who wants to bet that our adventures in raising sheep are not over? Anyone?
This is most likely a “to be continued” story… All I can say is — the sheep are still alive and well! This homesteading project has been stamped a success. I now judge my farming successes by my ability to keep things alive. Yes, that’s the name of the homesteading game. If you can just keep you, your family, your animals and your plants and trees alive, I’d consider you a farming star. You know, like rock star or hockey star. This could be a thing, right? The great Farming Hall of Fame. Catchy, I think.`
Want to read more about raising sheep? Check out my other posts.
- Help! The lambs are coming! (How to prepare for your first lambing.)
- Dreamers to Farmers in TWO Years! (Raising sheep for milk)
PIN IT FOR LATER!