Sunday, March 9, 2014
Yesterday, you were introduced to Lisa Webster of North Star Sheep Farm, a sprawling 200-acre sheep farm in Windham, Maine she and her husband Phillip founded in 1997. Today, Lisa shares with us the basics to consider when getting into sheep farming.
Is Sheep Farming for You?
Want to build up those arms throwing bales of hay, don't mind not traveling a lot, have an acre or more of undeveloped land, and adequate financial resources (initial costs include purchasing sheep, providing proper facilities, fencing if you don't have it)? Compared to cows, sheep are fairly low maintenance animals to keep, can be ideal family farm animals, and are earth-friendly enjoying weeds, and grasses that grow on land with poor soil for planting.
“Sheep are the prefect fit of our small acre homesteads of the state with the option of larger flocks doting the rural landscape and islands of Maine,” said Lisa Webster.
Principles of Sheep Farming
Once you have decided sheep farming is something you can and want to take on, you will need to figure out why you want to keep sheep…what is your end product? For milk and cheese (do you like the smell of cheese), meat (means you have to be comfortable with killing and butchering), wool, or as pets (great for families and those who also enjoy taking pictures)?
Choosing a breed - When choosing what kind of sheep you want to in your flock, keep in mind the characteristics of different breeds. Lisa recommends a beginner start with a flock made up of 6 – 15 ewes of one or more of the following breeds:
*Note, sheep are social animals so plan to purchase at least two or three to start.
A Scottish Black Face at North Star Sheep Farm
Purchasing sheep - only purchase from a recognized/certified breeder and try to meet the owner (vs. buying at an auction) Per Lisa Webster, questions you should ask the owner:
1. What is the general health of the sheep or lamb? Has it ever been sick or treated with any medicines? If it has, with what, for what, and for how long and how many times?
2. Does the sheep or lamb have or ever had any limping or lameness?
3. Would be about the parents of the sheep or lamb…does the producer still have the mother, the father or any siblings to the sheep or lamb you are consider purchasing. If they do ask to seem them, if not, why not?
Breeding – Three or four owners of small flocks might get together and share the costs of rams. According to Lisa, a herd of 15 should include at least one ram.
Land and shelter – Sheep are ideal for operations with a small acreage. According to Lisa, a starter flock of six sheep and their lambs can thrive on just one acre with a 10x20 barn and one to two fenced in acres. For those who want to expand to 30 – 40 sheep after a couple years she recommends a 24x36 barn with 12x20 three-sided building in a second pasture on 5-10 acres.
10x20 barn to start
24x36 barn, next step after a couple years
Maintenance - protection from predators (this can be accomplished with sturdy fencing to keep out dogs, coyotes, bobcats or with guardian animals i.e. llamas) and daily providing of fresh water and food. Depending on the breed of sheep, sorting and cleaning of market wool. In the spring newborn lamb/kid care, in June/July weaning (separating lambs from their mothers).
Cost – sheep (initial purchase, prices vary), fencing (if you don't have it, mending of….), feed (hay during the winter, in the summer they graze on native grasses), once a year hiring a shearer at $6/sheep, vaccinations and vet care.
Marketing – contact a farmers market (to sell cheese/meat/yarn) and locate a chef for the meat. Think about diversifying with value added products and promotion (i.e. Facebook page, website).
North Star Sheep Farm uses llamas as guardian animals
Have you ever tried counting sheep to fall asleep? It turns out, the exercise comes from the sheer number of different kinds of sheep. According to The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius, there are somewhere around1,400 sheep breeds in the world!
Hampshires and Suffolks are part of the Down Family, originating in the United Kingdom they are primarily raised for meat. They are large, weighing as much as 350 pounds, and have fast-growing lambs.
Scottish Blackface are part of the Blackfaced Mountain Family. Like Suffolks and Hampshires they have black faces, but weigh no more than 175 pounds. They account for about 30% of all sheep in the United Kingdom. According to the American Sheep Industry, they are good milkers and perform well when mated to meat breed rams.
For a more information on sheep breeds in the United States visit the Maine Sheep Breeders Association site.
Education, Opportunities to Learn
Phillip and Lisa Webster welcome farm visitors to North Star Sheep Farm, please email them to arrange a time to visit at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Maine Sheep Breeders Association has partnered with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in developing a 2 1/2 year educational project for emerging sheep entrepreneurs in Maine. By the end of a 30-month period, new sheep entrepreneurs will gain practical knowledge and skills that will positively influence their success in the sheep business. Each participant will develop and/or expand their sheep enterprise as a sound business with documented proof of a written business plan, a marketing plan, sheep production records and financial records for their sheep enterprise. For more information contact Dr. Richard Brzozowski, Extension Educator – Agriculture, email@example.com.
The University of Maine Cooperative Extension has partnered with the Maine Sheep Breeders Association in planning three sheep shearing schools for Spring 2013.
The first school is a two-day blade shearing school using non-electric hand shears and will feature renowned blade shearer Kevin Ford of Massachusetts. The school will take place on Friday and Saturday, April 5-6 at the Sabbath Day Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, Maine starting at 8:00 AM. Participants are expected to attend both days of the school. This school is limited to ten students. The fee for this school is $85 per student. Lunch for each day and a shearing manual are included in the course fee. Spectators are welcome.
The two other sheep shearing schools are beginner level schools. These day-long schools are planned for Saturday, April 20 in Freeport, Maine and Saturday, May 4 in Littleton, Maine and will feature teams of shearing instructors. These schools are limited to 15 participants each, with a fee of $35 each per student. Lunch and a shearing manual are included in the course fee. For more information or to register, contact UMaine Extension at 207-781-6099 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension: Livestock site to sign up to receive e-mail notices about sheep related educational offerings.
Maine Sheep Breeders Association is an educational, non-profit organization in Maine, dedicated to discussing mutual issues in the sheep industry, exchanging ideas, and working with the intent of aiding sheep producers and the sheep industry.
Membership is $20.00 per year/per farm. As a member of the MSBA you will ...
Periodicals and Books
Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook: More than 200 Fibers from Animals to Spun Yarn by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius (*Lisa recommends purchasing this book before buying sheep)
Storey Publishing’s Guide to Raising Sheep, 4th edition by Carol Ekarius and Paula Simmons.
Includes guidelines for organic certification, tips and advice on web marketing and networking, and coverage of rare breeds
For the absolute beginner check out Storey Publishing's The Backyard Homestead: Guide to Raising Farm Animals by Gail Damerow. For $24.95 it could be the best investment with chapters on chickens, turkeys, rabbits, honeybees, goats, sheep, pigs, and cattle. The chapter on sheep includes information on harvesting wool, raising sheep for meat, handling, and health care.
The Shepherd from Long Draw Publishing
National monthly $25/year for a subscription
Sheep published by Countryside Publications
Bimonthly $21/year for six issues or $35/year for 12 issuesTweet
Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.
When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.
In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.