A couple of weekends ago, we almost brought home sheep. We bumped into a wonderful deal with the "perfect" sheep for our homestead...but in the end, we didn't have housing set up for them yet, nor was our fencing quite complete. Our rule is to never bring home an animal until we are totally prepared to care for it...so we had to take a pass. But the very fact that we came so close to buying sheep would have surprised me when we first moved onto our homestead. After all, our land is mostly wooded; we don't have pastures, per se. How could we economically raise sheep? And why would we want to? Turns out, there are many good reasons for small homesteads to include sheep.
1. Sheep are excellent brush eaters. I always thought goats were the perfect animal for eating wild berry briars and weeds, but it turns out sheep are better at the job. They are generally less picky than goats. This is the number one reason we want sheep on our homestead; even using only the fencing we currently have, a few sheep can take care of half the weed whacking my husband currently must do. That's huge!
2. Their fencing needs are less expensive. Among larger livestock, sheep have the least demanding fencing needs. That's because they are mostly docile and pretty willing to go where you want them to...unlike goats, for example, who love to escape and explore, and therefore require better (and more expensive) fencing.
|Courtesy of Andrei Niemimäki
4. Sheep are not expensive to feed. If they have good forage, that's pretty much all they need. (Depending upon your climate and the forage available, they might require supplemental hay.)
5. Sheep don't require a lot of time. They aren't needy creatures. Give them forage and clean water, and maybe, now and then, some molasses and treats (like apples), and they are good to go. Periodically, you'll need to trim their hooves and remove their coats, too. (Sheep coats, left to their own, weigh the sheep down and encourage disease.)
6. Sheep manure is excellent for the garden. This year, my best garden bed was layered with sheep manure - and it showed! Everything I planted in the bed thrived. Bonus: Sheep manure doesn't need aging or composting before you put it in the soil (i.e., it's not "hot").
|Courtesy of Antony Stanley
8. You can sell their fleece. Even if you have a very small flock, you can probably find somebody who wants their wool and is willing to pay for it.
9. You can milk sheep. People all over the world drink sheep's milk, and cheese makers prize sheep's milk as the finest. If you think you'd like to try milking your sheep (hey, the more versatile a homestead animal is, the better!) know that some breeds produce more milk than others. Interestingly, sheep's milk is higher in protein, vitamin C, vitamin B12, magnesium, folate, and calcium than either cow's or goat's milk. It's also widely considered the creamiest milk and is naturally homogenized (just like goat's milk). Even better, it's easier for human's to digest than cow's milk.
For more information on adding sheep to your homestead, I highly recommend Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep.
* Title image courtesy of Peter Shanks