We are now working to improve our homestead pasture management with sheep. They help control weeds, add fertility, and more!
I didn’t see this coming either.
But we now own four sheep.
I mean, I kind of saw it coming. After all I did suggest when our lawn mower broke a few weeks ago that sheep would be a great alternative to a gasoline powered mower. But the advice was rejected (as well as the follow-up advice to get each of the bigger kids a reel mower.) He’s paying for that now with extreme grass allergies that take almost as long to recover from as it does for the grass to grow back before the cycle begins again.
A few months ago, I even threw around the idea of getting a few East Friesan sheep, a dairy breed, and milking them for yogurt or soap making or something. They’re hard to come by it turns out and a cross-country drive was out of the question.
So it’s not like the word “sheep” had never been mentioned before in connection with our ownership of them.
But it has become quite apparent that our tiny little herd of cattle aren’t able to keep up with the grass in the pasture, it’s growing so fast.
WAIT… Did I just say we have *too much* pasture grass!?!! Things I never dreamed would be a “problem” a few years ago!
But a problem it has become. The grass, over five feet tall, and full of weeds, has gone to seed and is starting to lie down.
It’s my understanding that because it wasn’t topped off yet and because it has gone to seed, the grass will not grow back as lush as would be beneficial to the cows going into the hot summer months.
When we turn the cows out into a fresh paddock, they aren’t getting as much to eat because of that… and soon those weeds will start spreading their seeds everywhere. And sadly, all that is left standing when the cows move on are those weeds.
I’ve been reading All Flesh is Grass by Gene Logsdon. It’s excellent. An easy, engaging read and it makes me want a hundred acres and to be a Grazier. Anyway, in it he talks here and there about pasturing grass-fed sheep year-round and the more I read aloud to my husband, the more interested we became. Sheep could be one solution to our overgrown & weed problem in the pasture.
So could what Mr. Logsdon calls “clipping.” Going in behind the cattle and mowing what’s left standing down. Despite his extreme grass allergies, my husband thought this a better solution than allowing an animal or two (or four) do the work for us. After watching him go through the pasture wasting both an entire evening and money on fuel, he later came in sneezing, coughing, and snorting and told me to find some sheep.
After much discussion over the past week or two, and a bit of hasty research, I settled on waiting for some Cheviots to pop up for sale.
I chose this breed for a few reasons. I suppose since we were mainly looking for a Pasture Fertilizing Lawn Mower, we wouldn’t need to breed the sheep and therefore Any-Ole-Sheep would do, but if there is more than one purpose for the animal on the homestead, we might as well use that to our advantage. With sheep that’s meat, wool, or milk.
I feel like we’ve pretty much got the milk and meat thing covered. And as a Pasture Fertilizing Lawn Mower, these sheep are furthering our home-based dairy production goals. Besides as I already mentioned dairy sheep are super hard to come by.
On the meaty side of the argument, we’ve never really eaten lamb and didn’t want to count on it in case we didn’t like it. Even though the increasingly popular hair sheep would mean we wouldn’t have to learn to shear wool because they shed instead of needing shorn, their primary purpose is for meat. It’s supposed to be good meat because the lanolin doesn’t taint the flavor and even though we wouldn’t be eating it ourselves, we could always market the lambs. But after considering to whom lambs are primarily marketed, we decided that, as Christians, we weren’t necessarily comfortable growing a product that would be used in the religious ceremonies of those worshipping a false god. I mean from an evangelistic standpoint, wouldn’t we be wanting to witness ourselves right out of business? Seems like a pretty lousy business model to me.
So that left us with a Pasture Fertilizing Lawn Mower who could pull double duty in homestead fiber production. A side of farming we haven’t tapped into yet. And as an avid lover of knitting and crocheting, one I’m excited to get into in the future! And as I did my research I learned that the profession of sheep shearing is declining and that our state university offers a class in the fall… we’re planning on a few of us attending. Perhaps we could start a little business? Who knows.
Cheviots are hardy and seem perfect for our cold, windy winters on Hurricane Hill. They’re reputedly good grazers and not too picky. Being smaller framed, I thought would be easier for the children to feel comfortable handling.
Though Cheviots may come in smaller packages, they contain for the sheepman a surprising combination of highly desirable qualities. They are noted for hardiness, longevity, productiveness, milking, and mothering ability and for their great activity. They are high in quality and hang a presentable carcass that has a minimum of outside fat for the amount of carcass lean produced. They utilize rough, low producing hill country very profitably with relatively little assistance from man and even less from the elements. Where there is a really tough clean-up job to be done to convert waste land into dollars, more and more sheepmen are discovering that “Cheviots can take it.”
In comparing Cheviots with other breeds, let the comparison be made on a basis of pounds of dressed lamb and clean wool produced per acre, and consider all of the costs of this production, including the year-round cost of feeding the ewe, and the time and attention required at lambing and shearing time.
Plus they’re adorable, but I swear, that didn’t factor into the decision making at all.
So a few days after the search officially commenced, a small flock, reasonably priced, was listed for sale within driving distance and so the next day The Big Blue Trailer was hitched to the van and the newest members of our homestead came home.
And contrary to the advice seen from The Elliott Homestead (who also recently welcomed sheep to their farm), we did not in any way prepare for these gals. As would seem customary for us, we purchase on impulse and figure out the rest as we go. (Hello. Anyone remember how we bought a bred, dry Dexter cow who was actually open & lactating and then went back and bought the bull off the farm who once he did his job we butchered. Ourselves. It looks like we don’t learn.)
We haven’t settled on names yet. I don’t remember the name of Mama Ewe, but the younger of the two older ones is ‘Lucy’. I’m thinking of maybe forage names for the rest? Clover? We’ll see.
Today we picked up some electrical sheep netting (exactly like this– only in our unpreparedness, we paid more). And somehow managed to coax these skittish gals into it. I’m hoping that with time and handling they’re warm up to us.
We’ll follow them along in our system of rotational grazing a day or two after the cows have gone through so they will finish off the grass and weeds and minimize the amount of “clipping” we’ll have to do. Actually, hopefully, they’ll eliminate it entirely, but that might be wishful thinking. A week or so after they’ve moved on, we’ll bring the ranger broilers along after them so they can add a bit more manure, pick at whatever greens are left, and more importantly spread the manure looking for insect or parasite larvae.
That’s the plan. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that those always look better on paper.
I think this is a great addition! Good for you. I laughed so hard when I read about not exactly being “prepared” for your livestock. It’s a joke here at our home because this ALWAYS seems to be the way we do things too! Hogs? Sure! Goats? Sure! Free horse? Sure! Rabbits?Sure! Chickens..oh, fifty on your way home after stopping at Rural King? Sure! Not to mention the occasional cat, dog, and turtle-dad-finds-in-the-middle-of -the-road……SURE! Leaves us usually scrambling for fencing, housing, and the like!
Congratulations on your new addition to your homestead! We added Icelandic sheep to our homestead two weeks ago and couldn’t be happier! They are small and good grazers and they don’t need grain in the winter which is a savings for us. So far they are quite manageable and a such joy. Have fun with them!
Congrats on your new additions!
Bobbi Dougherty says
they are totally adorable! congratulations!
OBPI Mama says
We, a Christian farm family, have raised sheep for 6 generations on our farm. Yes, there are Muslims who buy lamb, but there is also a large market for lamb with Greeks and Samoans too. Lamb used to be a popular dish in America (and there were a lot more sheep in the US too). I, myself, had never had it before marrying my husband, but am hoping it makes a comeback. It’s a great meat and one that doesn’t cost much to have it professionally butchered (they seem to do a great job of not letting any wool touch the meat, thus tainting it), making it also an affordable meat.
Proving how we jumped in with little knowledge 😉 Admittedly, I’ve read very little on sheep. The 2 or 3 things I have read talked up what a great business venture sheep would be because of the growing Muslim population. The last source saying that many preferred to do their own ritualistic slaughter right on the farm. The thought of doing that here bothers me. Thanks for this info… it’s great to know there are other options! Blessings 🙂
Love, love your blog and have been following about a year. You are where we want to be in a couple of years in terms of farming :). I was just chiming in to ask if you’ve ever tried nettle leaf extract for allergies? I’ve recently tried it for my seasonal allergies with wonderful results. We are currently in Alabama and it seems like people live on allergy meds and I sure don’t want to join in! It can be very economical as I bought a pound of organic nettle leaf from Mountain Rose Herbs for about $10. Planning on making the extract very similar to how you make homemade vanilla extract. Good luck!
We live in Alabama, too and myself and our youngest son have severe grass allergies. I second nettles to help- I make an infusion and drink half a cup or so a day. It’s the only thing that’s really helped me in years- including allergy shots!
Thank you Natalya for the recommendation! We happen to have nettles from MRH in the cupboard already as part of the pregnancy tea I was using… I’ll have to encourage them to give it a try. We just had a fellow doing some earth moving on a piece of the property and I was so upset to learn he completely wiped out the nettles- I could have dried my own! 🙁 Anyway, I hope everything you’re hoping for in a couple years will come to fruition and be blessed! Take Care 🙂
All the best with your sheep Quinn! I look forward to hearing how the shearing lessons go. We have a lot of shearers around here and have our regular crew we get in for shearing. It’s certainly a learned art. We do have some hand shears here for when we need to clean up a sheep ourselves – usually because of flies. They are hard to use and it gives me a new respect for those who sheared using just them.
Here in Australia lamb is one of our favourite meats to eat. It certainly isn’t sold primarily to people of other religions. In fact we would eat equal quantities of lamb and beef in general.
I do hate the thought though of the possibility of our sheep going as live exports. Especially the poddy lambs. I really hate to think about what happens after they leave us on the truck, but that is life farming I guess.
Do you have two ewes and their lambs there?
I’d better go as we have chicks hatching today ( very exciting).
Bill actually touched base with a lady this week who will have someone come out and shear our one next week. Sounds like maybe she might be interested in having him learn and then do the local folks 😀 That’s pretty exciting, I think! Anyway, I’m sure lamb is one of those things that when properly prepared is quite good. I’ve had it once in my whole life, bought from a supermarket, and who knows how badly I botched the preparation back then? Maybe I’ll have to get “adventurous” with a future baby. Yea on the new baby chickies!!
Naomi from Australia says
Very exciting! Here in Australia, lamb is pretty common and I thought most people love lamb meat. It never really occurred to me that someone might not like lamb meat! Lamb chops are delicious and the fat, oh, so yummy! When I had my last baby our pastor gave us a lamb and it was such a treat (tasted even better coming straight from a trusted farm), tasted amazing!
I’m glad for you to expand into sheep and I do enjoy watching your endeavours Quinn! My family is still a while yet in the suburbs but we have bought a chicken coop & will hopefully get some chooks in the next month which will help me feel like I’m closer to our homesteading dreams. In the meantime I’m soaking it up, so again, thanks for sharing so I can learn before we get our dream plot & home! 🙂 all the best!
Congrats on the impending chicken ownership! That’s pretty exciting Naomi 🙂 And the whole “homesteading” thing is relative. You ARE homesteading- yea! Those will the best eggs in the world! How many years ago was it now, 5, 6? and we were setting up for our first flock. How quickly things change!
Cathy Wilson says
have [daughter has] 4 babydoll sheep- 2 mini Shetland sheep- would love classes on sheering. Holding down a sheep why you try to clip off is lanolin infused hair is not an easy task. We have goats to compliment the sheep. Goats browse and sheep clip – sheep like grass, goats love weeds. Only drawback is – some goats will climb or jump.
I just found your blog by searching for Cheviot sheep! What resources did you use to find the breed for sale in your area?
I looked up the breeder directory with the Cheviot association and we tried contacting several of them but most were out of the business. I ended up finding them on Craigslist after setting up a recipe on IFTTT.com. (If you haven’t heard of that, you basically do a Craigslist search, enter the address from the search with them, and they’ll email you when that search has new results. Pretty cool.) We’re located in central Ohio and just listed our whole flock on Craigslist last week (too many irons in the fire and need to downsize our projects). So if you’re looking email me 🙂 We’ve got 4 pure Cheviot ewes, a Romney ram, and 5 cross lambs (which makes a breed in NZ called Perendale). The ewes have been with the ram since April, so I suppose they could have rebred as some point.
Aunt Sha says
Remember to take deep breaths and not expect too much too soon. I'd expect the first year you might have to work with your plan more than you would like, as the animals get used to it. Monitor how much area they can cover and how well each does the job you want from them. I think it is very viable, but spreading them too thin might be overwhelming for you and the animals at first, and seem like it is not working. Make notes, work with them, and you will be so much better prepared to go into your second year. I think soap from the sheep would be wonderful for dry sensitive skin- perhaps with some added herbs? And the thought of a hard sheeps milk cheese set's me drooling (I worked in a high end Italian restaurant for years, hehe). Your hands will notice the difference when working with the wool too; I'd suggest doing projects with it in the winter when hands tend to dry out more easily. Best of luck, Q! I am always pulling for you and sending good thoughts your way!
Janet Garman says
Loved hearing your sheep story. I always preach doing research and being prepared before bringing new animals home but I must confess, some have entered the farm gates on an impulse! Learning as we go here too.
Cindi Perron says
I'm interested in this breed of sheep, for the wool; but I don't have much pasture. Just wondering if I really have no place for them : /
Quinn Veon says
Really it depends on the quality of your pasture. You can start with 2-3 head per acre and see how it goes and whether you can add more. The good news is that sheep are more tolerable of weeds and such.
Cindi Perron says
Quinn Veon Thanks for that response! I probably should make myself clearer; we don't really have ANY pasture; we have about 1 1/2 acres that are NOT wooded where our home, garden, chicken coop and outbuildings reside. We have 10 acres altogether, and approx 4-5 acres are what I would call lightly wooded with very little undergrowth, water oaks, a few live oaks, etc. The other 4-5 acres are old, fairly densely planted pine. We intend to slowly cut down all the little sucker trees and dead trees in the first section, but there really isn't any grass for them to graze on except the one open area; wonder if that would be enough for a few sheep and then, would they eat any little trees, plants, etc. that were in that area? Also considering reducing the amount of trees a fair amount in the first section just to have a little more useable land.
Rebecca Royer Franks says
Quinn – my husband and I are looking at Dexters. How was the meat from the bull, and how is the milk?