An animal that cuts your grass, takes minimal effort, and tastes delicious? That may sound too good to be true but raising meat sheep ticks all those boxes and the family will think they’re adorable, too.
With a little consideration, raising sheep is easy, multi-purpose (wool and dairy, too), and a great use of your land.
Choosing Your Sheep
With so many different breeds of sheep out there, choosing the right breed for you comes down to deciding what traits you want most. You want an animal that is pest resistant and puts on good weight, but do you want sheep with good wool or could you care less about that?
There are a number of exhaustive sites which list the different breeds (such as this one ) as well as folks own experiences with one breed over another.
A few of the most popular meat sheep breeds are the dorper, the hampshire, and the kahtahdin because they tend to be fairly parasite resistant, they tolerate hot weather, and they fatten up quickly.
If the prospect of sheering sheep seems like more trouble than it’s worth, you may want to consider a “hair breed” instead of a “wool breed” – and good meat sheep breeds fall into both camps.
In fact, both the dorper and kahtahdin breeds mentioned above are “hair breeds” which don’t require sheering and instead naturally shed their coat in the same way a dog does.
Incidentally, all ewes are good milk producers, and if you haven’t tried sheep milk (or cheese!) you’re missing out (don’t take my word for it: check this out). So if you’re into getting the most out of your animals, a dorper might be the best all the way around since you can get wool, milk and, when you’re ready, a great sheep.
Keeping Your Sheep Healthy and Happy
There’s an old phrase, “You can feed ten sheep where a cow would starve to death”, meaning you don’t need to stock up on expensive feed when the best tasting lamb can be raised right in your yard on the grass you already have.
You will need to consider how many sheep your yard can sustain, though, and a good rule of thumb is you’ll need 4,000-5,000 square feet of yard for each sheep. It’s important to note that sheep don’t gobble your grass down to the root, they leave about two inches of grass, so rotating your flock will mean your fattening up your sheep while never having to drag the mower out of the barn.
If you find your pasture is looking a little lean you can supplement your sheep with grass-based hay. Besides grass, make sure your flock has access to salt lick and plenty of water. Hardy, pest-resistant sheep breeds don’t generally require antibiotics or vaccinations.
When they’re not out keeping your yard in check, you’ll need to keep your sheep safe – ¬maybe in an existing barn you already have. If you don’t have a structure, there are plenty of plans and guidelines on what to look for (sheep shed plans), but it comes down to keeping them warm during inclement weather and safe from predators.
Unless you’re interested in breeding your sheep, the male lambs should be castrated. Not only does it prevent the boys from tormenting the ewes, they have an easier disposition, and some folks will tell you their meat tastes better.
Docking or shortening the tails of some breeds is a necessary way to keep your sheep clean and avoid infections from flies (hair sheep don’t need their tails docked)
Butchering Your Sheep
WE WILL BE EXPLAINING THE PROCESS OF BUTCHERING SHEEP, WHICH INVOLVES HAVING TO TAKE THEIR LIFE. IT'S AN UNFORTUNATE TASK AND SHOULD BE DONE WITH RESPECT. THERE ARE VIDEOS OF BUTCHERING SHEEP BELOW, SO IF YOU DON'T WANT TO SEE THAT STOP READING NOW.
How quickly a sheep will get to its ideal weight can vary a great deal from breed to breed.
Lamb is the meat of a sheep less than a year old and is the most tender, while mutton comes from older ewes or castrated male sheep and whether you’re raising your sheep for lamb or mutton comes down to a personal preference. One way to determine how much meat you can expect from a sheep is to assume you will harvest about 47% of their live weight.
When it comes time to slaughter your sheep, you can choose to have them butchered for you (either on site or at a facility by a licensed abattoir), or you can process them yourself. Involving someone else can complicate the harvesting process and for the sake of self-reliance you’re better off taking care of this step on your own.
If you’ve butchered a deer or boar, then humanely dispatching and breaking down sheep will be second nature – sheep are easier than butchering pigs because you don’t need scalding water on hand.
There are also plenty of resources that demonstrate the finer points of the process.
Or this one
So now you’re ready to go out and start your own sheep flock as an easy and sustainable way to provide safe, delicious meat for your family. Before you start, though, plan ahead:
• Decide how many and which breed of sheep best suits your needs.
• Get to know the characteristics of the breeds you’re interested in and learn how long it takes for them to mature.
• Make sure you have a safe place for them at night and lots of grass during the day.
• Decide whether you are going to use an outside abattoir to slaughter and break down your sheep.If you have any questions or feedback please let me know! Good luck with your sheep – you won’t regret it!