Raising sheep on pasture. Talk about a loaded topic.
Aren’t sheep prone to parasites? What kind of fencing will I need? We could go on and on. Knowing how many questions arise with this topic, we decided to get help from the pros. We found a bunch of farmers currently raising grass-fed sheep and asked them this question:
What is the best advice you have for someone just starting out raising grass-fed sheep?
Below you’ll find the wonderful responses we received from these experienced sheep farmers.
Savannah Figueroa – Date Creek Ranch
Savannah is part of the team at Date Creek Ranch, which has been serving local Arizona families high quality meat since 1966.
1.We raise our lambs from Nov on, so I would highly recommend to those in the desert to wait it out for the cooler months. (We only raise lamb seasonally.)
We’ve had to construct mobile shade for them on pasture, and even with that, they tend to tear up the pasture in the shade a lot more. This means a longer recovery period!
2. Make sure you have fencing that is less than a foot wide! Start from the ground up, about 5-6 feet tall. They can be rascals! In the pasture we use a separate energizer for the lamb electric fence — we double tape it. One tape at 1 foot, one at 3 foot. The problem with that is we nee to bring them in every night (those coyotes!) but that is what our collies are for.
3. If you have melons, they love it! Gives them extra sugar to convert and helps them gain. On grass, they take much longer than grain finished lamb.
4. Hang out with them and get them to respect, but not fear you. It is no fun having jumpy sheep!
Audrene Burns – Burns Angus Farm
Burns Angus Farm is located in Pennyslvania and provides their local community with grass-fed beef and grass-fed lamb.
I will simply say, use woven fencing, for the perimeter especially. The lambs can get through most other fences. Keep their route to and from shelter simple, or the ewes will go out to pasture and accidentally leave a lamb behind who isn’t paying attention. Use a containment system when feeding round bales of hay, to reduce waste.
Martha Behneman McGrath – Deer Run Sheep Farm
Martha has more than 35 years of experience in raising sheep. She runs Deer Run Sheep Farm alongside her husband, Jim.
Find people who are raising grass-fed sheep and ask them how they manage their sheep and what breeds they like.
I think it is best to buy stock from someone who is successful in the niche you are most interested in. If you want to win the “market lamb” class at your local fair, then go to the people who are showing market lambs and talk to them. You might not be able to purchase their best, but they will give you advice and perhaps steer you in the direction of good stock. The same is true of grass fed sheep, though you probably won’t find them at the local fair, they will be out on grass doing what they do best!
I suggest that people interested in raising grass fed lambs look at the “dual purpose” breeds of sheep if they are interested in the added income of wool sales. If you are not interested in wool than the hair breeds are an option. We like the Coopworth breed of sheep because they are easy-care- great moms with plenty of milk, good parasite resistance- and they have lovely wool that is sought by handspinners and felters.
The largest problem with sheep on pasture is internal parasites, which can kill lambs. Starting with a breed that has good natural resistance is a big help, but shepherds will need to monitor sheep for parasites and treat when needed.
(this will open up an entire question/topic on parasites. The answer should include information on FAMACHA scoring, pasture rotation, anthelmintics, and COWPs!)
Bruce Johnson – Dragonfly Farms
Bruce is raising pastured lamb and grass-fed beef at Dragonfly Farms in Virginia.
Grass-fed lamb is something our farm has been working towards for many years. The sheep are good for overall pasture management and integrate easily with our cattle. There is a high demand for lamb at our markets and they are a good species for a farmer who is starting with small acreage. Grass-fed lamb has been challenging for us to produce. We struggled for several years in the battle against parasites despite cross grazing, famacha scoring and diligent use of dewormers. The solutions to these problems have come in the form of genetic improvement, nutritional management as well as rotational and cross grazing. For genetic improvements we have crossed our Katahdin ewes with a St. Croix ram. The St. Croix breed is known for being hardy foragers with a high natural resistance to parasites. By culling any sheep that show a high parasite load we are selecting for sheep that are more resistance to parasites naturally. Our nutritional management comes from keeping them on quality pasture with a quality alfalfa hay supplement. We also keep sheep minerals available to them at all times. Cross grazing with cattle helps to lower the parasite load in the fields because cattle are a dead end host for sheep parasites. And rotating the sheep gives the pastures time to rest, keeping the forage quality high as well as allowing the parasite larva to die out if the weather is hot and dry. All of these efforts combined with judicious monitoring of the sheep for health has produced some nice grass-fed lambs for the butcher this year. In my opinion, sheep are one of the toughest species to raise, at least in the southeastern US. Using the knowledge of local veterinarians, universities and other sheep producers in your area is the best way to find out what will help you be successful.
Kevin Schilthuis – Fort Causeway
Kevin and his family are raising grass-fed lamb on their Fort Causeway farm in Wyoming.
My advice is to ask a potential producer whether they have ready and tangible profitable markets for the added management and acreage needed to offer a grass fed product, and whether these markets will support frozen product throughout the year or only fresh. Make sure a grass fed lamb program is well supported at profitable price points.
Allison Bryant – Four Mile Farm
Allison farms 60 acres of rolling hills in Georgia. Her farm, Four Mile Farm, specializes in grass-fed beef and lamb.
Well, there is tons to know 🙂 but I think the two most important things are:
1. Don’t overstock your pastures (ie. don’t have more sheep than your pastures can support.) Otherwise, you end up having to feed hay etc. And as the grass gets shorter, sheep start picking up parasites off the ground.
2. Make sure your fences are really good. Neighborhood dogs and coyotes are one of the main causes of death of sheep. Don’t rely on people to keep their dogs out of your pasture. And coyotes can dig under almost anything. Good fences with an electrified scare wire will help keep your sheep safe. We have a 7000 volt fence!
Garth from Grass Corp.
Garth and the rest of the team at Grass Corp. have been raising everything from grass-finished lamb to pastured broilers.
Animal performance, animal performance, animal performance. Sheep, or any ruminant, should be rotated on the pasture for optimum regrowth and pasture management as well as soil regeneration, but at no point in time should that take priority over forage selection and animal performance. Without animal performance nothing you do will be effective at all.
Andy Jones – Grass Works Meat Farm
Andy raises everything from grass-fed sheep to grass-fed beef at Grass Works Meat Farm in Delaware.
Grass fed sheep are a fairly easy animal to raise. The sheep that I raise on our farm are hairless sheep which means they do not have to be sheard. This is helpful as it is one less step to have to worry about for maintenance of care. You also want To rotate your pastures and the grass that the sheep are eating so there is no danger in them getting any type of worms and leading into sickness. Breeding is also very import to it is good to check the time of year that you put the rams in so they will not have babies in too cold of weather or snow.
Lois Higgins – GrassRoots Meats
Lois raises grass-finished beef and lamb at GrassRoots Meats alongside her husband, Allan.
Get a good dog to protect them.
Olivier from Hettie Belle Farm
Olivier is raising everything from grass-fed lamb to pastured turkeys at Hettie Belle Farm in Massachusetts.
Start working on your land fertility
Make sure the PH level is adequate
Bring in clover and Orchard grass
Choose a parasite resistant specie for your sheep
We’d love to give a huge thanks to all of the farmers who shared their expertise.
We couldn’t have done it without them and truly appreciate them taking the time to share their wisdom in hopes of helping a fellow (or potential) farmer.