I have had some questions about our Shetland sheep. So, I thought I would blog about our sheep and then maybe it will spark some discussion or answer some questions or bring about new questions. We chose Shetland sheep because someone gifted us with our first two. They had sold us on the fact that we would be very happy with Shetlands and they were right.
The Shetland breed is one of the primitive breeds of sheep. This means that they have not been bred up for their production. They are one of the smallest if not the smallest of the British sheep. They are very gentle and are a dual purpose breed. They have a beautiful fleece that can be spun into wonderful yarns or felted into different items. They also have a wonderful flavor as meat. We have been selling our yearling lambs in the Spring for meat, but are going to start letting them grow out around 18 months before we send them to the butcher. They have very few problems with lambing and rarely do you have to bottle feed a lamb. Many of the commercial breeds used today have all sorts of problems both in lambing and mothering their offspring. We have not found this to be the case. We have been raising Shetlands for over 10 years and have had to bottle feed 2 lambs in all that time. The first time one of the goats in the next pen had stuck her head through and thoroughly licked all over the baby lamb while its mother was cleaning up the newer born twin. She no longer would recognize the first lamb.
Many people ask how much land do you need to raise sheep. I am not sure there is any definitive answer. I have heard approximately 6 sheep per acre. That would depend on the sheep and how well the grass grows. We only feed the sheep hay in the winter when the grass is not growing. It always amazes me at how fast thy can eat down an area. We move our sheep around, but they are really good at eating it down quickly. I would want to err on the side of too much rather than too little pasture or you have to feed hay longer which is an additional cost. They are a herd animal and you really should have at least 2. If you get a ram with a beautiful fleece you can always wether them (castrate) which takes a lot of the boldness out of them.
Many of my yearling ewes who are lambing for the first time only give me a single lamb, although twins do show up. After that I usually get at least twins and often times triplets. The Shetlands come in a wide range of colors. Many times a lamb that is born is black. Pretty soon they are down to brown and by another year, they might look almost like oatmeal. I am going to start tagging me sheep this year with name tags as they change so much, it is hard to tell who is who.
We get a new ram each year. We do this for several reasons. First of all, a ram can be very dangerous and also can be hard on the ladies and babies. My husband has been hit hard by a ram. They could easily break your leg. They tend to sometimes play too hard and butt the smaller sheep causing injuries there. I would not let a child into a pasture that has a ram. Also, if we use a ram and get little ewes (female sheep) then we would have to have a separate pen so that he would not breed back to his daughters. We don’t have enough shelters and pastures to do this. We get our rams in November as we like to breed for April babies. It is normally not too hot yet in April, but the flies are not out yet. We make sure that our sheep get sheared before lambing. This helps to keep the wool from getting yucky when they lamb. It is also more comfortable for the sheep. We give him 6 to 8 weeks to make sure he serviced everyone. Their heat cycles are 3 weeks, so this gives him time to catch anyone that he misses on the first heat. We then sell him.
There is not a lot of meat on a yearling lamb. We did check our prices against those who charge a per pound hanging weight price and we come out cheaper in the end. The live weight can be anywhere from 60 lbs. to 125 lbs., although we have had very few near that large. If this was to be your main meat, you would want to keep several.
Many people have a real pet type relationship with their sheep. I am not sure if I just don’t spend enough time with them or what, but they will come near me and some will even let me do a quick pet on the neck, but they like to keep their distance. When strangers are around, they will not even come to us sometimes. We always bottle raised our goat babies, and they were our pals, but since these sheep do such a good job at being mommas, the lambs tend to not come near either.
The lambs are such a joy to watch in the Spring. They are truly one of my highlights each year. You can do a search on this blog for lamb races and I have videos up of them racing each other all around the pasture. They jump up like popcorn and run as fast as they an go.
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