Sunday, April 19, 2009

How Many Sheep Per Acre?

If you find yourself wondering how we're able to keep five sheep, two goats, and a flock of free range hens, and have a huge garden all on one acre, well, we don't... not exactly. Peaceare Farm is, indeed, one acre, but we work every day in cooperation with our neighbors - and our sheep are a great example. Our neighbor, who has several acres, found herself in a position in life where she no longer had time or energy to keep all that acreage mowed. Having noticed our close-cropped pasture, she asked if we wouldn't mind grazing our sheep on her property as well. We were happy to oblige. On our one acre, with five sheep and two goats, supplemental hay was a necessity year round. By agreeing to graze our sheep on her property, we solved two problems at once, relieving our neighbor of mowing duties, while tripling the size of our grazing pasture. We haven't had to supplement with hay in the summer since!

So how many sheep CAN you keep per acre? That depends on who you ask... And it also depends on the condition of your grass. I've read anywhere from 4 to 15 - and that's a w-i-d-e range! I think it's safe to say a maximum of 4 on poor pasture, more only if you are willing to supplement with extra feed. The most important thing is to create a suitable environment for the sheep. It also depends on the breed of your sheep. There are small breeds, such as Welsh Mountain, or large sheep, such as Romney. Rule of thumb: The bigger the sheep, the fewer you keep!

Here are a few more things to keep in mind:
  • Do your research. Make sure that the breed of sheep you choose is suited to your climate.

  • Good fencing is a must. Sheep rub against fence posts, lean against fences, etc. You will not keep predators out for long with cheap roll wire fencing.

  • Be aware that your sheep will need to be sheared once a year, and it's hard to find someone willing to come out to your place to shear a small flock. Unless you're willing to do the job yourself (which is m-u-c-h harder than it sounds!!!), you will have to make some kind of arrangements. There are breeds that don't require shearing, but they are not the standard breeds. Think it through in advance, and again, DO YOUR RESEARCH!

  • Be aware that you are going to have to trim their hooves, deworm when necessary, treat hoof rot, etc. Routine veterinary duties fall on YOU.

  • No matter how wonderful your pasture is, your are going to have to feed hay during the winter and during times of drought. You have to have a source for purchasing hay, a pickup truck to transport it to your property (a large hay bale weighs app. 800 pounds), as well as a dry place to store that hay. You must plan for all of this in advance of acquiring your first sheep!

  • Sheep need salt blocks and mineral.

  • Sheep need a source of fresh water - and someone to replenish it daily.

  • You CANNOT keep just one sheep. They are flock animals, and a single sheep will be miserable, and will make you miserable, bleating for companions. Its a terrible stress on the sheep to be alone, and they will not survive long in solitary confinement. Two sheep are an absolute minimum!

  • Keeping sheep is a big commitment of time as well as resources. Before you start a flock on your property, consider how their presence will impact your ability to go on extended vacations, travel spontaneously, etc. Do you have a reliable sheep-sitter?
All that said, sheep are beautiful, wonderful, gentle animals. We have never regretted our choice to make sheep a part of our lives, and you won't either, if you take all of the above into consideration before you take the plunge. Just look at these cute faces! Hazel (on the left) is Romney. Ivy (on the right) is a Corriedale-Borderleister mix. Nettle and Gretel (in the back) are twin sisters, of Dorset-Suffolk mix.