So sheeps peoples, give me some advice

We are in the very beginning stages of considering maybe thinking about perhaps pondering the purchase of a couple of sheep. 

I grew up with sheep, the horrible kind. HORRIBLE! I used to stagger out of the sheep pen, dripping in water and manure, cursing the day that sheep had ever entered the world.

But we never really did them “right”; for my mom the small farm I grew up on was a sort of happy “back to basics” let’s-handspin-our-clothes type of operation, until my sister and I grew up enough to realize that there were ways to do it better and we took over certain animals. So the little bunch of backyard no-brand-Nubian goats became a herd of 14 registered Saanens with top milk production and butterfat content (me) and the horses suddenly started going to shows and the pony gave way to a Thoroughbred who could jump four feet (her). Neither of us ever got really involved in the sheep, though, because they were just these terrible stubborn stupid creatures who knocked you down all the time.

I have a LOT of sheep aversion to overcome.

Anyway, since we lost Cinnamon (and oh, gosh, I just went back to read that post and now am sitting here with snot running down my face because it still makes me cry so hard) there’s a barn sitting empty and I am eyeing it thoughtfully for when we’re back in the house. The “barn” is actually a really nice run-in with a big area that could be made into stalls; plenty big for two or three jug-sized stalls. 

We’ve pretty much totally decided that no matter which way we twist, we can’t afford another horse. I want goats, desperately, but I am not sure I can keep it under control (I will want to build up a herd again) and I have very little daughters still. Milking four or five does every day is pretty hard when you’ve got a one-year-old, and kiss easy travel to weekend dog shows goodbye. 

So we are now researching sheep. And I know very little about breeds or pedigrees; the sheep we had growing up were Dorset/Corriedale, which were considered handspinning sheep, but back then I didn’t know anyone actually doing micron counts or showing fleeces or whatever. If we do this, I would want to do all that stuff.

Here is what we are hoping to do; please let me know if it’s even remotely possible and if there’s a breed of sheep that fits.

1) It must be GENTLE. We’re savvy, but we’re not suicidal. I need to be able to have the older kids handle the sheep and get into and out of the pen without losing fingers. I don’t care of they’re polled or not, just don’t want constant aggression.

2) It must have a very high-quality fleece that I can SELL. Honestly, one fleece will pay for about five weeks of hay, so it’s not like they’d pay for themselves, but I strongly believe that a production animal should produce, and that feeding a good animal is just as expensive as feeding a bad one. So why not get the good one.

3) It must be quiet, or at least as quiet as possible. The neighbors have never minded the horse or the dogs, but I don’t want to push the envelope too much. We’re zoned for sheep; the neighbors are 200′ away from the barn. So it’s not like we’re trying to keep a lamb in an urban setting. But we don’t know anyone else on our road who has any other large animals besides horses. 

4) It must be happy in a small flock, probably just two to three sheep.

5) If we have ewes the lambs should be easily saleable for decent money (see item 2); I don’t mind traveling 3-4 hours to get to good rams and I don’t mind doing AI, but the lamb prices need to be able to make the effort worthwhile. 

6) It must be at least somewhat able to deal with dogs. I’m not going to start herding lessons with them or anything, but there’s no question that one of the reasons to do sheep would be to get the dogs used to them and to sort out who has enough instinct to get serious about training. So something that’s adaptable and isn’t going to have a heart attack and hurtle from one side of the pen to the other just because a Cardi is beside me while I’m filling the water buckets would be very good.

My ten-year-old is in LOVE with Bluefaced Leicesters – any possibilities there? Or should I go in a different direction?

Thank you SO MUCH – I hope this works and we can add another couple of warm bodies to the ever-growing menagerie around here.

10 thoughts on “So sheeps peoples, give me some advice

  1. Maybe you already know about this, but if not…
    33rd Annual NH Sheep and Wool Festival, May 9 & 10
    Hopkinton Fairgrounds, Contoocook, NH
    There should be a wealth of local NH sheep, goat, wool, info. for you at this fair. I used to go years ago when it was held in New Boston.(even won a blue ribbon once for drop spinning!) Nice people and everything sheep, including herding dogs in action.

  2. I know little about sheep-keeping, but a bit more about hand knitting/spinning and wool.

    The standard there is obviously merino, but you rarely hear of small farms keeping those – I don’t know whether they are too high-maintenance, or just nasty or what.

    Corriedale and Blue Faced Leicesters are the two biggest names you hear as far as small-farm artisan spinning fleeces. BFL is really surprisingly popular, so you daughter may be on to something 😉
    Other breeds you hear fairly often are Rambouillet, Romney, and to a lesser extent Coopworth and Polwarth. Many of these breeds are often crossed with merino in some fashion. I do not think I have heard Dorset mentioned in relation to hand-spinning.

    Recently, there’s been a good bit of buzz about Icelandic sheep, but that’s more of a niche thing. I get the impression it is somewhat fad-ish and there may not be a market for it in a few years.

    So, take that as you will – I don’t have any personal experience with many of those wools, and have never analyzed the market from a sellers perspective, but from the consumer side, those are the names you hear most often.

  3. OMGosh, no advice here but I can’t wait to read about your adventures with the sheep. And I have a feeling you’ll be making sheep’s milk cheese someday and then blogging joyously about it.

    That fair sounds like HEAVEN. Could be a great “Mother’s Day” thing to do 😉 Now I want to move to NH.

    We lived in the rural-zoned part of Portland, OR for 2yrs, and our landlords had 5 sheep & 2 llamas that we took care of whenever they were out of town, which happened quite often. I *loved* it! If not for those sheep, I might not have discovered babywearing (and “met” you on TBW) because I quickly discovered how hard it was to try holding a baby in one arm while trying to move bales of hay/alfalfa with the other. I will be benefitting from your research yet again, because one of my long-term goals is to have some property with sheep. SO glad you’re not one of these people obsessed with chickens…

  4. Nothing helpful except the perspective of a knitter, and from that view, BFL is highly prized and people do pay good money for the fleece. (About the animal in the fleece, I know nada!) 😉

  5. Oh, wow, I would love to milk a sheep. I know that sounds like I must be saying it tongue in cheek, but it’s true. Milking for me is like grooming – I get all zen and relaxed and everything slows down and is happy.

    Thank you all SO much for your help. We are indeed going to try to go to the NH Sheep and Wool Fest, at least for a few hours (they have herding dog stuff too, so it would be great for me in all respects). And we’ll be looking hard at BFLs.

  6. My friends had Romneys to to work their Aussies with, they were big, handsome sheep with nice wool and very placid as well.

  7. If you’ve got time for a weekend trip over to eastern NY (right off the thruway), the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company makes WONDERFUL sheepsmilk cheese and has some events that are open to the public- I really liked their stuff when I lived up there!

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