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article number 134
article date 06-05-2012
copyright 2012 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Why Mow? Raise Sheep
by H. R. Herndon

From the book, Farming for Profit, published in Springfield Illinois in 1947. Original chapter title, Sheep Their Place in the Corn Belt. The author dedicates this book to: Those who would profit at farming, and to Reuben R. Boynton, who helped me do so.

Although sheep raising is more adapted to the foothills of the Rockies and the entire length of the Appalachian Range, still there are many flocks scattered over the Corn Belt. In upland country where little grain is raised and where there are large tracts of cheap grazing land, the choice of livestock is limited. Sheep do well there. Frequently they are raised on just a good forage crop.

Though not great in number, typical sheep farms do exist in every state of the Corn Belt. On that kind of farm, sheep are a good investment. But there are other reasons for keeping sheep and it is one of these that most often influences the farmer of the Corn Belt to raise sheep: (1) Sheep will clean up his pastures and his fence rows for him. There are many weeds that horses or cows will not touch, but sheep will eat almost all of them off clean and even. They will eat brush and trim back small tree branches; (2) They require less labor than any other animal on the farm. (3) As it is with hogs, in sheep raising you have a small capital outlay and a rapid turnover. (4) Then some farmers just like sheep for their own sake. Seldom have I met a farmer who liked both hogs and sheep. He is usually a sheepman or a hogman.

Feed and Care

Sheep like high, dry land. Although they seem to thrive on little care and even a “poor” pasture, they cannot live where it is wet and swampy. They simply get sick and die.

Another precaution must be taken when you are raising sheep: they must be changed from one pasture to another frequently. This will prevent heavy losses from stomach worms which attack sheep in pastures that are heavily stocked. It is hard to fight this parasite. The most successful means of combating it is to move the sheep to a different pasture. It may be necessary to divide your permanent pasture and use it on alternate years. One part phenolthiazine to ten parts salt will give fair results in controlling parasites.

Some type of shelter against inclement weather is necessary. It can be a simple shed open on the south side (I have used the passage-way between a double corncrib with the north door closed and the south door open). Snow doesn’t hurt sheep; but in muddy, wet weather they need protection. Shade from the summer sun is desirable, too.

One other risk that you run when you have a flock of sheep is from dogs. Sheep frighten easily and even the nicest dog cannot resist the temptation to chase them. This often injures the sheep, sometimes even kills them. In many states you are permitted by law to kill sheep-chasing dogs, and the state will pay you for any sheep so killed. Many books advocate building dog-proof fences. But they are expensive. Maybe they are used in districts where there are lots of sheep. But here in the Corn Belt the few sheep killed by dogs would not pay for the expensive fencing.

A small flock of sheep will keep your fence rows neat and clean and your lawn mowed.

I said, “Even a poor pasture” will feed sheep. Burned up grass will not, but short young grass that is too short for cows will probably give sheep ample feed because they like young shoots and nibble more closely than a cow. The pasture may just look poor to the cattleman. An experienced farmer can feel along a ewe’s back and tell whether she has enough feed. She should never be allowed to lose weight.

It is seldom necessary to feed grain to sheep as long as they are grazing. Six sheep can be kept on the acreage required for one cow. During the winter months, leguminous hay, oats or wheat straw, and cornstalks can be fed. Many feed corn silage and a little corn in addition to the roughage. Others feed shock-corn with the hay. Timothy hay is not desirable for sheep. Alfalfa is considered the most succulent.

A rack for the hay will prevent it from being trampled upon and wasted. Feed can be placed before sheep at all times. They do not overeat. Plenty of clean, fresh water and salt should be convenient to the sheep.

Choosing the Flock

As in the hog business, I would start by buying just a few ewes and increasing my number when I learned how to manage my flock. I would begin with not less than ten ewes and not more than fifteen.

It is easier to buy good stock in the fall when other farmers are thinning their flocks. Since ewes are bred but once a year—in the fall (all lambs are spring lambs)—that is certainly the time to go into the business. But do not breed them early or you will have lambs in cold weather. I avoided this when I started my flock by not buying my ram until Thanksgiving time. Early lambs may bring a better price, but they take much more care, and your risk of losing them is greater.

It is fall and these lambs are ready for market.

A good grade ewe, one or two years old, will give you the best results. Ewes will bear young lambs for 6 to 8 years. A ewe’s teeth will show you her age. She should have a full set of teeth at four years. If the teeth are worn off and some are missing, the ewe is old. The ram should be purebred.

There are many breeds of sheep. They are classified as wool or mutton breeds. Some mutton breeds have good wool, but none of the wool breeds grow good lambs for eating. So usually we choose the dual purpose breeds; e.g., the Southdown, Hampshire, Shropshire, Cheviot, or Suffolk. The last two, though not as popular, have proved very satisfactory. It is often simpler to handle the breed that prevails in your neighborhood.

Lambing Season

If possible, a ewe should be placed in a separate pen at lambing time. A ewe will generally carry her young 145 days. Seldom does she need help in bearing her lamb, but if she is in a pen, assistance is more easily obtained. Sometimes the ewe will not claim her lamb and the lamb has to be hand fed. This danger is lessened if a ewe bears her young in a pen by herself.

When the lambs are ten days old, they should be docked, that is, their tails removed. Some use special hot docking irons for this purpose, others sharp knives. The pain is not great but sometimes there is considerable bleeding. An antiseptic should be used.

Male lambs can be castrated at this time. The animal makes a better gain in weight if this is done, but it is not compulsory.

Shearing and Dipping

Sheep should not be sheared until after lambing so that there will be no danger of hurting the ewe. The weather should be warm so they will not catch cold, but shear before the hot weather sets in.

With electric clippers there is less danger of cutting the sheep and the wool is kept in better condition.

For years this shearing was done by hand. Now electric clippers are used.

In many districts professionals do the work, furnishing the machine. There is less danger of cutting the sheep when professionals do the work, and the wool is in better condition to be sold. Some wool may be hard to sell, so, usually, a group of farmers pool their wool, or it is handled through the local Farm Bureau as a pool.

Sheep should have their hind parts trimmed with the shears again at breeding time and it is well to repeat this at lambing time.

When catching sheep, do not grab the wool, but catch a hind leg.

Sheep can be dipped as soon as they are sheared. Dipping kills lice, ticks, and other parasites. All of the flock should be dipped at the same time and the sheds cleaned and sprayed.

This is a community sheep dipping outfit in operation.
A close-up of the same operation shows a man dipping a sheep. He wears a mask to protect himself from the fumes.

The kind of livestock you choose to raise is dependent on your terrain. Raising sheep utilizes land that may otherwise be wasted. Whether you raise sheep for lamb meat or mutton, you will also be happy with their ease of care.

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