Raising Sheep
January 19, 2004 4:27 PM   Subscribe

I have fallen in love with sheep and would really like one for my backyard. Is this doable? Personal experiences are welcome. Feel free to talk me out of this if it's a really bad idea.

I live in Oregon, and moved to an area a few months ago that is packed with sheep. There are about 6 fields full of sheep in the 15 miles between my house and my boyfriend's. So apparently they do well in this area, but I'm not sure about only having one. Would the maintenence be worth it? I'm willing to devote some time and energy to it, and we're going to be looking for a place with a good-sized yard (preferably in the country), but how much space would we need? I found some info on google, but it's Aussie based, and I'm not really sure how relevant it would be to my situation. Does anyone have any information at all on this, or should I just try to find a farmer at my school and ask them?
posted by evilbeck to Pets & Animals (21 answers total)
Yopu know what they say: You'll never have to mow your lawn again. A woman close to my town kept sheep in her yard for years, and cared for them well. She would have been a great resource but, very sadly, she recently passed away, found outside frozen in the cold. Heart attack or somesuch as she ventured out to check on or feed the wee woolen ones. I always admired her. I love sheep too (no, not that way), and would love to have one or more as a pet some day...
posted by Shane at 4:33 PM on January 19, 2004

It is, but you should think twice.

Personal experience: from the age of about 6 until 13 or so, my mother kept a small hobby farm (my sisters were both into 4H) that had, among other things, two sheep.

You don't want them. They're OK to look at, but like all animals they require rather expensive care. If one gets sick you can't just take it to a vet (I'm assuming you live in a suburban area, not a farming community). House calls are expensive. If it turns out they need medication, you can't wrap a sheep in a towel, pry its mouth open, and force drops of fluid down its throat. You have to give it injections. Oddly, they don't enjoy the process. Further, you have to groom them. Its not so bad, just shear them in the spring, except it is bad. They're going to fight with you the whole time, unless you know exactly what you're doing.

You better have a fairly large yard, I don't remember how much grass your average sheep consumes, but its a lot.

They aren't cuddly. So don't think this will be a pet. You may manage to get it to the point where it is friendly, but your more likely to end up eating the damn thing.

You probably don't want your yard littered with sheep shit, either.

Oh, if there are any large predators in your area your going to need a really good fence.

Hope this helps.

If you're going to be living in the country, many of these considerations become moot, a couple acres is plenty of grazing, supplement their diet with hay, vetrinary services are much more likely to be available, and if you get sick of them, you'll probably have a neighbor willing to take 'em off your hands.
posted by Grod at 4:38 PM on January 19, 2004

I have fallen in love with sheep and would really like one...

*snort* What are you, Welsh? *snicker*
posted by keswick at 4:44 PM on January 19, 2004

having just watched the roberto benini part of night on earth last night, i must confess that i to snickered....
posted by heather at 4:46 PM on January 19, 2004

My girlfriend grew up with a couple of sheep for a few years, and when she gets back from wherever she is, I'll ask her to post some thoughts here. In the meantime, I remember her saying that the sheep ate all the bark off the trees, which just about did the trees in when they were young. So consider that. Also, consider investing in a sheep pig to keep your sheep in line.
posted by Dasein at 5:45 PM on January 19, 2004

Grod makes some good points - also, keep in mind that you generally can't have one sheep, they're herd animals and are not happy alone, you'll need at minimum two, preferably three, so you'll have to take that into consideration when considering if you have enough land. They'll also need shelter, just a run-in shed is fine for most breeds, and good fencing. Research what predators are in your area, if there are coyotes or cougars, you may need to take further steps to keep the sheep safe. Also, you'll need to provide hay in winter (when grass is unavailable) and clean, unfrozen water year-round. You'll also have to pick up the manure in their area on a regular basis and have their hooves checked and trimmed regularly.
posted by biscotti at 5:48 PM on January 19, 2004

I'm assuming you live in a town or city, based on the word 'backyard'. You should also check the bylaws in your municipality. It's entirely possible, and even quite likely, that it's illegal to keep livestock within city limits, or on property zoned as residential, etc.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:55 PM on January 19, 2004

As promised:

I had sheep when I was 7 or 8. We had 3. I think it's a bad idea just to get one, because our sheep liked to stick together. They're a social animal. You need to get them a salt lick. My Mum sheared them. That was a big deal that was quite hard to keep them still without kicking. They're not as cuddly as they look because the fleece gets very dirty.
posted by Dasein at 6:00 PM on January 19, 2004

Sheep shearing is a competitive sport in Scotland [PDF], Australia, Ireland, and other places... America too, for that matter. But I had an Aussie friend whose dad sheared sheep for a living for a long time (before becoming a freelance opal-miner), competed often, and the Aussies seemed about as serious as they come...
posted by Shane at 6:15 PM on January 19, 2004

Maybe you could get an electric one? (sorry...)
posted by mecran01 at 7:29 PM on January 19, 2004

I have fallen in love with sheep

You just had to one-up "What's a good way to get shards of glass out of my underwear?" didn't you?
posted by fvw at 8:06 PM on January 19, 2004

Volunteer to sheep-sit so that one of your sheep-farming neighbors can take a day or 2 off from sheep farming. Possibly a sheep farmer in your area could use your land to graze her sheep, and you could get taste of life as a sheep farmer. Check the government's publications list at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/cgp for information on raising sheep, and get in touch with the local Extension Office.

On preview, very funny, fvw.
posted by theora55 at 8:17 PM on January 19, 2004

Google seems to indicate that there exists at least one breed of pygmy sheep, which may prove more suitable for areas smaller than a true farm. I couldn't find an authoritative site on the subject, though. I know of people in Florida that keep pygmy goats as pets, and their quadrupeds seemed quite happy.
posted by Danelope at 9:02 PM on January 19, 2004

I love this question. Give us more like it.

Pygmy sheep?....The Nigerian Dwarf Goat Association

Goats rock. Here's a picture of a cute little dwarf goat
posted by troutfishing at 9:38 PM on January 19, 2004

Oh, goats. I know about goats. Contrary to their cute factor, goats. Are. Evil. I can only assume that sheep are as bad. They eat everything in sight, they require copious amounts of cleaning up after, they are loud with they're less than happy and trying to catch one to give it its medicine is quite the exercise in futility.

I'll never understand what posses people to buy these animals for pets...want fun and friendly livestock? Buy a pony.
posted by amandaudoff at 10:16 PM on January 19, 2004

Have you considered alpacas?
posted by homunculus at 11:26 PM on January 19, 2004

Okay... forget about goats, they're evil.

Sheep - you need a pair of them at least, you'll need a salt lick, you'll need fences at least five feet high (those bastards can jump) and you'll need to get used to the smell of sheep shit.

If there are sheep farms around and you have a towing hook on your car then you can probably borrow a trailer from one of the local farms and get your sheep sheared in exchange for a bottle of booze.

Don't even think about getting a ram. Several broken arms can tell you that that one's a bad idea (*wince*). And there must be an equivilent to the Rare Breeds Protection Trust (or whatever the hell it's called) who can put you in touch with people who breed the more interesting sheep. Jacob sheep (which my parents used to keep) have horns on the females too.

Finally, in the UK if you have sheep you need to provide shelter for them, and you can't keep more than about 20 on an acre of land. Check your local laws, you really don't want a visit from your form of the prevention of cruelty to animals / PETA type groups.
posted by twine42 at 11:57 PM on January 19, 2004

Pygmy goats were trendy in the States for a while, and I must admit they're damn cute. I love goats precisely because they are evil. And cantankerous. I remember, when I was a kid, a relative of mine had a goat. It really did love to chew on tin cans, as well as anything else it could get its teeth on. And I couldn't get near enough to pet it, because it would head-butt me whenever I got in range. Darling animal!
posted by Shane at 7:01 AM on January 20, 2004

She lives in Albany, which is a medium-sized town (county seat, on I-5, community college, major state university next town over in Corvallis), that has a *lot* of farms. No worries about regulations there, I don't think. It'd be an ideal area to raise just about anything if your yard's big enough. I have friends in the area that raise everything from llamas to snakes.

If you haven't raised sheep before, though ... having had a roommate that was a state officer in Future Farmers of America and girlfriends in 4h, go for the 'let other owners graze sheep on your land' first. A good tall fence isn't a bad investment and a shelter for the sheep isn't a bad investment, anyway... could add to the value of your home later. Get some experience before you dive in...
posted by SpecialK at 11:38 AM on January 20, 2004

would it make sense to talk to large animal veterinarian or the local 4H club? Find out everything you can from people you know. And be nice because if you do get a sheep, you'll be back.
posted by plinth at 4:58 PM on January 20, 2004

Get a sheepdog too. Border Collies are the most intelligent dog according to a recent survey. Afghan Hound is the dumbest.
posted by stbalbach at 6:48 PM on January 20, 2004

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