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Thread: Got Sheep?

  1. #1

    Got Sheep?

    As some of you know I haven't had a lot of shop time lately as I have kind of been working on a bigger project. I got a couple of acres here that are not all that productive and I was trying to think of a way to change that. It was kind of an odd turn of events but I wanted to raise some beef cows, while the wife insisted that if we did,we had to have a couple of sheep for Alyson. Well its funny, because cows can be kept in any sheep fence, but sheep cannot be kept in a cow fence. So after realizing I would have to put up some major fencing to hold the sheep in, it kind of dawned on me, what if I raised just sheep? Six months later I got my answer. It would mean a whole lot less work, and a about 2 bucks a pound more in price. That got my interest.

    So for the last few months I have been researching sheep and conducting a farm plan. I got some upcoming training withe the USDA and my farm plan is generally done. Actually I am quite proud of my farm plan, from marketing to biosecurity, to grazing, fencing and even doing my own CNMP, I got everything written down. Two ink cartridges later, and 160 pages of text, I think I got a decent plan for some sheep.

    We have had sheep on this farm before. In fact in the last 251 years the last 30 have been the only years we have not had sheep,so I know they will do well. I have been actively searching for some sheep too, and this week I found some.

    A top notch USDA woman here in Maine was selling her flock, and while its only 4 sheep, they are just what I want. Hardy and meaty, good mothers and easy lambing, the Montadale Sheep should do fine on this soil and in this climate. They have fine wool as well, and while rather big in size, they are registered and even Scrapie Certified. For a small flock the later is unheard of. Scrapie is basically the sheep version of Mad Cow Disease and being certified I can sell or ship them internationally. It's certainly a good sign of great genetics and documentation to back those claims up.

    So I have been working at fencing in some pasture, turning my snowmobile shed into a make shift hovel for them, as well as securing hay for this winter and some other needs. Since a Ram is included with 3 ewes,then I am almost assured I will get some Lambs next Spring. It's only 4 at this point, but I figure in 10-12 years I should have around 150 ewes running around. I have no intention of getting rich, but I am in hopes some lamb sales will help pay for the taxes on this place.

    Either way, I am in hopes that in a few weeks I will get my sheep on-farm. Of course if you see Mutton go up for sale on the commercial board, you will know my plans went south !!
    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by Travis Johnson View Post
    So I have been working at fencing in some pasture, turning my snowmobile shed into a make shift hovel for them, as well as securing hay for this winter and some other needs.
    Attachment 23650
    Last edited by Greg Cook; 09-13-2009 at 03:47 AM.

  3. #3
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    It is very exciting to see an experienced farm boy approaching this new venture in a modern and businesslike manner. Too often folks will say they know it all and plunge ahead, only to experience failure down the road. You mention 'biosecurity'. Not sure I have ever heard that word before. Do you mean protection from predators?
    About 15-20 years ago, we had a growing sheep farming industry in my county. With our poor, rocky, soil it looked like the perfect marriage. Of course, the biggest losses were to coyotes and feral dogs (and 'feral' often meant family pets let run loose at night). For protection, the farmers bought Great Pyrenees dogs. This worked great. But, after a while, the lawsuits started. Family (feral) pets were being killed and trespassing hunters/poachers were getting injured. The lawsuits killed the industry. Real shame. I think old-fashioned justice should have prevailed instead.

  4. #4
    Frank, biosecurity is a fancy word for protection from such stuff as Scrapie, Parasites, and other diseases. Biosecurity controls would be along the lines of having visitors from farms with other sheep having to disinfect their boots before getting near my sheep, having transport trailers and the trucks that pull them being disinfected before coming on the farm, and having the people that shear the sheep, disinfect their equipment as well.

    Introducing replacement ewes and rams to the flock would mean keeping them isolated and in quarantine for 21 days since most parasites only live that long. Keeping manure piles mile away reduces flys and reduces fly strike...all these are biosecurity measures.

    As for predator control, that is a big fear for me.Right now these Montadale sheep are pretty big, and coyotes are not all that hungry at this point, but next spring I will really worry about the lambs and the coyote moms trying to feed their babies.

    I considered Great Pyrenees, and while dogs talk canine talk with coyotes quite well (they respect each other) I may go with a donkey. Gentle around people, but aggressive towards domestic dogs and coyotes, they have protected sheep for as long as dogs have. Unfortunately they don't have the night vision that dogs have, and while their hearing is good, its not as good as a dogs.They got some huge advantages too though. One is that they eat hay and grain right along with the sheep. The other is an exceptionally long life. At 50 years, its likely that I will have only one donkey in my lifetime. A dog on the other hand is only good from a year of age to 8 years of age. At 1k per dog, that gets kind of expensive. A 500 dollar donkey for 50 years is pretty cheap considering.

    So the question is, how much better is a dog? I mean a Donkey will typically round up the sheep, position himself between the coyote and sheep,then charge it. The majority of the time the coyote opts for easier prey then donkey protected sheep, but Donkey's have been known to kill them too with stomping hooves. I am going to try a donkey first I think.The problem is, a good friend of mine has miniature donkeys. They are smaller but still protective. It's a risk of course, but a mini-donkey protecting the flock is better then nothing. For now, (over the winter) I will probably wire a remote speaker out in my back pasture and put the radio on an all-night AM talk radio station to deter coyotes.

    Will any of this work? I am not sure. The coyote population here is high, and lamb does taste good. In fact on my John Farms T-shirt I put a picture of a lamb, and then this text.

    Lamb...
    Because 50,000 coyotes can't be wrong!
    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Fusco View Post
    About 15-20 years ago, we had a growing sheep farming industry in my county. With our poor, rocky, soil it looked like the perfect marriage. Of course, the biggest losses were to coyotes and feral dogs (and 'feral' often meant family pets let run loose at night). For protection, the farmers bought Great Pyrenees dogs. This worked great. But, after a while, the lawsuits started. Family (feral) pets were being killed and trespassing hunters/poachers were getting injured. The lawsuits killed the industry. Real shame. I think old-fashioned justice should have prevailed instead.
    That is a real shame. Thankfully Maine adopted some good farming laws,such as Maine's Right to Farm Law, and some ATV trespassing, and domestic nusences dog laws. In a nut shell if a domestic dogs gets in with your sheep, the farmer has the legal right to shoot it, and charge the owner with any flock losses. No questions asked. The ATV law means unless you have written permission to be on any land, or are on an approved ATV trail, you are trespassing and subject to prosecution. The Maine Right to Farm Law is even broader. That means that as long as you are using approved USDA Best Management Practices, you are free from harassment. Lets say your neighbor doesn't like you spreading manure on your fields because of the smell...well tough, its an approved practice. So is using Genetically Engineered crops. Around here a nearby town tried toadopt a no GE Crops law, but the farmers cited the Maine Right to Farm Law, told the town they were in violation of their rights, dropped their planters and kept on farming. This law has a lot of power,which is good for the farmer.

    So some news laws have given farming a fighting chance, but sheep farming used to be huge here. Back in the 1830's-1945 or so, the wool industry was the dominating force. In fact from 1830-1850, the majority of the rock walls were built here and it all stemmed from sheep farming. We had rivers galore,and thus power for the textile mills and they were built massive in size. Of course with woolen mills came the need for sheep and with our cold winters, sheep are perfect for this climate.

    Its been said that wool was the forgotten industry here. Many mansions and millionaires grew from the woolen trades and that it rivaled that of the lumber, ice and ship building industries. We have the old mills to prove it and of course the fields. Old farms like ours were cleared of trees because of the good soil and the uprooted rocks were made into rock walls. Maine alone has enough rockwalls to build a 3 foot high, 3 foot wide rock wall from Maine to California. In New England these rock walls could circle the earth 3 times at the equator. That may not be impressive, but these rock walls were built over a 20-30 year period which is amazing unto itself, and all because of the lowly sheep.

    I chose sheep because it fit the farm better then anything else. Sheep love cold weather, and you would too if you hiked around all day in a 4 inch woolen coat. Because our barn was destroyed by fire, sheep allow me to humanely raise them without a barn which reduces my startup costs.

    I get kind of upset when I see so much ag land being developed or being grown into alders or other worthless trees. But the thing is, if you don't use it, you end up losing it. With 50% of the Lamb being imported, and ethnic sales driving the price, the market for lamb is pretty high and will be for the foreseeable future. Around here beef and dairy cows dominate, but there is too much of it. Just last week I could have bought organic,grass fed beef for 2.38 a pound cut and wrapped. You read that right ORGANIC and Grass Fed for just over 2 bucks a pound! Lamb sells for about $7.50 a pound.

    So what I am proposing is one of the largest sheep farms in my county. So 4 sheep now sounds like small potatoes, and it is, but with sheep reproducing at 200-300%% every year, you can do the math and realize 150 sheep is indeed possible in 10-12 years. Now the average home in my town is only 80 acres, and sheep do well on small pastures, so I am actually hoping to get others into sheep farming. The market can bear it, so I am not cutting my own throat by promoting this type of farming, but maybe it will slow down this great farm land being turned into unusable trees every year. It will never be the industry that it was, but it could make a comeback.

    Myself, if I could sell enough Lamb to make enough money to pay the property taxes,I will be happy. If I create a farm that makes money and Alyson and her Husband can take it over in 30 years, that will even be better. The problem with young farmers today is that they want to go into hock up to their eyebrows to have massive farms NOW. Me, I can wait. It's only 4 sheep now, but I got vision to see bigger things ahead.

    Wool socks anyone?
    Last edited by Travis Johnson; 09-08-2008 at 11:26 AM.
    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

  6. #6
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    Sounds like an interesting venture, Travis. I wish you the best of luck with it.
    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson
    When the weird get going, they start their own forum. - Vaughn McMillan

    workingwoods.com

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Travis Johnson View Post

    Wool socks anyone?
    Lamb chops? MMMMMMMMMMMMMMM

  8. #8
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    Yes, donkeys are reputed to be good protectors of sheep and other livestock. I once had a donkey/burro. No harm came to my cattle while I had it but I can't say he should take the credit. Neighbors were mostly good about not letting their dogs run loose and the one that did I shot. But, my burro nearly killed me. 'Nuther long story.
    Longhorn steer are highly reputed for keeping predators at bay also. Can be fun to look at but do present certain dangers for people too stupid to not stand clear.
    Your biosecurity is interesting. I larnt sumptin' new.

  9. #9
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    Travis, we have used a llama to eliminate coyote problems with our newborn calves. He has been on our farm for five years now I guess. I had a couple of different donkeys, they were effective but got aggressive and would run the calves from time to time. Guard dogs are not an option here as I have to small of acreage and not enough cattle to keep a dog busy and out of trouble (to many distractions). Good luck in your venture. Around here, most sheep producers are so small they shear their own flocks, the larger flock owners end up giving the wool to the shearer as well as some money now days.
    Jon

    God and family, the rest is icing on the cake. I'm so far behind, I think I'm in first place!

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  10. #10
    The wool prices are down, so while the market is strong here, its fool hardy to think you will make any money at raising sheep just for the wool. In the industry the people that raise just a few sheep for the wool are called "woolies" while the rest are called producers. I will only have four sheep, but hey its a start and lets face it, If you went out and got a loan for 100 Ewes, they would just get 100% of that money, plus interest. There is not enough money in sheep farming to make it by getting into a high overhead situation.

    In a lot of ways this is the opposite then what I learned on the dairy farm. There you went high tech because the cows lived a long time (20 years) and you got a lot out of them (milk). The checks came every 2 weeks as well. With sheep, its got to be low tech, cheap and cash flow is a problem sell once or twice a year.

    So far I have really tried to think low tech and cheap, so when I get some pictures on here you got to keep that in mind. No fancy waters or fencing systems. Its just got to work for the least amount of cash. To me its almost a challenge in that respect. How can I do this cheaply? Just a different way of looking at farming.
    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

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