Keeping Sheep

by Ragtimelil

Have you ever thought of keeping sheep to mow the grass rather than that noisy lawnmower? Sheep have a lot of advantages as backyard livestock.

I love keeping sheep. I love watching them graze. I love watching lambs play. I love the fleece that I can spin. I’m not in a place to keep sheep right now, but when I can, sheep will be on my list of livestock to keep.
I’ve never understood why someone would have several acres of “yard” that they would have to mow. They crank up a big, noisy lawnmower belching out fumes that pollute the atmosphere when they could be enjoying the peaceful scene of a few sheep doing the same job with the added benefit of enriching the soil. Sheep can provide a family with meat, wool, skins, manure, lambs and even milk and cheese.


keeping sheep

Reasons to Keep Sheep

Wool – There are many different grades of wool from coarse fleece
rug wool to fine, soft wool and all of it is useful. There is a market now for fine hand spinning wool. You can research breeds and see what appeals to you. Merino is the finest of the wools but there are many others that are sought after.

lambsLambs - I always bred my ewes and had lambs in the spring. I kept any that would improve my flock and sold the rest. Although sometimes I had to be patient, I never had any problems finding buyers.

Meat - If you have a freezer, you can grow a few lambs to put in the freezer and have fresh, grass fed meat for the winter. Any breed can be meat, but some are more economical than others. A large animal will produce more meat for only slightly more cost. Some people raise more meat than they can use so they sell it. This does require having them shipped to a USDA inspected slaughterhouse unless you sell live animals and let the buyer deal with it.

Milk and Cheese – Sheep dairies are cropping up in the US, particularly in the midwest and in New England. There are several breeds of sheep that were developed for milk and cheese, most notably the East Friesian.

Lawnmoving – Sheep make excellent lawnmowers. They will keep a field down and enrich the soil at the same time. Goats like to browse and will keep trees and brambles down. Sheep prefer to graze on grass.

sheepSheep Watching - There is nothing so peaceful as gazing out over a field of grazing sheep. I’ve read that a real shepherd in Scotland could tell you the pedigree of each sheep in his large flock.

Conservation – at one time, sheep were the driving force behind many of the world’s economies. Today, with the competition of synthetic fibers and large, super farms, some breeds of sheep have fallen on the endangered list. Diversity is important because it can preserve the health of the entire sheep population. Some breeds are locally available but still may be on the watchlist.

Basic Care

Sheep are pretty hardy and carry a little barn on their backs. Their fleece acts as insulation and protection from the elements. They really only need protection from wind and severe winter storms. Lambs, of course, need more protection for a few days until they are ready to go out with the flock.

They can do well with sufficient grass during the summer months. In winter, they will need good quality hay and maybe some pellets or corn and of course fresh, clean water at all times.

They need hoof trimming once a year and shearing once or twice a year unless they are hair breeds such as Katahdins. Other than periodic worming there's really not much to keeping sheep.



Sheep are herd animals. A single sheep is not a happy animal. Two sheep are happier, but as far as the sheep is concerned, more is better. You do have to consider how much land you have for grazing. You can keep a few sheep on a small patch of land and still have the benefits of raising sheep and enriching the land. You want them to graze as much as possible to save on feed cost and to keep them healthy.

Every pasture is different and every part of the country has its own pastures. I would ask a local farmer or an extension service how many sheep they think you could keep on your pasture.

Sheep and Fences

Sheep have an advantage in that they don’t climb on things the way goats do. While lambs will play king of the hill, goats relish a challenge and more than one person has found them dancing on top of their car. Some sheep will jump fences that are too low, and will rub on them but they don’t tend to climb and stand on the fence the way goats do. They have to be trained to electric fencing, however. The fleece will protect them from the wire.


Sheep and Predators

Sheep are very vulnerable to predators. Coyotes and local dogs are the worst offenders. Good fencing is your best protection, but it’s no guarantee of total safety. The best protection is a barn, or fenced yard, with cattle panels or electric fencing for them to sleep in at night. Even during the day they might need extra protection such as guard dogs, llamas or donkeys.

Guard dogs can be a great deterrent for predators. LGDs (Livestock Guard Dogs) are large dogs, usually white, that blend in with the flock and bond to the sheep. They do not herd as border collies and other herding dogs do.

Llamas are another choice. They are quiet but can be quite aggressive to predators. Not all llamas have the disposition to be guard animals so you would have to talk to some breeders to find the right animal.

Alpacas are not noted for their protective instincts but I had one that would attack any dog, including mine while the llama would ignore them. They are a smaller animal and don’t have the weight advantage of the llama.

Donkeys also are used as guard animals, especially for smaller flocks. I have seen donkeys be quite protective of their sheep  One donkey works better than two since they will bond to each other rather than the sheep.

I do miss the lazy afternoons grazing my sheep on my front lawn with a Border collie handy to keep them from visiting my neighbor’s garden. I miss knowing that I’ll have another supply of fleece to spin and lambs to keep or sell. Maybe someday I’ll find a way to have a little farm again and have sheep to keep me company.


Updated: 09/18/2012, Ragtimelil
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Ragtimelil on 08/25/2012

Good for her! I do miss my flock, but someday....

katiem2 on 08/25/2012

I have a friend, who lives up by the lake, she takes in rescues. She has everything, lamas, chickens, you name it she's got it even a few sheep. People get the idea of having animals and then don't like the work it takes to keep them. She will be grateful to read this as she is a newbie when it comes to keeping sheep. :)K

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