I blame it on my friend Bryan when asked why on earth I decided to start a sheep project at the farm. As a once diehard cattle person, it is a little hard for me to believe, but I have all of this grass and nowhere near enough animals to eat it yet – and since this is hopefully the last farm I start from scratch, I want to try a bunch of stuff that I have never tried before. Years ago when I had a large herd of purebred Angus cattle, my friend Mark almost had me talked into running sheep with the cow herd, but then I was forced to move to California and sold out before giving it a try.
One aspect of sheep husbandry that totally turned me off was the need to shear them every year. Mark sometimes had trouble scheduling the roving sheep shearer and at least back then, the fleece was pretty much worthless, thanks to a global glut of wool. So in comes Bryan with a herd of lovely Katahdin hair sheep that require no shearing. Huh? Yes, that’s right. These cool looking grass munching machines are about as easy to keep as cattle – possibly easier once you have some experience with them. So my mind turned once again to building a small herd … or is that flock … of the bleating critters.
Having been overheard talking about sheep at the office at some point, coworker Lisa emailed me one day to note that her mom, Claire, had a breeding-quality brown ewe and a black ewe lamb she needed to sell to keep her numbers right. I say sure, I want those animals, having recently claimed one of Bryan’s proven rams. Well, those two females arrived on Saturday. I had only just completed their temporary quarter acre (and coyote proof) pen. Turns out that the black lamb still wants a bottle in the morning and Claire was kind enough to leave me with a quart of goat’s milk to mix with the Manna Pro milk replacer I bought. The last time I fed any little creature a bottle was more years ago than my daughters would like me to report in public, I suspect. But let me say that rather than find bottle feeding to be another pesky chore, I find that it is a very calming way to start the day.
I would like to add another couple of females to the group this year, but I need to stretch more wire around some of the pastures first. So far the coyotes and I have coexisted fairly peaceably, but if they go after the sheep, I will not be so tolerant. Stay tuned.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.