There are things that you have to have to call yourself a
shepherd: you, your sheep, some land and some fences. Everything else —
buildings, handling systems, farming equipment, and all the other odds and ends
you think you might need to raise sheep — can be done without.
That’s right, you don’t have to have a sheep shelter, you
can get by without any handling structures, and you don’t need a whole bunch of
fancy equipment. Don’t get me wrong, some facilities can make life easier for
you and the sheep, and others become absolute necessities if you choose an
intensive management approach like winter lambing. But if your heart’s set on
sheep, you can have them without having to spend a small fortune on fancy
So deciding what’s really necessary and important in your
operation is a matter of choice. The choices are based on your goals. When
deciding what you need, keep in mind the following questions:
What’s your style of farming? (Are you trying to make a
living as a commercial shepherd, or do you want to keep a dozen sheep for fun
and mowing services?)
How’s your financial health? (Do you have an outside job or
a big trust fund, or are you relying on your sheep to make a profit?)
How much time can you spend caring for your sheep? (Is your
outside job 10 hours per week or 50? Do you have other obligations that will
keep you away from the flock at certain times?)
On a sheep farm, barns generally meet two needs: storage for
feed and supplies, and a place for winter lambing. Therefore, whether you need
any buildings at all depends primarily on the time of year you’ll be lambing.
For small flocks that lamb in late spring or early summer on
pasture, no sheep shelter is necessary. Grain and minerals for a small flock
can be stored in large plastic or metal trash cans, which keep moisture and
pests (for example, bugs and rodents) out. Remember that if feed is stored in
cans, the lids must be fastened very securely. If the sheep gain unfettered
access to feed, overconsumption can be fatal; keep the cans securely lidded and
out of the sheep’s reach.
Hay for a small flock can be stored under a tarp. Some folks
who do pasture lambing use portable temporary structures or tepees.
For large flocks that lamb on pasture, a small sheep and
lambing shed comes in handy as a place to store feed and supplies and as a
place to take care of sick or hurt animals. This type of structure provides
flexibility for the shepherd. A design for a small lambing shed is available
from the USDA plan service; this design works well for small to medium-sized
flocks that will be lambing during inclement weather. Plan No. 5919 can be
ordered from your county extension agent or from the Superintendent of
Documents, Government Printing Office, Washington
Check out this plan from Iowa State University for a basic shed, which also
includes a lambing pen, hayrack, feedbunk and creep feeder.
Old farm buildings can often be remodeled to meet a
shepherd’s needs, and inexpensive, alternative types of buildings also are
gaining acceptance. For example, shepherds are beginning to use hoop houses
(which are like a greenhouse made with plastic sheeting) or straw-bale
structures instead of a conventional building. Whether you’re thinking of
constructing a new building or adapting an old one, be sure to evaluate all
your resources beforehand.
This article was adapted from Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep by Paula
Simmons and Carol Ekarius (Storey Publishing, 2009). To order, visit Grit’s Bookstore.