My Shetland ram, Marcus
My first experience with sheep was raising Corriedales for 4-H. I enjoyed 4-H immensely, even though I had the only sheep projects in my club and one of the few (I may have been the only one) with Corriedales at the county fair. Being in junior high and high school, I’m pretty sure I didn’t internalize as much sheep-rearing information as I probably should have, but when I decided to get a few sheep for the farm, I discovered that just about everything I remembered regarding Corriedales was woefully outdated. Yes, they were still a natural white/cream-colored sheep and reasonably friendly. But beyond that, I learned after I brought four of them home that they were no longer the right sheep for what I wanted to do. That had a lot to do with my nostalgia, and nothing to do with the breeder of those sheep.
To my dismay, the breed had been “improved” in the intervening years, was now taller and heavier, had absolutely no personality at all, and did not do well on pasture. Again, the breeder was not to blame for this, and I was so stuck on getting Corriedales (based on my remembrance of them) that I wasn’t seeing the current sheep clearly. Once the sheep were on my farm, I realized that this was not going to work, and set about looking for another breed that would be of a manageable size, do well on pasture/hay without needing much (or ideally, no) grain, and had interesting personalities.
And that’s when Shetlands came to the top of the list. I had considered them before getting the Corriedales, but again, I really wanted the Corries to be what I remembered. When they weren’t, I found that the Shetlands should have been my first choice all along. Everything I read and the several breeders I messaged with all agreed – as heritage sheep that have not been “mucked with” genetically, Shetlands are thrifty, good on just grass and hay (although grain is a good bribery tool!), only grow to about 28” at the withers, and have personality. So I talked with a breeder in the next county and made the arrangements to pick up three ewes and an unrelated ram. In short order, I discovered just how well these pint-sized beasties would fit our plans for the farm. They are friendly, a perfect size for me to work with solo (shearing, hoof trimming, any needed shots/meds), eat just about everything (including honeysuckle – yay!), are easy to train (when they want to be trained...haha!), come in a variety of natural colors, and are just plain interesting to be around.
Some of the 2020 lambs mowing the grass for me!
All of the above also applies to the Kinder goats we now have. Before we got any of the sheep, we had some full-size Nubians and Boers – all does, as we didn’t want to breed. They did a great job of clearing out overgrown areas, and made my job of trimming trees and removing deadwood a lot easier. The full-size goats we had were all very friendly, but several of them were used to a grain ration and had a hard time transitioning to a grass-based diet. As they aged and we thought about replacing them, it became harder to find goats that weren’t bred for the show ring or breeding/meat production, so this got me looking to find a goat that would “match” the Shetlands. Enter the Kinders.
According to the website for the breed association, the first Kinders (pronounced like “kindergarten”) were born in Washington state in 1983 when Nubian does had been bred to a Pygmy buck. They are excellent milkers, and can also be used for meat. The maximum accepted height at the withers for bucks is 28” and 20-26” for does. This matches perfectly with the Shetlands - I had discovered that our remaining full-size goats had started bullying the smaller Shetlands, which was certainly not acceptable.
Three of the Kinder goats. Back to front - Stuck (so named because she kept getting stuck in fences when she was smaller!), Spock (the buck), Joey
I worked with two Kinder breeders to get a buck and an adult doe, who came with her four (yes, four!!) kids, for a total of one buck, four does, and one wether. Like the Shetland sheep, the Kinders are easy for me to work with, are doing great on pasture, and all have their own unique personalities. I can safely say that none of my animals are dull and boring, although some days, boring would be a nice change!
If you are considering adding sheep or goats to your farm or homestead, check out Shetlands and Kinders. I was able to get stock from registered breeders that are all three hours or less from me, from people who are not just selling an animal, but were genuinely interested in me and what my goals were with the animals. Good breeders won’t just take your money and toss an animal in your trailer, but try their best to help you after the sale as well.
Visit breed association websites and Facebook pages, make contact with several breeders to find your options, read about the experiences other people have had with the breed you are interested in getting, and have a clear idea of the goals you have for these animals. I found out the hard way that the sheep I originally bought were not going to work with the goals I have, but I was able to get sheep and goats that did align with those goals. And that has made everything less stressful and more productive.
What livestock have you added to your farm/homestead? Have you had an “oh no, these aren’t the right animals for me” moment?