When we purchased this property we knew we wanted to add on livestock in order to produce our own meat and dairy. I had always assumed we would end up with a dairy cow and raise it's calf each year for meat. However, after doing lots and lots of research I kept coming back to sheep.
In May of 2014, we moved in to our new house. Things were a bit crazy with moving and our plan wasn't to add on livestock until the next spring. But, in June, I saw a Craigslist post selling two Icelandic ewes only a few miles away. We normally aren't ones to rush into anything but we were so excited to finally have some land we couldn't resist. After talking to the owners we set up a time to visit. After checking them out we decided to pick them up in a couple of days after we had purchased fencing to contain them. My husband went to pick them up and ended up coming home with FIVE sheep. In case you are wondering, two ewes and three lambs will fit into the back of a Volvo station wagon.
That fall we added an Icelandic ram to our flock and this past June we added two dairy ewes as well. Having sheep has been quite the learning experience. YouTube and online forums have been tremendously helpful. We have learned how to shear, butcher, assist in the delivery of lambs, and now this spring I will be learning how to milk.
Here is why we decided to primarily raise sheep on our homestead.
Most homesteaders have the goal of being as self-sufficient as possible. We share that goal and since we are omnivores that meant raising our own meat and milk in addition to vegetables. Our property is only seven acres and we know that limits how many animals we can sustain. We need to use our land efficiently and our animals need to serve multiple purposes when possible.
Sheep are unique in that they can be triple purpose. One ewe can provide: milk, wool, and two lambs raised for meat, each year. No breed will excel at all three of these things but can still provide all three. Our Icelandic sheep produce great meat and wool but a smaller quantity of milk than dairy breeds. Our dairy ewes (we'll find out in a couple of months) should provide a large amount of milk and a good amount of meat but their wool while usable is not as desirable as some other breeds. We will probably always keep a mixed flock since they all have different strengths but it is nice that they can serve multiple purposes if necessary.
For the longest time I wanted a Jersey cow named Daisy. However, after standing next to my friend, April's Jersey, I reconsidered. Cows are BIG! I started wondering how I would handle such a large animal by myself. I know other people do it everyday and some cows are absolute sweethearts but it still made me nervous. Sheep on the other hand are very manageable. They are small enough that even if they don't want to be handled or caught you still can. Plus, no special trailer is needed to haul them since they can fit in the back of most SUVs or station wagons.
Many animals can be 100% grass-fed but lambs are unique in that since they can reach butcher weight in only six months we almost never have to feed them hay. This saves us a lot of time and money. By the time the lambs are ready to be weaned from their mother the pastures are generally in full swing and are lush with green grass. This also makes planning for winter much easier. We only need to harvest enough hay for our breeding ewes and we can get by with a smaller winter shelter.
Buying any kind of livestock is an investment. There is the cost of the animal plus the cost of all the supplies needed to properly care for the animal. We realized that cows are a lot more expensive than sheep. We also realized that having only one dairy cow and one steer would be putting all of our eggs in one basket. Should something happen to either one, it would cost a significant amount of money to buy a replacement. Sheep are a lot more affordable. They are smaller so you generally have more of them to cover your needs. That means if something happens to one of them, all is not lost.
Oh, and lambs!
Lambs are probably the most adorable thing ever!
So, there ya have it.
We may be biased since we don't have any first-hand experience with other livestock but sheep seem to be the perfect fit for our homestead.
What animals call your homestead home?
P.S. This post may be linked up with the following blog hops: Monday- The Art of Homemaking Mondays, Tuesday- The Homestead Blog Hop, Tuesdays with a Twist, Wednesday- The Homemaking Party, Homestead Blog Hop, Thursday- Our Simple Homestead Blog Hop, Friday- From the Farm Hop, Awesome Life Friday, Saturday- Simply Natural Saturdays.