2023-03-01 11:50:13 By : Mr. YXH Packaging

Learn about the best essentials for raising sheep in your backyard: sheep fencing options, DIY hoop barn, feed, and water requirements.

Sheep are a great addition to many farmsteads. They can be a source of fiber, meat, and milk for your family, and they’re excellent mowers. Although you’ll have to weigh many factors when choosing the right breed for your needs, the same basics of safety and sustenance apply to all animals. Let’s include fencing and shelter in the safety category, and place food and water under sustenance.

Begin by loosely evaluating your current setup for existing fences, barns, and outbuildings; nontraditional areas that could be used as pasture; and streams and ponds. Then, consider how to use, modify, or add to those existing assets to

Fencing is essential for keeping livestock in and predators out. Your long-term goals and farm layout will determine if you should install permanent fences or use barriers that can be moved from one area to another. Start by taking accurate measurements. Then, research prices and add up the material and labor costs of the different types. Additionally, we added some overage to our calculations to have extra material available for repairs and maintenance. Getting a few quotes from a local farm fencing company could also be helpful.

Examples of permanent fencing include woven field fence, with openings between 3 and 8 inches high and 6 inches wide; sheep and goat fence, with 4-by- 4-inch openings; welded wire; and panels marketed as suitable for cattle, hogs, or sheep. You’ll need to drive T-posts and possibly wooden corner posts for these types of fences. Field fence works for adult animals, but lambs can walk through its openings and not even know they crossed a fence. If you have field fence already standing on your property, you can zip-tie welded wire or chicken wire onto the existing fencing to create a secure area for the babies. Be sure to keep a supply of zip ties on hand for when sheep rub on the fence and pop the ties off. When we first started installing new fences on our farmstead, our cost analysis showed that cattle panels in combination with welded wire would be cheaper and easier for us to install as needed, even though more labor would be involved than with field or sheep fence. Another important factor for us was the size and shape of our pastures. We have some oddly shaped areas that would’ve taken a lot of time to stretch sheep fence around, but that were quickly fenced in with a combo of cattle panels and welded wire. We stocked up on sheep fence when it became less expensive than cattle panels for a while, and then used it to divide existing pastures into smaller sections. As with field fence, cattle panels have large openings that small lambs can get through, which is why we added the welded wire. We could’ve used hog or sheep panels with smaller openings, but they fell outside our budget because of the number of panels we needed.

Temporary fences work well for many areas. You may have a yard, woods, or other location that doesn’t always need to be fenced, is too small to use as a dedicated pasture, or is an area you haven’t decided whether you want to keep fenced. Many folks use electric netting. We haven’t tried this product, mainly because we don’t have enough temporary pasture areas to make the investment worth the expense. Instead, we’ve created two types of temporary fences at home. The first type is a corral panel with cattle panel and welded wire attached. This combination is suitable as semi-permanent fencing because of its weight, but the panels aren’t difficult to set up, and I can move them with the tractor. Our other type of home-created fencing is sheep panels wired to EMT conduit pipe. It’s lightweight and easy to move around, but I only use them in limited places, because they aren’t rigid.

Fencing is an ongoing investment. I think I’ve spent more time repairing fences than installing them! I keep extras of everything on hand, and this practice has served me well when storms fell a branch or uproot a tree, animals rub an itch, or deer run into the fence.

A web search for “sheep shelter” will give you a lifetime of inspiration, from pallet shelters to metal buildings with all the bells and whistles.

Preexisting buildings are great, even if you need to modify them for sheep. Our main barn previously sheltered cattle, but it’s now where our two flocks spend their winters. We store hay in the upper level and push it through access points to the lower level. Although our barn modifications are still a work in progress, I’m relieved to not worry about moving hay to another location with lambing pens.

We have several different shelters in our summer pastures. One is a toy hauler trailer modified to use as a horse trailer by its previous owner. We gutted the interior, put down stall mats and a thick layer of straw, and then hauled it to the pasture. We can move it around when needed, because it’s wheeled. Another pasture shelter is a large plastic storage shed. We also built a hoop shelter with cattle panels and tarps attached to a wooden frame. This hoop shelter has held up well for several years, although we’ve replaced the tarps because of wind damage.

Despite the need for shelters, you may find that your sheep are rarely inside. My Shetlands only come indoors during the worst weather, but not all breeds are as accepting of inclement weather. If your property doesn’t include an existing barn, you can get started by providing a three-sided run-in shelter that faces away from the prevailing winds. Walk around your potential sheep pastures during bad weather to note which direction the wind blows and whether a tree line offers shelter from wind and rain, and then place your new shelters accordingly to provide maximum protection.

Where we live in Ohio, proper winter hay storage is a must for preventing spoilage. To keep hay clean and dry, we store our round bales in the barn. A friend stacks small square bales in a lean-to attached to her sheep barn. Other folks store plastic-wrapped bales outdoors. We also store pellets and minerals in the barn inside metal trash cans with tightfitting lids for protection from weather and vermin. Because the trash cans aren’t heat- and humidity-proof and the feed will mold, we minimize the risk by keeping only one bag on hand during summer.

Our sheep have free access to baking soda, kelp, and loose minerals (not mineral blocks or tubs). Keeping these covered prevents rain and snow from causing the minerals to cake. We bought plastic deck boxes and attached mineral feeders to the inside — easy to fill, and easy for the sheep to access! These deck-box mineral feeders are light enough to load onto a wagon or be carried by two people. One downside is their snap-together construction; the sheep can push the sides out, leading to warped plastic that makes it difficult for us to reassemble the boxes. I cut one side from an upcycled IBC tote to use in the same way. The tote is heavier than the deck boxes and needs to be moved by tractor, but the sheep haven’t been able to damage it, because it’s in one piece.

Something else to consider before you invest in animals is where you’ll purchase hay, grain, minerals, and pellets. Can you buy hay from local farms, and will you have to pick it up, or is delivery available? Are feed stores located nearby, and what do they keep on hand, and what must be ordered in advance? Our local feed store usually only has a few bags of loose sheep minerals and pellets in stock, so I have to plan ahead. I keep a close eye on my supply and call the store when only one bag is left.

Be aware of local laws regarding livestock in waterways, as there may be prohibitions against allowing your animals free access to streams. A creek runs through one of our pastures, but we don’t use it, because the banks can get quite muddy. We once had to pull several calves out of the mud, and we didn’t want to worry about sheep or lambs also getting stuck. So, for safety, we fenced the creek and now use buckets and hoses to move water where it’s needed.

After lugging innumerable 5-gallon buckets of water to fill 50-gallon troughs in all types of weather, we bought heavy duty farm and ranch hoses to use during the warm months, and heated water hoses for winter. They’ve all held up quite well. Float valves in the stock tanks prevent overfilling in winter, so we can do other chores while the tank fills. Tank heaters keep the water ice-free. The heated hoses were an investment, but I’m happy we bought the right tool for the job whenever I remember hauling those 5-gallon buckets across frozen ground.

We keep on hand hose-repair kits for the summer hoses, wheeled storage reels, and extra tank heaters. By adding channeled hose protectors over the hoses that cross driveways, I no longer have to drag hoses back and forth whenever troughs need filling.

Speaking from my own experience, be prepared to modify anything and everything. I know the frustration that comes from discovering you need to add more fences or rebuild shelters. But it’s a great feeling when you’ve found the best solutions for your farm and your climate. That means your sheep are living their best lives, well-fed and secure.

Keba Hitzeman grew up as a free-range child on the farm she now owns with her husband, where they raise grass-fed and grass-finished sheep and goats. You can find her online at Studio at Innis Free.

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