You may think of sheep as old fashioned and wonder do farmers even raise sheep anymore? And if they do, why?
Well, you may be surprised, there are many folks raising sheep these days and, since you asked, sheep are used in all manner of activities, some you’ve probably not thought of.
Sheep for farm and ranch income
Farms and ranches today can have sheep as a main source of income for their land. Raising sheep for an income is certainly not a surprise, but it is the place to start with why folks have sheep in today’s world.
Sheep are easier to handle than larger livestock, make good use of grazing areas and are fairly easy to house and fence.
This puts sheep as the grazer of choice for many people looking to get started raising more of their own food, getting more out of their land or just expanding their abilities with a pleasant addition to the farm.
Raising Sheep For Profit goes over the numbers of sheep farming to give you an idea of the things you should consider when raising sheep for profit and how to find the prices for your area.
Small farm sheep production
There has been a resurgence of interest in raising sheep by small farmers. Folks are seeing that sheep are doable for most any situation that has some extra grass.
We see little sheep pastures springing up all over the place, with enthusiasts deciding to do a bit less lawn mowing and get some returns from their land.
A good sized flock can definitely be a full time income and folks with just a few acres can have a small flock, sell lambs and make some income.
Granted, with a smaller sized flock, the income is probably not going to replace a job, but it is another source of income, so it’s more along the lines of a hobby that pays you back.
Vegetation management with sheep
Vegetation management is a challenge everywhere but especially for areas that are wildfire prone. How do you keep the vegetative growth under control while not using harsh methods? Sheep, of course!
Could sheep and goats help prevent wildfires? is an article in The Mendocino Voice about local sheep raisers using their flocks to help reduce the forages available for fueling fires without using chemicals.
The beauty here is that grazing fire prone areas can be worked out to benefit all, the grazing area improves, the sheep get more to eat and the community gets vegetation control.
Grazing sheep right builds soil
The management of a flock of sheep has the ability to heavily influence the forages growing on their grazing land.
Grazing off the plants then leaving them to regrow builds up the plants and the soil. It’s similar to cutting your lawn in that when the grass grows back it’s more filled in and looking nicer.
Sheep that are well managed can take an area that is losing vegetation and rebuild it, by eating off the current plant growth, fertilizing the area when there and moving on so the area can regrow.
If you are looking for examples of this type of work, look to Greg Judy, who has both cattle and sheep and regenerates worn out farm land using ruminants.
Need an example of improving the soil with sheep that is a bit closer to home? No worries, once you get looking, you’ll find lots of folks from all over the world to learn from.
Do Sheep Ruin Pastures? is an article I wrote to help non farm folks understand how sheep and other livestock can be used to help rebuild the land.
Sheep for wool production
While wool is not the powerhouse that it was in the past, some folks are still very interested in wool production from sheep, especially for textiles, handspinning and felting.
Commercial use of wool
First off, there are commercial uses for wool, with fine wool going to textile manufacturing.
I see a renewed interest in sports wear made with wool since wool is breathable and odor resistant. At first, it was mainly socks for hiking, but now there are many active wool wear garments.
Most wool raised in the country is not fine, but medium, which is selling for next to nothing. However, it can be used on farm for things like a support layer for gravel pathways or weed suppression.
There are a few folks who have come up with wool based products like matting for weed control, wool based insulation for houses and plant fertilizer pellets, all great ideas for this unused resource.
Until those or another wool based product catches on, unfortunately, most of the commercial wool clip has little to no value.
Why Do Sheep Need Shearing? is an article that I wrote which goes over why wool sheep need to be shorn in the first place.
Woolcrafting (using wool for hand made items)
Wool from sheep is used for all manner of crafts called woolcrafts, which are hand crafted items anywhere from felt and yarn to doll hair and curling Santa beards made with wool.
Knitting and crochet are the most commonly thought of wool based hobbies, but there are also other crafts that use wool like felting, spinning yarn by hand and weaving.
Tons of folks love to work with wool and are willing to pay for high quality and breed based ready to spin wool selections.
If you look up “where to buy wool for spinning” or use felting if you prefer, you’ll see a plethora of choices from ready to use wool to straight off the sheep fleeces.
I tend to get my spinning wool from The Woolery, when I do not have the homegrown fleece to suit my needs. Check them out, they have an easy to use site and a large selection of wools.
If you want a wider variety, put in a query on Etsy and see what comes up. Quite a few small farmers are raising and selling specialty wool from their sheep and quite frequently selling out ahead of time!
If you can, attend a wool festival. You’ll be surprised at how many people sell wool from their own sheep, or their friend’s flock, and what breeds you can get if you look into it.
The interesting part about using wool for crafting, like handspinning or felting, for example, is that all wool has something it works well for, so what one person wants will be different than the next person’s ideal wool.
This is why some folks love long wools and others love the fine wools, it’s all a matter of what folks want and what they plan to make.
My other site, Woolmaven.com, is all about using wool for handspinning, if you want to learn more. Start with What is the Easiest Wool To Spin? to get an idea of what folks are interested in spinning.
Sheep for tick management
In Scotland, sheep flocks are being used to manage tick populations in order to help increase the survival of grouse chicks.
This study suggests that frequently treating moorland sheep for ticks reduces the average number of ticks found on grouse chicks.Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust: Does treating sheep for ticks reduce red grouse tick burdens?
How you ask? Well, any tick that latches on to a sheep rather than a grouse can be killed by treating the sheep with an acaricide, a pesticide used against ticks and mites.
Interestingly enough, this study found that treating the sheep in areas with a significant number of deer (an alternative host for the tick) still reduced the tick burden on the chicks, increasing their survivability.
Even if you are not overly concerned about grouse, how do you enjoy hiking?
Guess what, those ticks are opportunists looking to latch on to anything that moves past, which includes you! Reducing the tick burden for grouse and the sheep, reduces it for you, as well.
Using sheep as lawnmowers
Sheep are used as lawnmowers. There are multiple businesses that get paid to have their sheep graze other people’s grass, like Lambmowers which is a sheep mowing business based in Virginia.
Many folks keep their own sheep for lawn mowing purposes but do not travel about, they just graze the immediate area.
Your sheep mowing your lawn
My daughter and son-in-law have a smaller flock of sheep that graze off their lawn at the house they recently purchased.
They moved to the house in late summer and the yard was not well kept by the previous owner. There are some brushier or uneven areas and wet spots, that are easily handled with the sheep.
Next year, the sheep will continue working back any returning brush or brambles and the grazed areas will come back with more grass, all the better for feeding the flock.
In my part of the country, showing sheep is one of many small farmer hobbies. Sheep can be raised just about anywhere and are fairly easy to work with, making sheep a hobby for both adults and kids.
The great news about showing sheep is that it allows you to be involved with sheep but still have the time for your job or school, since most folks with small farms are part timers.
The shows can be held as part of a county or state fair, a breed or multiple breed show or a large livestock event, for instance the North American Livestock Expo in Louisville, Kentucky.
Sheep as pets
Sheep are kept as pets, the Babydoll Southdown excels in this area, and is being raised by a few enthusiasts specifically to fill this pet sheep niche.
They seem to be calm and since they are one of the smaller breeds of sheep they are approachable and manageable for most anyone with interest in having more of a farm animal type pet.
Marquis Ranch has Babydoll Southdowns for sale to folks wanting pets, which is interesting since most sheep farms or ranches would have a few pet sheep, this ranch specializes in pets.
They also have a great information page on what other Babydoll Southdown owners are using these little sheep for like grazing vineyards and weed control trials for gardeners.
Sheep for meat
Sheep and lambs are used for meat, anywhere from roasters (50-60 pound lambs that are cooked whole) to fully grown market lambs sold by the cut.
Where I live, most folks do not eat much lamb, a missed opportunity since it is very small farm friendly and can be raised on grass most folks would cut rather than use.
How Much Is A Sheep Worth For Slaughter? is an article I wrote that goes into prices of meat sheep from a buyer’s perspective.
Sheep are easy to butcher
Sheep and market lambs are pretty easy to butcher at home.
The carcass will be handleable without too much equipment and you will not have trouble fitting the meat in your fridge, this is one of the highlights of working with smaller animals for your meat supply.
Lamb is just as easy to butcher as a deer, so if you are a deer hunter or know one, you can process your own lamb for meat at home if you choose.
Once you know the butchering basics, which a deer hunter would know, you are good to go.
All you really need is a way to hang the carcass and some basic knowledge on where to cut to break it up into primals. The cutting instructions can be found online or in nearly any butchering book.
Smaller carcass is easy to handle and keep
So often, we think of the whole world as living the way we do and having the food keeping abilities that we do, from refrigerators to freezers, or the grocery store choices, but that is not always the case.
Many places that have limited electricity or space need to work with an appropriately sized animal that suits their needs and abilities to keep the meat from spoiling.
You would need a fairly large freezer hold an entire side of beef or a hog, but even a modestly sized fridge can hold the meat from a market lamb.
For instance, when we butcher a lamb for our use, we put the meat in bags and age it in the fridge in a plastic milk crate on one of the shelves.
It’s not a perfect set up, hanging the carcass in a dedicated cooler would be better, but this way is easy and still leaves room for the other things we have in the fridge, too.
You can buy tanned sheep or lamb hides for your home. Many folks use these for seat covers, blankets and rugs.
The interesting part about sheep hides is that depending upon the type of wool the sheep had, you can have hides that are plush and wooly or with hides that look more like hair than wool.
You can also order naturally colored hides or ones that are dyed, some solid, some done creatively to mimic another animal’s coat.
I just saw a tanned sheep hide that was dyed a vivid green. The wool was well brushed out and it made a creative little rug or throw that looked like a small patch of lawn or moss, it was lovely.
Sheep for dog food
Along with kibble type dog food partially sourced from lamb, you’ll also get folks feeding raw food and treats to their pets, some of which are also from sheep.
All of the leftover bits that most people who eat lamb probably are not cooking are great for dogs! Heads, liver, trotters, tails etc. are edible but not always eaten by humans who like lamb for dinner.
This gives the pet food folks the opportunity to get high quality raw foods for their dogs and has the added bonus of using some parts of the sheep that would otherwise be uneaten.
Lamb Dog Food Benefits is an article from Purina explaining the lamb that is used in their dog foods and what that means as far as the nutritional benefits to your dog.
The less meaty parts of the sheep and lambs butchered for meat can be used for pet treats. Things like ears or esophagus are sold to pet owners looking to feed a more natural treat to their dogs.
I use liver and lungs to make training treats for my dogs. If you look up Liver dog treats online, you’ll get multiple recipes to choose from.
I just grind the liver and lungs in a food processor with some water as the meat part of the treats, add the flour and parmesan cheese then bake and cut.
They work great and my dogs really love them, even more so than kibble type treats. The double bonus here is that the training treats are preservative and other junk free and cheaper than treats at the store.
To be clear, sheep or lamb liver and lungs are both edible and we know quite a few folks who eat them but we do not care for either, so I tend to use them both for dog treats instead.
Sheep products for garden fertilizer
Any unused resource with that has the potential to feed plants also has the potential to be used as fertilizer, if we can figure out how to make it work.
In a few areas, like slaughterhouse waste and unused wool, we are getting plant available nutrients back out to the folks who want a non chemical fertilizer for their gardens.
Leftovers from slaughtering sheep and other livestock is made into commonly available, natural, non chemical fertilizers for gardeners, not so surprisingly, it’s called blood and bone meal.
Wool pellets as fertilizer
There is also at least one farm using their wool as a pelleted plant fertilizer, with the idea being that the wool will hold in moisture and provide a slow release fertilizer for the plants.
Shelburne Farms of Vermont did a trial of growing broccoli with their normal fertilizer in one bed compared to a bed fertilized with wool pellets and got the same results from each bed.
The summary of their wool pellet experiment is available at Experimenting with Wool as a Nitrogen Source for Farming with has an attached video if you want to learn more.