We have all seen flocks of sheep out grazing on the hillside or in the pasture by the creek, a pretty picture for sure. The catch is that not everyone who wants sheep has the ability to put those sheep on pasture.
What can these pastureless folks do? Give up on the dream of raising sheep or can you manage the flock a bit differently and raise sheep without a pasture?
Sheep can be raised without a pasture
Sheep can be raised with little or no pasture. If you have an open and airy barn or shed for the flock with plenty of space per ewe and are willing to feed the flock well, they can be kept inside.
Generally, folks who raise sheep without a pasture have found that they can better manage the sheep inside rather than letting them out to inadequate pasture or dealing with parasite problems.
Keep sheep on very limited land
One of the main reasons to raise sheep without access to pasture is to raise sheep in a situation where you need more sheep in your flock than your land can produce the feed for.
If you put them in a barn, then the feed can be brought to your sheep and you can achieve the flock size you need to make your operation work.
To be clear, it will probably be more expensive to raise sheep without pasture, but if the options for you are no sheep or sheep inside, maybe sheep inside will work. You’ll just have to pencil it out and see.
If you have a small amount of land, consider reading my articles Small Acreage or Backyard Sheep and Can Sheep Mow My Lawn?, which go over some grazing options for folks with limited land for their flock.
Advantages of keeping sheep without a pasture
There are a few big advantages of keeping sheep inside (without a pasture), mainly:
- little to no parasite exposure
- no predation
- reduced weather related stress
- control over feed supply
Minimal parasite exposure for sheep in barn
Sheep in a barn are going to have minimal parasite problems, simply because most parasites are picked up by sheep eating close grass that is to manure.
The larvae hatch and climb up the regrowing grass, then they are eaten, which is how the sheep get more and more worms throughout the grazing season if allowed to regraze grass.
Since sheep in the barn eat out of feeders, this keeps the larvae in the manure from being able to get to where the sheep are eating.
This is the main reason that I have heard from anyone who has switched from outside to inside sheep, the parasites were terrible on pasture, but now are easily managed.
No predation in barn
There is no predation, or at least there should not be, in the barn. Smaller varmints can get in, of course, but nothing that would be likely to harm a lamb.
Having sheep inside to prevent predation is not common to all sheep producers, but in the places where predation is common putting the sheep inside may be the few ways to keep your flock safe.
Reduced weather related stress
A barn can reduce weather stress on the sheep. Notice I said reduce, not eliminate. When it’s cold outside, it is also cold in the barn, but it will be more hospitable inside the barn as a general rule.
This means that lambs born in the rain, for example, will be more likely to survive if they are in the barn rather than those born outside in the rain.
The same goes for wind, sheep inside a barn do not take the brunt of the wind, so they do not have to eat extra feed to make up for the calories spent making extra heat.
Control over feed supply and intake
Sheep inside have a much more regimented feed supply.
The good news here is that you can control what they are eating. The potentially not so good news is that you are responsible for providing that food every day, all year.
Disadvantages of keeping sheep without a pasture
There are a few big disadvantages of keeping sheep without a pasture:
- you must cart in and distribute all feed to all sheep everyday
- ventilation, both for fresh air and to keep stock cooler in the heat
- paying for all feed inputs
- handling manure
- keeping flock size in line with barn space
Sheep need space
Sheep seem to need more space per head that most other livestock that are kept inside. Cramming sheep into a small area is asking for problems, they must have an open, airy space to keep and stay healthy.
How Much Space Do Sheep Need? is my article that goes over the space requirements for sheep kept in different situations, based on the life stage of the sheep.
|Ewe with lambs
Sheep need good ventilation
A key to keeping sheep healthy is ventilation, mainly to remove excess heat in the summer and to keep any fumes from the manure from causing health problems in the sheep.
Increasing the bedding and increasing the air movement should decrease the smell, but this will be a constant issue for sheep kept indoors.
Sheep need high quality hay
Sheep that are inside need to have high quality hay, especially sheep that are growing or nursing. Since the flock is inside, we have to provide all feedstuffs.
I think we tend to forget how much good is coming from a spring pasture so tend to underestimate the quality of hay needed to keep inside sheep growing or milking well.
Plus, just because you know your sheep need the hay, doesn’t mean that you can get it in your area. This is another pinch point for inside sheep raisers, the hay has to keep rolling in.
What’s your plan for the manure?
Another aspect of keeping sheep inside is the manure. What is your plan for dealing with it?
For a while, you can just keep adding bedding and increase the manure pack inside the barn, as long as the sheep are clean and the barn does not smell, but eventually you’ll have to clean it out.
Where does all that manure go now? The manure pack is not a problem, since there is quite a bit of fertilizer value, it’s just another thing you should plan on figuring out.
On the plus side, many folks are looking for natural sources of fertilizer, from fellow farmers to local gardeners, so asking around should get you some takers, if you can’t use it yourself.
Some large sheep farms are going to inside only
There is a push to put sheep in more of an intensive raising environment (meaning have the sheep inside or on a dry lot all or most of the year) which puts more sheep on one farm under one manager.
I would call this confinement farming of sheep and it has previously not been done too much, with the not so great sheep prices it didn’t make much sense.
But with higher prices for lambs, now it’s possible the numbers can work for you and your situation.
Zero Grazing: What is it and will it work for you? is my article that looks at bringing all of the feed to your livestock. This was written with cattle in mind, but the idea would be exactly the same for sheep.
Sheep 201: Housing the table under Space requirements has square footage needed for different types of housing for different groups of sheep. (I left of the numbers for slatted floors.)