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7 Reasons Why Lambs Are Rejected Or Orphaned


bottle lambs

While lambing is always an exciting time for any sheep owner, sometimes things do not go as planned and you end up with a rejected or orphaned lamb.

What happened that made the ewe not take care of her lamb?

Is Keeping Sheep Easy? gives you a look at the life and daily responsibilities of raising sheep for a living on a small farm.

Ewe rejects one or more lambs

Sometimes a ewe will choose to take care of one of her lambs but not the other, even though both lambs are hers biologically and she is capable of taking care of them both.

The main problem here is that she is choosing to leave the lamb, that is different from her being confused in a birth situation, as listed below.

The ewe can reject lambs for a health problem, for instance in the case of a lamb that will die in a day or two and she can tell something is wrong now, or she just prefers one for no real reason at all.

Occasionally, if one lamb needed to be taken away from the mom, for instance to warm it up under a heat lamp and then put it back with her in a few hours, she won’t take it back once it’s warm.

Normally, this is not the case, a ewe can tell by the smell that the lamb is hers, even if it has been away warming up for a few hours, but some ewes will not accept it back once it leaves.

Pros And Cons Of Raising Sheep gives you a look into the good and the not so good of raising sheep on your farm.

Lamb can’t keep up in pasture situation

Another reason for lambs being rejected is that the lamb can not keep up with the mom and the twin on pasture.

This is not so much a case of her rejecting the lamb as she just keeps on trucking and ends up leaving the lamb behind. A slow lamb will need to be a bottle lamb or it will die without feeding.

Great ewes will go slow and keep her lambs with her, oblivious ewes will take off hoping the lambs will follow. Sometimes they can, sometimes they can’t.

Mismothering of lambs

Mismothering of lambs is another source of confusion and problems for new lambs.

Mismothering means that the biological mom is matched up with a non biological lamb, we’ll go over the ways this mismatch can happen.

This is not rejecting lambs at the outset, that happens later. Either way, you end up with momless lambs to take care of.

Scent identification confusion with multiple ewes

Scent confusion seems to show up in one of two ways, multiple ewes giving birth in a small area all at the same time or a lamb wandering into a birth situation.

When multiple ewes are lambing at one time in close proximity to one another, their is an increasing chance for all of the lambs to smell similar and confuse the ewes.

Sometimes this confusion will sort itself out and each ewe will decide on which lambs she is taking and everything is fine, even if they decide to take lambs that are not biologically their own.

This is not a big deal, unless you are keeping strict birth records or registering your sheep, then you have a mess! If you just want moms taking care of lambs, no big deal.

The catch here is that if one of the ewes decides to take another ewe’s lamb but the other ewe wants her lamb, only, now there is a problem. One set of lambs has too many moms and the other set has none.

This is where you need to help them straighten it all out or watch carefully and take in any lambs that get left behind.

ewes with young lambs on pasture
Here are some of our ewes and their lambs hanging out in the shade of a multiflora rose bush.

Scent confusion when older lamb is at birth of biological lamb

Sometimes a lamb will end up wandering around looking for a mom and get mixed up with a ewe giving birth, this causes the lamb to smell like the newborn, which can confuse the older lamb’s mom.

Some ewes can figure this out and smell their lamb underneath the birth smells, other ewes can not and will reject the lamb because with the birth fluids on her lamb it does not smell like her lamb, anymore!

Pregnant ewe steals a lamb

Occasionally a ewe that has yet to have her lambs, so she is still pregnant, will be convinced that one of the other ewe’s lambs is hers and she’ll steal it away from it’s real mom.

This situation ends up a mess and here’s why: as soon as the stealer has her babies, she’ll get rid of the other lamb, which will smell different than her biological lambs, leaving the stolen lamb without a mom.

This lamb has been rejected by the stealer and will starve unless it is bottle fed.

Ewe is lacking maternal instinct

A ewe can reject her own lambs because the ewe lacks maternal instincts.

In this case, at least in our experience, the ewe is usually the more nervous type and abandons the lambs when the rest of the flock moves away or the shepherd comes to help.

It’s not so much that she does not like the lambs, it is more that she is not adamant about staying with them, like a good ewe with strong maternal instincts would be.

Whenever we have to move newborn lambs, for instance to take them closer to the barn for the night to keep them safe from predation, there is a risk of a flighty ewe not taking them back.

This is a poor mom that is lacking maternal instincts. Any ewe that flips out and permanently leaves her lamb is a cull.

No ewe wants you to grab her lambs, but a good mom would be right there hurrying close behind the carried lambs, calling to them and coming right up to take care of them as soon as the lambs are put down.

What I’m trying to point out here is that it’s not the moving of the lambs that is the problem, it’s the instincts of the ewe being off the mark that causes her to stress out and reject her lambs.

Of course, ideally we never have to mess with any of the lambs, but this is real life so things come up that must be dealt with which occasionally means upsetting a ewe to keep the lamb out of danger.

Keeping Sheep Safe From Predation gives you some ideas on how to protect your flock.

bottle lambs looking to be fed
This is one group of our bottle lambs that we are feeding. Some were unable to keep up with mom, others were in a set of triplets. In the case of triplets, we take the smallest or slowest one and leave the ewe with twins, (after all of the lambs have colustrum).

Ewe unable to handle multiple lambs, lacking milk

In a multiple birth situation, some ewes do not have them milking ability to support all the lambs that they gave birth to.

This could be a ewe with enough milk for twins, but you have to take the third or a ewe that can only support one of her two lambs.

This is another case of not exactly rejection, but a lamb that needs bottle fed because of lack of milk volume.

If the ewe cares for both lambs equally, you can try to bottle feed one or both in hopes that her milk supply will increase enough to support both lambs.

You’ll know this is the case when the bottle baby does not come for the bottle anymore!

It’s a bit of a different case with triplets.

We take the smallest or weakest triplet as a bottle baby and leave the ewe with twins. Not too many ewes can handle triplets, especially in pasture conditions.

It seems that one of the triplets ends up falling behind more often than not, so we take one from the get go and leave the ewe to raise twins.

Ewe has no milk

Occasionally a ewe will lamb but not come into milk.

This is unusual and an urgent problem for both you and the lamb. If the baby is born early, she may come into milk in a day or so, but more than likely that she is out for the season and you have a bottle baby.

If you are able, you can bottle feed the lamb multiple times per day and keep it with the ewe, just so it has a mom to hang out with.

If you have other bottle lambs, it’s probably easier to add this one to the group and sell the ewe.

Ewe is sick or died

If a ewe is unable to take care of a lamb, that lamb is now an orphan.

While this is not very common, it is possible for a ewe to die in birth or even while the lamb is still nursing which would be due to something more common, like bloat.

Saving And Fostering Lambs is a PDF from Lincoln University by Helen A. Swartz that goes over multiple ways to help prevent lamb rejection and what to do when it happens.

This is an older publication, 1981, but don’t let that throw you! It’s easy to understand and covers quite a few of the things you’ll need to know when your flock is lambing, definitely worth reading!

Are Lambs Only Born In The Spring?


lamb sitting in the shade of daffodils

Spring time means green grass, birds chirping and lambs jumping and running in the fields. While those lambs are super cute, why do you only see them in the spring?

Can lambs be born at other times of the year or are all lambs born in the spring only?

Most lambs are born in the spring, since most sheep are capable of being seasonal breeders only. Some breeds of sheep, like Dorset or Polypay are non seasonal breeders and can potentially have lambs any time of year.

8 Beginner Friendly Breeds Of Sheep gives you a few easy to work with sheep breeds that would be great candidates for your first flock!

Most lambs are born in the spring

Most lambs are born in the spring.

This is due to three reasons:

  1. seasonality of the breeding cycle
  2. weather at lambing for sheep born outside
  3. grass growth in spring and early summer

Seasonality of the sheep breeding cycle

Many sheep are seasonal breeders, which means they can only have lambs in the late winter and spring of the year.

Many of the more popular breeds of sheep, like Suffolk, will be seasonal breeders and have lambs only in the spring of the year.

In the U.S. this common lambing window is from February through May, with some sheep lambing as early as January, inside barns, of course!

The most popular time for lambing is March, which takes advantage of the higher fertility of sheep in October, but also requires indoor lambing in most of the country.

Outdoor lambing, called pasture lambing, is normally done in May in my area, Ohio, and April in areas that are a bit milder than here.

Lambs can be born anytime of year

There are a few breeds of sheep, Dorset and Polypay for example, that are able to have lambs nearly anytime of the year.

Some folks with these breeds of sheep choose to lamb in the spring anyway, we do, but if they chose, some of these ewes will also breed out of season to expand the lambing options.

If you are interested in more of the business side of sheep, consider reading Sheep For Profit, which shows you how to figure up your costs as well as your income for your area.

lambs looking at salt block
Lambs investigating the salt block.

Why spring lambing is popular

Spring lambing is so popular for a few reasons, the natural breeding cycle of the sheep themselves and the availability of forages in the late spring to feed the ewe and her lambs.

Spring lambing is popular because:

  • most breeds of sheep are seasonal breeders
  • grass is ideal feed for milking moms and fast growing lambs
  • matches highest production season of the land to feeding needs of the flock
  • nice weather for newborn lambs

In the spring a farm or ranch goes from needing to provide feed for the sheep, usually in the form of hay, to having all kinds of grass growing for the sheep.

While gestation is not a high energy needs time for a ewe, milking for growing babies sure is! A ewe with a nice set of twins needs good grass to eat so that she can provide the milk her lambs need.

Lambs will also start nibbling on grass when they are a few days old and will be eating a significant part of their diet as grass by the time they are two months old. Having the flock on pasture makes this easy.

Generally, grass is an economical, high quality feed for the flock

From a business perspective, when raising any animal the highest reoccurring cost you’ll have for them is feeding them.

In most situations, grass is an economical and high quality feed source for the flock when compared to purchased forages, like hay.

Anytime sheep owners can feed their flock on grass versus something like hay, which is an additional cash cost, they save money.

The best part is that sheep perform well on grass and love to eat it, a double win!

Fall lambs are the next most popular

For any of the sheep that can have an extended breeding season, fall lambs are another popular option.

Lambs born in the fall will still get the benefit of nicer weather for the newborns and being able to eat grass with their mom.

An additional advantage to fall lambs is that these lambs are outside of the normal lambing season, so when it is time to sell them, they usually bring more money, simply due to supply and demand.

Pros And Cons Of Sheep gives you a overview of the good and the not so good that comes with raising a flock of sheep.

Out of season sheep can lamb about every 8-9 months

While most ewes can have lambs one time per year, that interval is every 8-9 months for the year round breeders.

If the sheep you are working with are out of season breeders, you can have lambs more than one time per year, every other year. How? This has to do with the every 8-9 months part.

Here’s an ideal situation example:

If the lambs are born in March and weaned in June, well managed out of season breeding capable sheep should be able to be bred back within the next 30 days or so.

This means that the ewes will be bred by July, which will make the lambs due in December. That’s two lambings in this calendar year.

The December lambs will be weaned in February and the ewes bred back in March, which makes the next set of lambs due in August.

These lambs will be weaned in October, which puts the ewes back on track to lamb in March the next year.

As you look through this example, you can see that the lambs are sometimes born in the spring and sometimes not, it depends upon which part of the two year cycle they are in.

Please note that this is an ideal situation that requires top notch management and sheep that can breed on this schedule, once again, not all breeds are capable of it, in fact, most sheep are not.

It is also important to realize that planning this lambing schedule and actually making it happen are two separate things! This is a high demand schedule for both the owner and the flock.

Keeping up this level of production mandates nutrition programs that are on point and care and management skills to keep both the ewes and the lambs healthy and vigorous.

For more details about out of season lambing, consider reading about the STAR system. This is an out of season lambing system put together by Brian Magee and Doug Hogue of Cornell.

Are Sheep Expensive To Raise?


Tunis sheep at sale

If you are thinking about getting into raising sheep, you’ll want to know a few of the economics around keeping sheep, mainly if they are expensive to raise.

Sheep are expensive to raise if your feed costs or predation are high or your management is poor. Sheep are not expensive to raise if you have plenty of grass or other economical sources of feed, like hay, and spend time daily observing the flock so you can catch problems early.

Raising Sheep For Profit goes over the numbers you’ll want to know when getting into sheep farming. I’ll also give you some ideas on how to find the costs and prices specific to your area.

Sheep are not expensive to raise

Sheep are not expensive to raise, at least they shouldn’t be!

Of course, the more feed or anything else that you buy for them, the more raising them will cost, but if you keep costs minimal sheep are very economical to raise.

If you plan to buy a lot of bagged feed, especially the brand name 50 pound bags, you’ll significantly increase the cost to keep your sheep.

If you plan to use land that you already have or have access to and feed the sheep off of the grass there, then you’ll have low to no additional cost to feed the sheep, aside from rent or taxes.

Cost to purchase the flock

One of the bigger costs you’ll have with your sheep is the cost to purchase the sheep themselves. The closer the sheep are to bringing in money for their owner, the more they will cost you to buy.

For instance, a ewe that is due to lamb in a month will cost significantly more than a ewe that is not yet bred, the same is true for ewe lambs.

You could start with bred ewes or open ewes (not bred) which should have lambs in the spring. Ewes should be able to have a lamb or two every year.

Since ewes are productive now, they will cost you more to buy. I would expect a ewe to cost around 2x the cost of a market lamb in your area. Around here that is $500-600 for a prime of life ewe.

You could also buy ewe lambs, which were born this year so they will have their own lambs next spring.

Some ewe lambs can have their first babies at one year of age, others need more time to grow and will do better with lambing at 2.

A well grown ewe lamb should cost you more than a market lamb for your area.

I would put the cost of a replacement ewe lamb (ewe lamb kept for breeding stock) to be more than a market lamb but less than a prime of life ewe, mostly because she is unproven as a mom.

Buying A Flock Of Sheep: Where to look and what you’ll pay shows you how to start your search for sheep that will work for you and your area and some idea of prices you can expect to pay.

Cost to raise sheep

Sheep can be very low to almost no cost to raise, if you have land that has plenty of grass for them and a way to keep them safe from predation and keep the parasites under control.

Sheep need to eat 3-3.5% of their body weight in hay per day.

This means that a 150 pound ewe will eat 4.5-5.25 pounds of hay per day of maintenance (not milking), so 10 ewes will eat about a 50 pound bale per day.

To find the cost of your hay per bale, take the cost of the hay per ton divided by 50.

For example: If your hay costs $250 per ton and the bales are 50 pounds each, the cost per bale is $6.25. Each ewe costs $0.625 per day to feed.

If you are feeding them grass, they will work this out for themselves. Your job is to keep them well supplied with water and a salt block, when the flock is on grass.

Don’t forget about your lawn! Our sheep graze off our lawn and grass around the buildings as part of the summer pasture rotation. Why mow those places when the sheep will do it for you?

If you are planning lambs that are not eating grass, consider creep feeding them.

Creep feeding is giving the lambs access to a special feeding area with lamb friendly feed or hay that the ewes can not get to, read Creep Feeding Sheep for the details.

You’ll also have smaller costs like deworming, any shots that you give, salt blocks, etc.

sheep grazing behind electric netting
This is our main flock in 2021 pre shearing. It’s too early for much grass growth yet! We move the sheep with electric netting paddocks, that you can easily see in this picture.

Sheep eat grass, do you have plenty?

While that sounds like an obvious statement, think about the forage that will be growing where you plan to put your sheep. Feed is the largest ongoing expense for any livestock owner, sheep included.

Is it grass or weeds or briars? If it’s lush grass, the sheep should do well there. If it’s brown and overgrown grass, you’re a bit late. Mow that and graze the sheep on the regrowth.

If it’s weeds, that’s a maybe, it depends upon the weeds. Some weeds sheep love to eat, others, not so much.

If it’s briars, the sheep may or may not eat it, this is really more of a goat type situation.

If you plan to have your sheep in with brushy or briar type foraging, give them a section of grass as well or give them so hay and let them choose what they eat for the day.

Sheep need some sort of shelter

Sheep need some sort of shelter from the weather. This could be woods or a substantial tree line, to block the wind or a three sided shed that they can go into any time they want.

If the sheep have a building, know that in the heat they will pack in there and actually be hotter inside, if your shed is small.

If the building is big, it may be cooler inside if all the sheep have plenty of room once everyone gets in there, it depends on the building. Either have plenty of shade for all or none.

Predation is costly

Predation of sheep is costly! A predator can wipe out a large portion of your flock overnight, leaving you scrambling for an answer to keep the rest of the ewes safe.

Predation is area specific. Do a bit of research and find out what predation concerns you have in your area, it could be wildlife or domestic, like unattended dogs.

Around here we have coyotes and fox as our main predators and the electric netting does a pretty good job of keeping them out. We also check the sheep a few times a day and frequently move the paddock.

Occasionally, small farmers email me about their predation problems. From these emails and our experience, it seems that attempted predation is to be expected for most flocks.

One gentleman emailed me that he had a predator attack in which half the flock was wiped out overnight! He has prevented additional predation problems by getting a donkey.

Other folks feel multiple livestock guardian dogs are crucial, Texas A&M is a big supporter of LGD’s, while other sheep owner have to pen up the sheep overnight or lose some to predators.

Sheep need some of your time

Sheep need some of your time each day. The biggest challenge with sheep is to keep the problems small by catching them early, this requires you knowing your sheep and intervening early.

While there are a few flocks of very low maintenance sheep, this is not the case for most.

Plan to spend time with the sheep each day so you know what they normally do during the day and how they act. Once you know this, now you can tell when something is off and look into the situation.

Generally speaking, a sheep that is laying down and chewing her cud is a happy sheep. If you are not seeing the ewes spend at least half the day chewing her cud, change something in your management.

Is Keeping Sheep Easy? gives you some things to think about from a full time shepherd.

Where is your market?

As your flock grows, you’ll need an outlet for the lambs you are raising or the ewes that you no longer need.

While this is not a cost to raise sheep, it is a cost: the cost of getting the sheep to market. This could be your butcher, an auction, your customers, etc.

If you plan to raise sheep for your freezer, no big deal, especially if you are planning to do the butchering yourself.

If you plan to sell the sheep, where will this be? When will they sell? How will you get them there?

How Much Will My Lambs Sell For? gives you some ideas on how to find lamb sales and prices in your area.

Everyone, let me repeat: everyone, who raises sheep should have a plan for selling the lambs you raise and you should have a good idea before you start what those prices are.

Raising sheep and not having a plan to get them sold at a nice profit is likely to make your sheep very expensive to raise!

Unless you are keeping sheep for pets, where you’ll sell your extras is just as important of a part of raising sheep as feeding and caring for them.

Sheep 201 has a sheep enterprise budget with an extensive list of costs that will give you a good start on figuring up the budget for your flock.

What Can You Make Out Of Sheep Wool?


raw wool fleece, white

I’m sure, like most everyone else, the first thing you think of when you hear uses for wool is some sort of wool craft like handspinning or felting. That’s certainly the first thing I think of!

However, there are many other uses for wool, both common and up and coming.

Sheep wool can be made into household goods, clothing, art, insulation, etc., in addition to more recently considered ideas like water reservoirs for plants and weed blocking layers for paths and driveways.

Things you can make from sheep wool

There are still, even in today’s world, plenty of folks who use wool as one of the main fibers in their crafting.

Plenty of small farmers are adding a bit of income to their sheep enterprise by selling the fleeces or ready to spin wool preparations, like roving or combed top, from their flock.

With a huge variety of sheep breeds, it’s no surprise that there is also a huge variety of wools, some of which are highly sought after, others are not.

Breeds Of Sheep Best For Wool goes over some of the characteristics of sheep breeds that have wool that is currently more valuable than most commercial grade wool.

Places To Sell Your Wool gives you some ideas of places that may buy your wool. Word to the wise, unless prices drastically change, commercial wool price is low, very low.

Uses for wool in hand made items

The classic use of wool is to make it into all manner of hand made items, like clothing, furniture stuffing, felting, rugs, bags, hats, mittens, gloves, scarves, and so on.

Wool is also being used in the craft world as a medium for art, like sculpture made of wool, for example felted wool animals, and wool paintings, which are landscape style paintings made of needle felted wool.

Ready to use fiber, like roving or combed top, for handspinners, felters and weavers is a fairly big market with wool crafters wanting to use wool and other spinnable fibers, like angora, for their projects.

An especially interesting twist to breed specific wools is that there is a renewed interest in wools from rare or unusual breed wools, even from breeds that you would not think of as having nice wool.

Wool crafters want to explore the world of wool and are seeking out a wide variety of wools to use in their new projects.

balls of yarn
Here are some of the yarns that I have been spinning lately. There is a variety pack of wools used here, like most handspinners, I like to use new to me wools to see what I can do with them. I also use wool from our sheep, but none of this wool in this picture is sourced from our flock.

Up and coming (less common for now) uses for wool

Now, we move onto the less common uses for wool that folks are considering using, mostly due to the not so great prices in the commercial wool market.

If wool prices stay low, making things out of wool will look like more of a good opportunity. If prices rebound, not so much.

Since wool prices have been not so great for a while now, I see these alternative uses as being increasingly viable, especially for any wool use that takes the place of a petroleum based product.

Wool substrate to block weeds

Wool is currently being used as a base layer to block weed growth under paths and driveways.

Actually, our wool clip for this year will be going to a company that wants to test it out as a substrate for putting under driveways, both as a weed blocker and a base for the gravel.

With the extremely low price of wool, this is one of the many creative opportunities that are being explored with wool.

Alternative Uses For Sheep Fleece is an article that Darach Social Croft has showing the things they are currently doing with sheep fleeces, including using dirty or tangled wool under gravel pathways.

Wool insulation

Wool insulation for houses and other buildings is available on the market now. It has not been used much, due to costing more than fiberglass insulation, but that could easily change with supply issues.

Interestingly enough, any fiber processor that goes from raw fleeces to clean fiber of some sort, would have to card the wool into batts first, before turning it into anything else, like roving or even yarn.

This means that wool insulation should be fairly easy to find, once the price makes it a viable alternative to current insulation materials.

Wool dags as fertilizer

Wool dags are being used as fertilizer. For anyone who does not know, dags are the poo balls that form on the locks of wool on the back side of some sheep.

Not all sheep have dags, but once the dags start to form, they will be on the fleece until it is shorn.

After shearing, the dags are pulled off as scrap, which they are as far as usable fibers go, but for fertilizer, the dags just need to be gathered up and spread out in your garden or flower beds.

The natural weather patterns of your area, specifically rain, will break down the dags and gradually make them available to be used by your plants.

Wool for holding water for plants

Wool is currently being used for its water holding ability in hanging baskets and as a mulch on top of the ground for more substantial plants, like trees.

Wool is also being used as part of the base of huglekultur, along with other materials that will break down and feed the bed, like tree branches. A layer of wool in the bottom is a moisture reserve for the bed.

For more details on using wool as a water reserve for plants, ready 10 Uses For Wool Besides Spinning on the Morning Chores website.

What to do with raw sheep fleece for wool crafts

If you decide to work with some of your raw wool, to get it ready for spinning or felting, you’ll probably need to do a bit of work to make the wool useable.

Some fleeces are beautiful and easy to spin, right off of the sheep, but, for most fleeces, this will not be the case and the fleece will need a bit of work to make it easy to use.

If you want to use your wool raw, read How To Prepare Raw Wool For Spinning on Woolmaven.com. This is another site I have that is all about working with wool, with a focus on handspinners.

While you can spin raw fleece, most folks prefer washed, but either will work just fine.

The most important thing to know about working with raw fleece is that you are the one who decides how to proceed.

If there is too much vegetable matter (VM), lanolin, dirt, felted tips for you, then do more to the fleece, like washing or flick carding it, to make it suit your needs.

There is no right or wrong, only what you want to make your spinning or felting more enjoyable.

If you do decide that your fleece needs some more work before it is usable, you’ll also want to have a way to card the fibers to separate them back out. Get a set of hand carders or a flick carder for this.

How To Keep Your Sheep Safe From Predation


ewe with newborn twin lambs

Sheep are wonderful animals to have, since they are easy to keep and can be kept nearly anywhere there is grass!

But these wonderful animals do have a weak spot or two, an obvious one is that sheep are prone to predation. So, what can you do to keep your sheep safe on your farm?

You can reduce predation on your sheep by monitoring your flock, having a good electric fence, have biodiversity in the pasture which gives the predators other options, penning at night or using an guardian animal that lives with the flock.

The steps you need to take to keep your sheep safe from predation will depend upon the area where you live and how intense the predation is that you are dealing with. These are the steps to consider.

Sheep Keeping For Beginners gives you more insight into the life of a beginning shepherd.

Keep sheep safe by monitoring them

The first thing to do to keep your sheep safe is to monitor them, that means get out there and observe your sheep!

How are the sheep acting? Are they spread out grazing or bunched up in a corner somewhere? Spread out grazing tells you that all is okay according to the flock, bunched up means something is up.

You being present in the field keeps you on top of any potential health issues and spreads around your scent, which tells any potential predator that you have been there recently and may be back any time.

Be especially vigilant at lambing time.

We have found that if we go out into the pasture right before dark and make sure that all of the new lambs are as close to the barn as they can be, predation is reduced or doesn’t happen.

Have a good fence that deters predators

Another great way to keep out predators is to have an electric fence, specifically electric netting. Electric fences tend to keep out predators, at least that is how it works around here with coyote and fox.

We have our sheep in electric netting and do not normally have predation problems.

Electric Netting For Sheep goes over how and why we use electric netting for our sheep, year round.

We do have occasional predation with any group of sheep in one of the pastures with a woven wire perimeter at a time when there are day old lambs.

For us, older lambs are fine in the woven wire, but the day old ones will get occasionally get taken by a fox coming in through the woven wire.

Once you get into predators that are larger, the fence alone is probably not going to be enough.

Electric Or Permanent Fence For Sheep gives you the pros and the cons of each type of fencing.

Abundant wildlife in pastures gives predators other options

Having an abundant wildlife population on and around your farm gives any potential predators other options of how to feed themselves and their babies, which is when they get really bold!

If a predator in your area has tons of opportunities to find lunch without ever going in with your sheep, your sheep are safer.

You can help foster wildlife on your farm by providing habitat that promotes biodiversity in your pastures. This includes different types of shelter or desirable areas for wildlife, from rabbits and birds.

Do you have places for birds to roost? Are there sections of long grass? Some birds make their nests in the tops of tall grass clumps, too!

What about piles of brush for a hiding spot for rabbits or anyone else out there looking for a spot safe from predators?

Frankenmuth Woolen Mill has an interesting article on dealing with predation, with a focus biodiversity of the pasture.

Heavy predation may require penning sheep at night

If your presence with the sheep and the electric fence is not keeping the predators away from your sheep, you may need to pen them up at night to keep them safe.

My guess is that is not the answer you are hoping to hear, but it is better to know your options and work with the situation you have than to only do the things you like and have dead sheep.

To be upfront with you, some areas have such heavy predation that if you are not willing or able to put the sheep into a safe spot for the night, you should reconsider having sheep in the first place.

Since these sheep are your responsibility, it is also up to you to make the call that sheep are not suited for your current management or situation and sell them to someone else.

I am not trying to talk you out of sheep! Not at all! Sheep are a wonderful animal to have, but they are not perfect for everyone, everywhere.

This means when you decide to get sheep you have also decided to do the things you need to do to keep them safe and happy. If your sheep need penned at night, that’s what it takes for you to keep sheep.

Use a guard animal with your flock

A final option to keeping sheep safe in a higher predation area is to use a guard animal.

There are guard dogs, of course, and other grazers like llamas and donkeys that have been used for guarding sheep, each of which have their pros and cons.

I listed guard animals last because I have no experience with them myself and have heard mixed results from other folks using each of the guard animals commonly used with sheep.

Keeping in mind, we do not have guard animals, ourselves, there are the things that I would want to have ironed out before deciding on getting a guard animal.

I would want to know:

  • success rate
  • what predators will the guard animal keep away
  • how much of a learning curve is there for the guard animal
  • is the guard animal suited to my area
  • are there legal issues with using guard animals
  • will this guard animal stay with my sheep
  • how many guard animals do you need for them to work with your flock
  • what the guard animal needs from me
  • what not to do with or around the guard animal
  • how to choose an effective guard animal

I did quite a bit of research into getting a guard dog for our farm last spring and came to the conclusion that the dog would have trouble working well for us since we have close neighbors.

To be honest, this is a disappointing conclusion for me.

I love dogs and would enjoy having a guard dog or two, but in this case that does not matter, since how much I like the idea has nothing to do with the suitability of the idea for our situation.

Would a guard dog or two work for you? Maybe. It depends on what you are working with, predator and land wise.

Texas A&M has a wonderful series on livestock guardian dogs, covering training, breeds and effectiveness against specific predators. Watch it and see if guard dogs would be a good fit for you and your farm.

Of course, there are also other guard animals that we could use, but for now with the predation levels we have being low, we are not using a guardian animal with the sheep.

If and when this changes, we’ll reevaluate the idea of guardian animals and figure out which one will work best for us, for now, we use the electric netting as our main predator deterrent.

Do what your neighbors are doing for predators

For a quick one sentence summary, do what your neighbors are doing, if they are successfully keeping their flocks safe from predators.

As mentioned above, the “what” will depend upon where you live and which predators you are dealing with, so ask around. What is working, what is not working and make your choice.

Raise Feeder Pigs Or Buy Them? The Best Option


black pigs eating out of feeder

You’ve raised some pigs of your own for the freezer and now you are beginning to wonder: “Why do we keep buying pigs from someone else when we could raise our own feeder pigs? It can’t be that hard!”

True, having pigs born on your farm and raising them to feeder pig size is certainly not hard, but is it the right decision for you?

If you enjoy working with pigs and have the feed and space to care for them, raising home born feeder pigs is a good way to control the genetics of the feeder pigs you then raise on to market hogs, while giving you the option to sell extra feeder pigs.

If all you want is lower priced feeder pigs, it is probably not worth the money (breeding stock purchases and feed costs), time and effort to you to care for the pig herd, year round.

We have a small herd of pigs that we are farrowing and raising feeder pigs from. I enjoy working with the sows and piglets and love seeing the genetics of my selections play out.

For me, breeding pigs is interesting, as far as a money maker, not really. I’m not losing money, but I’m not raking it in either. Here are the main things I have found that determine whether or not breeding pigs is for you.

Do you love pigs?

First off, do you really love pigs? Do you enjoy having pigs around everyday?

Everyday includes when the piglets are born (the fun stuff) as well as when the power goes out, when the water freezes, when you run out of feed, when they get out and won’t go back in (the not so fun stuff!)

If you’re excited about raising your own piglets and all that goes along with it, then having a few sows may be just the thing for you.

If you are thinking that raising your own piglets is a great way to get cheap feeder pigs, you may want to recalculate how you figure up “cheap”.

How To Naturally Raise Happy Pigs goes over pig basics and how to keep them happy.

sow nursing litter of piglets
This is my sow Cricket, with her first litter.

What is the availability of pigs in your area?

You probably already have a good feel on this, but if you don’t, now is the time to figure out how easy or difficult it is to get ahold of feeder pigs or finished market hogs in your area.

What you are looking to figure out is the classic supply vs demand, do folks in your area have tons of feeder pigs to choose from? Or are feeder pigs hard to come by and get snatched up quickly anytime they are put up for sale?

In our area, pigs are not all that hard to come by, but lots of people do not want to go to the auction to get them or can not take the time off of work to get to the auction, so private sales are always an option. What’s the scoop for you?

The other thing to consider is to you plan to raise the type of pigs that people in your area want? Even in areas with confinement farm pig operations, regular people want small farm feeder pigs, not industrial genetics.

When To Buy Feeder Pigs goes over the options for raising feeder pigs, something you need to know if seasonality is an issue in your area.

Find the average cost of a feeder pig in your area

Poke around and find the average cost of a feeder pig in your area. I’m not saying you should be charging that price or that you’ll get that price, I’m saying you should know what it is.

If you have a local auction, read their market reports and see what feeder pigs are bringing in your area. Be sure to go through the year, prices tend to be seasonal (at least, they are around here!).

Your other easy option is to spy around on online ad platforms, what are folks charging?

You’ll need to figure up your costs and give yourself a margin you are happy with, but the further you are from average price for your area the more you’ll have to work with the customer to help them understand the value of your pigs.

Do you have the space for mature pigs?

Now that you have established that you have a market for your feeder pigs, or market hogs, if that is where you are going, do you have the space for these gals?

You’ll need a space for sows, both gestating and lactating, and a separate space for pigs once you wean them.

Please do not use the numbers for confinement pigs, that is too small of a space, use the deep straw system numbers of 27 sq. ft. per sow and 81 sq. ft. per sow and litter, instead.

Allow 27 square feet per sow and 81 square feet per sow and litter.

https://www.sare.org/publications/profitable-pork/hog-production-systems/deep-straw-systems/

Don’t forget about the boar!

Of course, you’ll need to also have a spot for the boar, if you are keeping one.

If you’d prefer to use A.I. (artificial insemination) read Cost To A.I. Pigs. I give you the exact costs, plus a list of places you can order from. We’ve used Lean Value Sires (scroll to breed specific prices) and Swine Genetics International.

Remember, it’s not always summertime!

If you are planning on raising your pigs outside, you’ll have to have a plan to deal with not so great weather.

In our area, we have a wet spring and a cold winter, both times are not so great for me or the pigs to be outside. In the spring, the weather is fine, it’s the mess they make of the pasture that I’m concerned with!

Do you have extra land you can move them to or can they go inside for the junky weather and just be outside part of the year?

In our area, Ohio, pigs outside year round is tough in the winter, mainly dealing with the water freezing, but it’s certainly doable in the southern half of the country! Of course, we generally have milder summers, so it’s a trade off.

Can You Breed Related Pigs? goes over your options when breeding stock is limited. This is a pretty big deal for a small producer, especially if you do not have a good source of boars to replace the one you are using now.

How easy is it to get feed?

How easy is it to get feed in your area? Ideally, you are looking at getting feed from a mill that actually grinds feed, not just sells 50 pound bags. Nothing wrong with 50 pound bags, they are just more expensive per pound.

A feed mill has feed in 100 pound bags and can deliver bagged or bulk ground feed. Another plus is they can also custom mix your feed, once you have a large enough order, around here that’s 500 pounds.

Ask around about delivery, you may be surprised.

The feed mill we normally go to is 45 minutes away has a delivery route every other week up here for $4.00 a stop! That’s a deal. If you live around a lot of small Amish farms, like we do, look into delivery options.

The second thing is how reliable is your feed source? If you get feed at the local farm store, how quickly can they replenish their stock?

Best Feed For Pigs goes over your pig feed options so you can pick the best choice to meet your pig raising needs.

In our area, farm store do not order frequently enough to keep up with a larger volume of feed, they are planning on serving a customer with just a few pigs, not a person with a small breeding operation.

Of course, you could ask if they can get in the volume you will need, maybe they’ll be happy to have a higher volume customer that puts in a special order. It all depends upon the manager and the space they have on the order truck.

Do you have a source of free or low cost pig food?

Another bonus to pig raising is the versatility of pigs being able to eat a variety of foods that would otherwise be wasted, things like fallen fruit, orchard waste (like from making cider) expired frozen foods, the list goes on.

If you have a bakery, bread that did not sell has to go somewhere. A gal I know who worked for years as a server, would bring home the baked but un needed biscuits for her birds, your pigs would love them, too!

Garden waste or blemished vegetables make wonderful extra feeds for pigs. If you live near a market garden, produce auction or are just a dedicated gardener, yourself, consider what imperfect or aged veg your pigs could be using.

Compare the costs and benefits of raising vs buying

You also need to compare the costs of raising pigs vs buying them from another source. Here’s why: cost.

When I figure up my costs to raise feeder pigs, I have $43.50 feed costs in each pig. That’s for the sow, what the pigs eat to get them through weaning and what I need for the boar. This is just feed, no upgrades or pay for me, just feed.

Breeding Pigs: How Often, When And How gives you a look into your breeding schedule, a big deal if you are trying to hit a specific date to sell higher priced feeder pigs.

So, for me, if I were looking to buy feeder pigs and I saw that they were reliably selling for $60 each, it would be worth it to buy them from someone else.

Why? At $60 per feeder pig you are really only paying that person $16.50 per pig over feed costs (if their feed costs are similar to mine), the rest of the money is for things you would have had to buy, too.

Feed cost per pigletSelling price of feeder pigDifference
$43.50 (my costs)$60$16.50
$43.50 $120$76.50
$30 (low cost feed source)$60$30
$30 $120$90
$80 (high cost feed source)$60-$20
$80 $120$40
The difference in selling price is seasonal. This is about what we expect around here, $45-60 in the fall and winter, $100-140 in spring and early summer. I just gave my best guess regarding feed costs, since I only can be sure of mine!

As I put together this chart, the $80 feed costs per feeder pig looks high, but I’m sticking with it because if you bought all of your feed from the farm store in 50 pound bags, you’ll be close to this number.

The other thing to consider is if you are interested in raising an unusual breed of pigs, then the market prices do not have a lot to do with the pigs you are raising, as long as you have folks interested in your specific breed.

A word of caution: be sure there are more folks than you who think that this specific breed of pig or way of raising pigs is a great idea. I see tons of people advertising pigs cheap online and having a hard time selling them.

They purchased breeding stock for a cool breed that they love, but no one wants to buy the piglets. Other folks like the piglets and support the idea behind what the new breeder is doing but do not want to raise that type of feeder pig!

This is the challenge of special breeds, be cautious before you get into this game or be prepared for a ton of customer education to get folks onboard with your piglets!

A final word on prices: if you are thinking about getting into show pigs, these prices are low, low, low! If you have the show pig lines folks want to buy, I can see your side hustle pigs paying nicely.

Plenty of folks around here raise and breed show pigs as a hobby and have a show pig litter, bred for their specific fair dates then have the other off season litter that they just sell for normal pig prices. Others just do the show pig litter.

Resources:

Deep Straw Systems-SARE I used the square footage per sow and sow and litter numbers