Recent Posts

What Sheep Can Breed Year Round?

Getting fall lambs, having flexibility in the breeding calendar, splitting the flock to lamb at multiple times in the year all require an extended, if not year round breeding season, which most sheep do not have.

If you want sheep that can breed year round, you have a few breeds to choose from, including both wool and hair sheep, that should give your flock the ability to breed year round.

lamb with ewes in barn
Hair sheep with extended breeding seasonsWool Sheep with extended breeding seasons
Barbados BlackbellyDorset
St. CroixRambouillet
Links go to sources that explain the out of season breeding ability of the breed.

Some sheep can breed year round

The sheep that can breed year round are Barbados Blackbelly, Dorper, Katahdin and St. Croix for the hair sheep options, and Dorset, Finn, Polypay, Rambouillet and Romanov are the wool sheep options.

From what I have seen, most folks looking into year round breeding are interested in out of season roaster or market lambs, so the breeds used are chosen to produce a meatier lamb.

This means ewes that produce lambs with higher carcass value are going to be preferred over a thinly built ewe, to put more meat on the lamb, even if that thinly built ewe breeds out of season.

With this in mind, consider puttting Dorper, Dorset and Polypay at the top of the list here since you get a chunkier lamb along with a higher likelihood of good lambing percentages.

We have a Dorset and Polypay based commercial flock that we lamb in May. We normally have a small group of out of season lambs each year, as well.

This year it was mainly some yearlings that did not breed to lamb at a year, but bred in the spring when we turned them out with the main group (that still had rams) to lamb at more around 18 months.

Best Sheep Breeds For Meat is my article that gives some good options that are meat focused and some, but not all, will fit into the year round lambing group.

What is the normal breeding season for sheep?

Most sheep are seasonal breeders, this means they are most likely to breed in the fall for lambs in the spring.

The breeding season is determined by daylength and most sheep breeds are the most fertile in September, October and November, which puts lambing 5 months later in February, March and April.

The normal breeding season matters to out of season lambing operations

The reason you need to know this is that your sheep, even the ones with an extended or year round breeding season, will also be most fertile in these months. All sheep naturally breed well in the fall.

You’ll need to keep track of the ewes that breed in the months that are the most difficult for you to get ewes bred in and continue to select for sheep that breed well in the spring (the most difficult months).

Can Keep Rams With Ewes Year Round? is my article that goes over normal breeding seasons for folks who do not want to have cold weather lambs.

white faced ewes with lambs on pasture
These are some of our sheep with young lambs in May.

Should you breed sheep out of season?

Breeding sheep out of season takes more management and facilities than sheep that are bred to lamb in the more traditional times for your area.

Are you willing to put in the time, money and effort to make this happen? Do you have the facilities to handle lambs all year, lambing all year and the feed to support this high production?

I’m not trying to talk you out of lambing year round, I’m just pointing out that the reasons why sheep tend to lamb in the spring are that the situation for the area suits the sheep.

When you go off of the normal for your area, you’ll have to make up for all the things that were fairly easy but now are not.

A big concern is cost, now you’ll need the best feed of the year at the time when it is least likely to be available. Can you get what your flock needs?

The other big concern that I would have, since I am from a colder part of the country, is that in the winter it is just as cold in the barn as it is out of the barn. All the barn does is stop the wind or snow.

On some mornings in mid winter, lambs would die from cold in the barn, as well. What is your plan to handle that situation?

You could go with heat lamps and lambing jugs or all nighters in the barn watching for lambs to be born. Or you could insulate the barn, but that comes with it’s own set of problems, mainly lack of fresh air.

Maybe you are thinking, “I do all of this work with my sheep anyway, so what is the difference here?”

If this sounds like normal lambing season for you, then you’re right, out of season lambing probably won’t be all that different from what you are used to.

If, however, this sounds like a ton of extra work compared to what you normally do for lambing season, then lambing year round probably is not for you.

Start penciling all of this out and see if the costs, in both time and money, are worth it to you. Dig deep here, you want to know what you are getting into.

Breeding for Out-of-season Lambs to Fill in the Industry Gaps is an Ohio State Sheep Team article with a great overview and links to a presentation specifically on this topic.

author's husband, Jason, holding new lamb
Here is my husband holding one of our fall lambs. These sheep are in the barn since the fall and winter weather here is too harsh for young lambs.

Out of season lambing requires more management

As I have mentioned above, out of season lambing requires more management from you.

You must be on your game with scheduling, having different groups of sheep getting what they need, when they need it and be able to cash flow this whole fiesta.

Some groups of your ewes will end up lambing in season because part of year round lambing includes the “normal” part. This group should be fairly easy to work with.

Any group of ewes that lambs in an off season for your area is going to require more from you. This includes your time as well as your money.

Off season lamb production will cost you more, since you need to keep great feed to ewes at a time when great feed is harder to find.

You will also want to have some sort of creep feeding set up for the lambs, to get them off and growing so that there are no laggers to mess up the timing for the next group of sheep that come in.

A look at a year round lambing farm I visited

The farm I went to with out of season lambing had a system where the ewes had lambs inside and the lambs stayed inside until they were old enough to be weaned then sold.

As far as the non lactating ewes go, the bred ewes were kept outside on a pasture surrounding the barn. He also had an on demand milk feeder set up for the orphan lamb pen.

The ewes with lambs ate a TMR (total mixed ration) which means that the hay and grain went through a grinder/mixer so that all of the feed for the day was in smaller pieces and mixed together.

This is the type of mixer that you see slowly driving by a bunk feeder while putting out a long pile of feed out for dairy cattle.

The tractor and mixer were driven down the middle of the barn to spread out the ration on the cement floor and the sheep would reach through to the aisle way and eat.

These lambs were being fed to gain quickly in order to be sold at 60 pounds or so to another sheep operation that would feed them out to market weight.

This was a slick operation that was in a new, purpose built barn and was run by one man, who also had a full time job. If I remember correctly, he had three groups of ewes lambing per year.


Off Season And Accelerated Lamb Production by Penn State Extension, list of breeds recommended for out of season lamb production

For specific data on out of season breeding of hair sheep:

Accelerated Lambing And Out Of Season Breeding In Hair Sheep by Maryland Small Ruminant Page shows hair sheep conception rates are influenced by rainfall and forage availability rather than daylength.

Should You Have Multiple Rams? Advantages and Disadvantages

When you have more than a handful of sheep, you reach the point where you could get another ram to make sure that all your ewes get bred on time or to have a spare if anything happens to the first ram.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of having multiple rams in a smaller flock?

white faced ram with breeding harness on

Advantages of having multiple rams

Large flocks run multiple rams each year, they have to in order to ensure that the ewes get bred, so we know it’s doable. But what about more than one ram in a smaller flock? The idea has some merit.

Can You Have 2 (Or More) Rams In A Flock? is my article that goes over the details of keeping more than one ram.

Multiple rams should make a tighter lambing season

When you have multiple rams, you increase the likelihood of getting all of the ewes bred on the first and second cycle in breeding season. This keeps your lambing season tight and easier to manage.

The reason a short lambing season is easier to manage is that it has all of the lambs born during a few weeks, keeping them close to each other in age as well as needs, which is the bigger bonus for you.

Lambs with similar needs can be managed together, the more groups of ewes and lambs you have in a year and the more you have to do for each group the more complicated this whole thing gets.

When you think about it, in lambing season you have a group of peers out there in the ewes, all of which have basically the same space and nutritional needs.

The lambs are also a group, but the catch is they have to be managed together. So the more similar the lambs are to one another, the easier this is going to be for you.

Can You Keep Rams With Ewes Year Round? is my article that goes over when you should turn in your ram to keep your lambing season reasonable.

Competition between rams is good

If you have more than one ram in the flock, there will be a competition between the rams anytime a ewe is in heat.

This is a good thing, it keeps them both on task and looking for ewes to breed before the other ram can, rather than following a favorite one or two and ignoring the rest.

There also is an idea that you have to have at least two breeding males in a group to know that the best sire for the situation bred the female.

Not only is there a competition for breeding, there is also a competition for conception if both males breed the same female, the strongest genetics will win.

Spare ram in case of injury

Hopefully you never have to worry about injury or infertility problems in rams, but they are a possibility which can shut you down if you only have one ram, so we’ll talk about it.

Injury is the easy one, if the ram can not easily walk after the ewes and check to see which ones are in heat for the day, then he is limited if not useless to get your ewes bred.

Injury could be foot problems, lame or run down from illness or a parasite overload, all of which will keep him down enough to restrict or even prevent him from being useful as a ram this season.

Nearly all of these problems are fixable, just not quickly, you must give yourself time to get the rams in top form. Last minute miracles here are not likely to work in time.

Spare ram in the case of infertility

Temporary infertility in rams is generally going to be from heat or stress, which could be from transportation or illness.

This is a ram that would normally be fertile, except for the stressful event that he just had which caused a temporary loss in fertility, but it will come back in about 7 weeks with appropriate care.

If the problem is heat, here is not much you can do about that, except get rams that are adapted to life in your area.

Rams that are heat stressed before joining could still successfully serve ewes up until the sperm stored before the heating are used (about 2–3 weeks), but it will then take 7 weeks to produce new viable sperm.

As far as the stress induced infertility, the best answer there is to have your rams in place at least 60 days before you need to use them, to give them time to recover from the trip to your farm.

The ram can replace sperm damaged due to heat stress, but it takes some time (7 weeks) for that process to work and for him to be able to breed and settle ewes.

There is also permanent infertility, but there is no “how to manage it option” for this. If you suspect your ram in infertile, ask your vet about it to see if there are options or just sell the ram.

white faced rams in ram only flock
This is our ram flock. They are kept separate from the ewes as of the middle of summer, to prevent cold weather lambs. We tend to keep 10-12 adult rams around, we want the lambing window to be tight and we need enough rams to make that happen.

Prevents ram from being alone in off season

The part of the year that folks tend to forget about is when you need the ram out of the flock to prevent the ewes from being bred too soon in the year, now where does he go?

If you have multiple rams, you keep the rams together in a pasture or pen that is separate from the ewes, giving the rams a buddy for the off season.

Gives you options for breeding groups

When you have multiple rams, you would also have the option for multiple breeding groups.

For example, if you have a ram that you keep for producing ewe lambs and ram that you keep for producing market lambs, you can section off the ewes that you want to put with each ram.

This would give you the ability to produce your own replacement ewe lambs from a ram that be ideal for female characteristics, but not necessarily ideal for your area’s market lamb needs.

Additionally, if you used two rams and split the flock, you could eliminate the problem of inbreeding, since the sire of the replacements is different than the sire of the terminal (market) lambs.

How Do You Keep Sheep From Inbreeding? is my article that goes over this subject in more detail.

white faced ram with horns in pasture with white faced ewes
The horned sheep is one of the rams we have, the others are polled (no horns). We are not big fans of the practical aspects of the horns, but do like the look. Just before I took this picture, the ram had headbutted away another ram standing close to the tagged ewe to the left of the picture.

Disadvantages of multiple rams

As with all things, it is not all roses with having multiple rams in your flock, there are a few things that you have to deal with now that you do not have with a single ram.

More rams to feed

First off, since there are more rams to care for you are also providing twice as much feed for the ram part of the flock, as well as having twice as much cost to feed them, as well.

The other catch to feeding rams is that many smaller farmers or new to sheep farmers are not well set up with paddocks, so where are you putting the rams that they have the pasture they need?

Chances are your good pasture is going to the ewes, as it should, but where do these guys hang out? They need a good pasture, too.

If all you have is a second best area to put the rams, you may end up feeding these guys to make up for the lack luster pasture that they are in.

Not great, but it’s where you are at until you can figure out a system that works best for your situation.

Increases breeding stock costs

The second obvious consequence of keeping multiple rams is that your cost to get rams will at least double, since you will need two of them. No surprise here, but it is something to plan for.

How Much Does A Ram Cost? is my article that goes over what you can expect to pay for a ram and how to find the costs for your area.

Multiple rams can hurt each other

Multiple rams can hurt each other, especially if you put them together close to breeding season or when a ewe is in heat.

However, if you put the rams together in the off season, they will become used to one another and tend to behave better in the breeding season.

I’m just putting this in because it is a possibility that you should know about, but once again, if you combine the rams in a non competitive environment, they will normally be fine together.

You may have limited space for flock

If you are tight on space, having multiple rams is probably not the best use of your space. Getting one great ram and keeping him in top health is a better use of your space than having more rams.


Maximizing ram fertility at business Queensland lists out that 7 weeks are needed for rams to replace heat damaged sperm

Can Sheep Be Raised Without A Pasture?

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?

white faced sheep eating haylage out of wooden feeder

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.

ewe lambs eating haylage in barn
These are some of our weaned ewe lambs being fed to market weight while inside the barn. They are raised outside until weaning, then brought inside to gain weight. We could have them born inside and any lambs born in the fall or early winter are both born and raised in the barn.

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.

Here is one of our older ram lambs relaxing and chewing his cud. These guys are in the barn from weaning until they are sold as market lambs.

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.

white faced sheep eating out of a wooden hay feeder
This is my husband filling the feeder for a group of sheep. If they eat it, he had to carry it in here. That’s everyday, whether he feels like it or not.

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.

SheepDirt lotOpen shedConfinement
Bred ewe20812-16
Ewe with lambs251216-20
Feeder lamb15-2068-10
The dirt lot and the open shed would be used together so the sheep could go in and out as they please, the confinement barn is used by itself. This data is from Sheep 201: Housing, the table in the Space requirements section.

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.)

6 Things Suffolk Sheep Are Known For

Suffolk sheep are the big, black headed sheep that you see on small farms and in show rings across the country. What is it that makes Suffolk sheep special and has them topping the list again and again?

Weight of rams250-350 pounds
Weight of ewes180-250 pounds
Appearancetall, polled, shiny black head and legs
Fleece details2-3.5 inches long, 5-7 pounds
Best known forlarge frame, fast growing market lambs
Disadvantagesrequire top notch feeding, short lived, not hardy

Suffolk sheep have a larger frame

Suffolk sheep are a large sheep. They have larger bone structure which is ideal for being fed to higher weights before the lambs are marketed.

This means that Suffolk or Suffolk cross market lambs will be able to keep gaining weight to a larger total size, which gets you more pounds on the rail.

The Suffolk sheep is a superior producer of lean meat due to rapid early growth, heavy muscling, and efficient conversion of forage and other feedstuffs. 

United Suffolk Sheep Association Breed Information

For example: let’s compare two market lambs, a lamb that finishes out at 90 pounds and a larger framed market lamb like a Suffolk that will easily hit 120-130 pounds.

Per head, you have another 30-40 pounds of sellable weight on the larger lamb.

Whether or not larger lambs are better for your area or your farm, is another story, but if you are looking for a larger market lamb or prefer black faced market lambs, Suffolk could be a good fit for your flock.

Best Breeds Of Sheep For Meat is my article that will give you some other breeds also known for being great meat sheep.

Suffolk lambs are fast growers

Able to use take advantage of higher energy feeds

If you are in an area with reliable access to high quality feeds, a fast growing breed like the Suffolk can take advantage of those feeds and give you more weight per lamb than a smaller framed lamb.

This is why Suffolks are popular with smaller flocks in more reliable growing conditions, this breed can and does take advantage of the great feeds to result in more pounds of lamb on a limited acreage.

The Suffolk remains No 1 for growth rate as proven by numerous independent scientific studies. This ability to grow means that Suffolk lambs are ready for market earlier resulting in reduced input costs, or also be taken to heavier carcase weights, if required.

Suffolk Sheep Society Breed Page

Lamb Creep Feeder: What is it and why use one? is my article that will give you some ideas on how to get the extra energy needed to fuel the fast growth of these type of lambs to the lambs, but not the ewes!

Suffolk cross market lambs
This is a great looking pair of crossbred market lambs that I would say are part Suffolk, but not 100% since they have some wool on their heads.

Using as a terminal sire for market lambs

Suffolk sheep are popular to use as a terminal sire for market lambs. Terminal sire means that all of the lambs will be sent to market, none will be kept as breeding stock.

As expected, Suffolk-sired lambs grew more rapidly before and after weaning and were superior in efficiency of feed conversion.  Suffolk sires were also equal or superior to rams of other breeds in ewe fertility and prolificacy and lamb survival.

American Sheep Industry Study: Terminal Breeds for Use in Western Range Operations

With this type of breeding system, you would want to use the sire breed that would combine with the breed or type of your ewes to give you the market lamb that best suits your area.

This system relies on hybrid vigor to make the lambs grow more quickly, hybrid vigor is the jump in performance you get by crossing two parent breeds as compared to using parents of the same breed.

Since this plan relies on hybrid vigor for the lamb growth, there are no replacements kept back. If new breeding stock is needed, it must come from another flock to keep the cross working.

Sharp looks, shiny black head and legs

Suffolk sheep have a distinctive look, with a shiny black head and legs, they are a flashy sheep, especially when fitted up for show.

Those distinctive looks carry on in crossbred lambs, with a white face crossed to a Suffolk, you end up with a speckle faced lamb.

Suffolks are a premier meat sheep where ever they are raised, but there are slight differences in the preferred type of Suffolk depending upon where you live.

From what I can tell, the British Suffolk has kept more of the Southdown body type, just as a larger sheep, so the British Suffolks have a more substantial body on a bit shorter frame.

Contrast that with the more flashy leggier Suffolk that seems to be preferred as the American Suffolk type of choice.

I attribute that to the emphasis on showing especially for market lambs, but whatever the cause, if you look at them side by side, you’ll see a noticeable difference in structure.

As to which one is better, well that depends on what you need and what you are hoping to do with your flock.

Suffolk sired market lamb at a local fair
Suffolk sired market lamb at a local fair.

Market lambs especially fair lambs

At least in my part of the world, Suffolks dominate the market lamb winnings, both at the local fairs and the larger state and regional shows. Nothing else really compares.

As far as the commercial market for market lambs, Suffolks tend to do well there, too. They are one of the breeds that can get a lamb to the larger weights, easily over 120 pounds.

For buyers who want a larger carcass with larger cuts, but still be buying a lamb (not an adult sheep) these guys are tough to beat.

Suffolks compare well with more maternally focused breeds

I have to admit, in my area, folks who raise Suffolks are raising them for larger framed market lambs and many also like to show, so from what I see Suffolks are a meat focused breed.

That is true, but not the entire picture. The data shows that for many farmers Suffolks are preforming just as well as other breeds that you think of as more maternally focused. I was surprised.

To me, Suffolks are a stand out meat animal, but not so well known for mothering and apparently that is wrong thinking on my part. The data bears out that Suffolks are raising as many lambs as other breeds.

Where is this data? Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has Choosing Breeds for Producing Profitable Market Lambs which includes multiple breeds on their charts.

These charts cover lambs born, lambs weaned, average daily gain, birth weights and adjusted weights, with Suffolks holding strong in just about every category.

I have seen similar results from folks who put together the data and compared Suffolk performance as a commercial ewe with other more commonly used white faced breeds, this is just the first one I found.

Disadvantages of Suffolk sheep

While Suffolk sheep are quite amazing animals, especially for anyone looking to raise a larger market lamb, they are not perfect for all situations or all farms.

Suffolk sheep are growth machines, which is, believe it or not, a potential disadvantage. All that rapid growth requires plentiful feed and a non stop supply of it. Are you willing to provide this?

When the pastures don’t grow well for the season or feed prices go up, a flock of high energy requirement sheep like Suffolks will be more expensive to keep than a flock of lower performers.

The second disadvantage of Suffolks is that they seem to be fairly short lived sheep. This is a common trade off in the animal kingdom (fast growth vs longevity), but it’s a trade off that you should be aware of.

How Tall Of A Fence Do You Need For Sheep?

As a sheep farmer, not only are you working with sheep, you are also probably working with some sort of fencing for the flock.

Since sheep are not too tall, they don’t need an overly tall fence but they can jump pretty well, so how high of a fence do you need to contain the flock?

sheep grazing in fall

Woven wire for sheep should be 48″ tall

Woven wire for your sheep should be 48″ tall. This fence would be run along the ground and attached to wooden fence posts, so it is quite sturdy.

There are a few types of woven wire that are a bit shorter and these can be used for sheep as well, as long as a line or two of electric is run along the top of the fence to get the total height to 48″.

Sheep Fencing: Electric vs woven wire is an article I wrote to compare and contrast these two types of sheep fencing to see what will work best for your situation (we us a combination of both).

Here’s a look at one of our woven wire fence lines.

Getting a woven wire put fence up is a lot of work or pricey to have it installed, which is the main downside of this fence. It is also considered to be permanent.

You could take it out and reposition the line, but most folks don’t, so once you decide where you put the fence, it stays. This means that woven wire is secure but with near zero flexibility.

Overall, a woven wire fence is wonderful for sheep, once you have it up.

We just put up a new perimeter line on the west edge of our property last spring. It has opened up an underused area of the farm now that it’s easy to move the sheep there.

We were always cautious about putting the sheep in that spot because it is close to a road and numerous houses, but with the new fence line, that area is as secure as we can make it.

Ewes grazing behind an electric netting fence line
Ewes grazing behind an electric fence line in early fall.

Electric netting should be at least 35″ tall for sheep

Electric netting should be at least 35″ tall for sheep. There is a 48″ tall netting available which is more of a sheep and goat version, which may be needed if your sheep are prone to fence jumping.

Our sheep are kept behind a 35″ netting that works great as long as it is kept upright (no sagging spots) and it has power.

ElectroNet 9/35/12 For Sheep: Should you buy it? is an article I wrote to give the pros and cons of electric netting use with sheep.

Electric netting only works well when it has charge, without charge the sheep will learn to jump over it or just lean into it until they can knock it over enough to leave.

This means that the netting has to be hooked up to the charger but also that the charger has to be working and the fence line is not grounding out.

If the shock is not getting to the sheep when they come up to investigate the fence, the main deterrent of the fence (the shock) is not there so the fence is not working even if the netting is upright.

Single strand wire can be used as a division wire

There are some folks with sheep that keep the flock behind a single strand of electric polywire or polybraid. Please note that this single strand is for a division line only, it is not a perimeter line.

Even the sheep that will stay behind a single strand division line will need to be in a much more substantial perimeter fence, something like a woven wire or a multi strand high tensile.

Cattle and hog panels as sheep fence

You can also use cattle or hog panels as sheep fence. Cattle panels would be taller (48″) and hog panels a bit shorter (36″) but both will work for many sheep fencing needs.

If you have a more jumping prone flock, stick to the cattle panels, just to have the extra security of a taller fence line. We also commonly use cattle and hog panels as temporary gates or corrals with our sheep.

The great news about cattle and hog panels as sheep fence is that they can be put up in a flash, attach them to posts that are already in place or drive in a few T posts to make a new line.

Panels easily replaced or moved

Cattle panels are also easily replaced if something bends them beyond repair, like a tree falling on the line. In this case, you just put the new panel in place and the fence is back in working order.

Cattle panels can also be used as a semi temporary fence line, meaning a fence line that you want to move after a while but probably not move every day or two.

A semi permanent fence would give you the option to put up a fairly sturdy fence line that would not be as difficult to move as a line on wooden posts, which can be moved, as well, just with more hassle.

Cattle and hog panels used to be very close in price, per foot, to that of a woven wire fence, but recently the cost of cattle and hog panels has gone up significantly.

You’ll have to price the cost of panels and posts as compared to other sheep fence options in your area to see which is more economical for you.

Hog panels for lambs, cattle panels for ewes

We tend to use the hog panels with lambs, for instance weaned lambs, since these are tall enough to keep the lambs in but short enough that we can step over to get into the pen.

Cattle panels are used for adult sheep or situations where the sheep will be under more pressure, like tightening down a group for deworming.

wooden fence post brace corner for woven wire fence
This is part of a brace for a corner of a woven wire line on our farm. Inside the fence is a hay field (for now) outside the fence is sheep grazing. Interestingly enough, this is the fence line that divides off the hay field that the sheep are grazing in the first picture at the top.

Corral gates for sheep fence

Some folks use corral panels for sheep fence, these look like pipe gates but sit up on looped “legs” so that there is a 16-18″ or so gap in the middle of the panel along the ground.

The top of the corral would be super for keeping in sheep but the bottom section may require some work, like filling in the gap along the bottom so that the sheep do not go under the corral.

A more mild mannered sheep might stay in the corral, but a more independently minded sheep or younger lambs are likely get out.

As soon as they were hungry, or just kind of felt like it, our sheep will get out of something like this, so we don’t use corral panels.

I do have to admit, if I came across some as quite the deal, I’d work something out to block the bottom space, but if I had to buy them new or even for a reasonable price, I would get something else.

You can use a combination of fence types for sheep

You can use a combination of fencing for your flock.

We have all types of fencing here, depending upon what we do in that area and whether or not the fence is a line we need all of the time or used occasionally, in which case it is probably just netting.

Our main fence type is electric netting, the 35″ kind, that we use in combination with other types of fencing that may be in that area.

For instance, if the sheep are only supposed to get part of an area, we use the permanent line to anchor the netting to, then run the netting around to section off the area.

This makes part of the fence woven wire and part of the fence netting. This is just one example of using both permanent and portable fencing for your sheep if that will work better on your farm.

Sheep under pressure need higher fences

The fence that you are using needs to be appropriate for the situation. Sheep under pressure need a higher fence than sheep just out and about grazing in the pasture or hanging out in a pen in the barn.

What do I mean by “under pressure”? I mean sheep that you are putting under stress, for instance, when you need to put the sheep into a smaller pen to deworm them or catch them for shearing.

These sheep are under pressure and will push the fence harder and be more likely to jump out of a shorter fence that would have held them under normal conditions.

We have found that when we need to tighten down a group to work them (work means give care, like shots or trim hooves), using a solid side, like a pipe gate, works better than using something bendable.

And, using something taller, like a cattle panel, is much better than something with a short side, like a hog panel.

Even if the sheep normally stay behind a shorter fence, when you add pressure they need a more secure fence to hold them.

For another resource on sheep fencing, consider reading: Sheep 201: Fencing, which goes over the different types of sheep fencing and what is required from each to contain the flock.

Do Lambs Need To Be Sheared?

The adult sheep in the flock need to be shorn every year, but lambs don’t have all that much wool to worry about for most of their first year.

Yet, as the lambs grow so does their fleece, which will eventually need sheared. When and why would lambs need to be sheared, as well?

Most lambs are sold before they need to be sheared. The only lambs that would need shearing are replacements, long wool breeds and market lambs with dirty belly wool.

lamb standing in front of ewes in barn

Most lambs do not need to be sheared

Most lambs, meaning sheep that are under one year of age, do not need to be sheared. For the most part, by the time the lamb is sold, it’s wool is not long enough to require shearing.

There are a few exceptions to this, mainly dirty market lambs, long wool breeds and lambs that are kept as replacement stock.

How Old Do Lambs Need To Be To Wean? is an article I wrote to help you get your lambs ready to wean.

Market lambs that are dirty may need shorn

If the lambs that are being sold are overly dirty, they may need to be shorn or at least belly shorn before being sold. This is common in the U.K., but not so common here, at least in our area (Ohio).

Normally, if shearing is going to be required the auction will have a shearer on site and the shearing charge will be taken out of your check.

Some dirt is acceptable, sheep are kept outside, after all, but there comes a certain time of year when the auction requires that the dirty belly wool be removed from the market animals.

Up until then, belly shearing is optional.

market lambs looking out back of truck racks
These are some market lambs on our truck racks. They will sell with full wool.

Replacement stock needs to be shorn

Replacement lambs are lambs that are being kept on the farm or ranch to use as part of the breeding flock.

Since sheep are technically lambs until they are one year old, any replacement stock that is under one year of age when you shear, will be shorn as a lamb.

We shear our sheep in the first part of April, since lambing starts May 1st, with the first few lambs coming in late April.

Any of our lambs that are being kept back as replacement will be 11 months old at shearing, which makes them still lambs.

Long wool lambs may need shorn

Long wool sheep, breeds like Cotswold or Wensleydale, may need to have the lambs shorn, even though the lambs are under a year old.

Why? Long wool sheep grow a tremendous amount of wool per year, in some breeds the wool growth is more than 12 inches!

Not only is that is a ton of weight to cart around for the sheep, it’s also a lot of length to keep useable for handspinners and wool crafters, which are normally the end users of long wool fleeces.

By cutting this fleece twice per year, the wool is still long, 6 inches or so, and the chances of things like felting on the sheep is less likely so the quality to the customer remains high.

Long wool fleeces are popular with handspinners and other folks using wool for crafts, like for Santa beards or doll hair. The most desirable parts of these fleeces are priced by the ounce and sell well.

But…this high price and high demand is only for the fleeces that are well taken care of. To get the full value of the wool, the fleece must be in top shape, which means no breaks or felting.

To get the wool to the folks who are ordering it, most of these lambs, as well as adult sheep, will need to be shorn twice per year, so keep wool quality high.

The other aspect to shearing the long wool lambs is that the fleece on lambs is usually a finer than that of the adults, which can be more valuable per ounce, and it gives the farm another fiber product to sell.

Shearing to increase market lamb growth

A Welsh sheep farmer has data to prove that shearing his lambs increases market lamb gains by 20g per day per head (1.3 pounds in 30 days) in the shorn lambs as compared to the unshorn lambs.

The reason this is significant is that these sheep will be shorn, at least belly shorn, immediately before the sale which is auction policy.

Rather than shearing on sale day this farm shears earlier and gets the benefits from the shearing in additional growth on the farm.

In our area, Ohio, shearing dirty bellies or backsides immediately before selling the lambs is not a common practice, so we do not normally shear market lambs.

If we were going to need to shear them anyway in order to run them through the auction barn, it makes sense to shear when it would benefit us the most since we would pay for the shearing either way.

Other lamb articles you may be interested in:

Do Lambs Have Wool?

Do Lambs Make Good Pets?

Do Lambs Eat Corn?


How shearing lambs can improve growth and reduce labourFarmers Weekly is the source article for the farm that shears lambs and gets the 20g per day additional gain per lamb.