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Can You Keep Rams With Ewes Year Round?

During breeding season your ram is, of course, with the ewes, but breeding season is actually a fairly short period of time, so what do you do with that ram the rest of the year?

Can your ram be in with the ewes all of the time or does there come a time when he need to be out and why?

Most sheep farmers do not keep the ram with the ewes year round. Instead, most farmers keep the ram with the ewes during a breeding season and remove the ram for the time period required to prevent lambs being born (and likely dying) in the colder parts of the year.

group of white faced breeding rams in pasture
These are our breeding rams. They are in a pasture by themselves and have been separate from the ewes for about half a year. They will get harnesses and be put in with the ewes on December 1st, since that is the lambing season appropriate for our area.

When To Put In Rams? goes into more detail on matching up your breeding season with your area and the needs of your flock.

Can you keep rams with ewes year round?

You can keep rams with your ewes year round. The question you should be asking is “should I keep the ram with my ewes year round?” That is the key point to focus on with your flock.

If keeping all the sheep together year round makes sense for your situation and your area, sure, but before you take the easy option here think a bit on the consequences.

Does the weather get extreme enough in your area to kill newborn lambs? In most parts of the country the answer here is yes, it does get cold enough to kill lambs born in the frigid temperatures.

What time of the year is that? In our area, any time after mid October and definitely by mid November any lambs born outside are at risk of death due to cold temperatures. This extends into mid April.

This means we do not want any lambs born from mid November until mid April in the main flock, these are the sheep that are kept outside and lamb on pasture.

Any ewes bred to lamb earlier than that will need to be kept in the barn to keep the lambs from chilling down.

With these dates in mind, no lambs born outside from mid November until late April, we take out the rams in late June or early July and keep them out until December 1st.

This means that the rams spend half the year with the ewes and the other half of the year in a guys only group.

chart showing when to turn in rams and take out rams for may 1st and march 1st lambing seasons
This is an example of when to put your rams in with the ewes for breeding. You’ll need to figure out the specific dates for your area. Our rams spend about half the year with the ewes and half the year in a guys only group.

You are responsible for care of lambs born in the cold

If you decide to keep the rams with the ewes year round you are now responsible for the extra care those lambs need during the more colder parts of the year.

This is the main reason why most farmers remove the rams, a little bit of work now saves you a lot of work later. Take the rams out!

In my area, Ohio, this means dealing with lambs in frigid weather.

This entails soon to lamb ewes being inside or brought inside from the pasture and one of us (me or my husband) making checks on the pen every few hours, around the clock. Not kidding.

When the lambs are born in the cold, they supplemental heat, which means they need put into lambing jugs (individual pens) with heat lamps. Those pens all need individually fed and watered.

If we aren’t willing to do this level of work for lambs born in cold weather, they’ll likely die and that would be our fault because our management, or lack of, had set up a situation that the sheep can not handle.

It will be the same situation for your flock. I’m not trying to be harsh or overly dramatic, but I do want you to think this over.

When should you put your rams in with ewes?

Plan to put rams in with your ewes 5 months before you want lambs.

Ewes that breed early in the season will lamb a bit sooner than this, maybe a week earlier, but 5 months is a good length to use for planning.

We put in rams December 1st to get the first lambs born about May 1st, more specifically late April. We are in Ohio, so if you are noticeably south or more mild than here, you can put rams in sooner.

Take some time and think through the your situation.

Consider a few things:

  • the last of winter weather in your area
  • do your have space for all ewes to lamb in the barn?
  • when is the ideal lambing time for your flock?
  • how much work you are willing to put into lambing time?

A popular time to turn in rams is October, since it is the highest fertility time for the ewes. But, that’s not all you need to consider, there’s a catch.

The catch is that this is too soon for our area, breeding in October gives us March lambs, which are fine if you have a barn, but a disaster, at least around this area, if you do not have them under roof.

We do not have the barn space for lambing inside so we do not turn rams in for October!

Sheep Gestation Table and Lambing Date Calculator at has a lambing chart and, if you scroll down, a calculator (my preferred choice) that you can use for finding specific dates to suit your flock.

rams looking at a ewe through the fence
This is an escaped ewe (on the right) coming to stand beside the ram fence. All of the other ewes are on the far side of the farm.

When to take your rams out

We leave the rams with the ewes for about half of the year, they stay with the ewes until late June or early July. This is so we do not get unexpected lambs in the bitterly cold parts of the year.

If you are in an area with better winter weather, you could leave the rams in with the ewes for longer, as long as you take into account the weather and figure up when he needs to come out of the group.

Grab a calendar and plan your ram removal date

Take a look at a calendar and think about the weather in your area. You need to mark out months that you do not want lambs.

This is simple and that is the problem, it’s easy to do so it is also easy to not do. Please take the time to work this stuff out for the sake of your sheep, not to mention your own levels of frustration!

Will the rams bother the lambs?

From what we have noticed, no, the rams do not tend to bother the lambs. This is because they have plenty of space on pasture.

If for some reason your can not behave himself in the lambing area, take him out.

If the rams are with the ewes and new lambs inside the barn, I would separate off the rams and pen them elsewhere. You don’t need extra bodies in the pen with new lambs, they get jostled around too easily.

new lamb born late in year
This is one of the lambs born late this year. These ewes would have been bred right before we pulled out the rams this summer.

Why not leave the ram in?

If you have acceptable weather year round or a nice lambing area inside, why do you need to keep your rams out? Wouldn’t it be easier to just keep the rams with the ewes all year?

It may be easier for now to keep them all together, but it will get more complicated as you go.

By keeping the ram in with ewes year round you are either making yourself a lot of extra work or leaving new lambs to fall behind and possibly die when they can not keep up with the rest of the group.

Lambs and lactating (milking) ewes need higher energy diets than the rest of your flock. A ewe with lamb should be on better feed than the rest of the flock and the lamb should be kept out of the way of the other ewes.

As soon as you have a ewe with lambs, you should keep her separate from the rest of the group and keep her with other new moms and babies. Any lambs born for the next few weeks can go in this pen, as well.

After that you are getting too much of an age difference between the lambs and the newest lambs will have a hard time keeping up with their much older peers. This means that you’ll need yet another pen.

You’ll keep needing to section off the new moms and their lambs as you get more an more groups of lambs spread out through out the year.

This gets to be a lot of work, when you could just remove the ram and put him in when you want lambs in 5 months.

Your ram options

Ideally, you will have a buddy for your ram to live with in the times of the year you need him to be out of the ewe flock.

If you do not have a wether (castrated male sheep) or another ram, put him with other grass or hay eaters, like a few steers.

As long as the fence will hold the ram, he has space to move away from the steers and he can have the feed that the rest of the group is eating, he should be okay here.

Word to the wise, sheep are sensitive to copper levels in feed, so if the other animals in the pen are getting any sort of mineral, grain mix or pellets, this arrangement will not work.

If they are getting grass or hay only, it should be fine, feed wise. Now, let’s consider behavior.

When you put the ram in this pen, stick around and see how they get along. Once you see everyone eating, things are probably fine.

The steers will be curious and investigate the newcomer, which is fine, but they can not be mean. If so, you’ll have to put the ram by himself.

Of course, the ram would prefer the company of another sheep, but being with non sheep buddies, while not ideal, is better than being alone.

Other sheep articles on this site that you may be interested in:

How Much Does A Ram Cost?

Raising Sheep For Profit

When Should You Put The Ram In With Your Ewes?

What Can You Feed Pigs To Make Them Taste Better?

Are you looking to raise the best tasting pork you and your family has ever had? Here’s a list of feed sources that will keep your pigs happy, provide high quality nutrition and make great tasting pork.

Fresh and clean water is the forgotten feed ingredient

As crazy as it sounds, the most important feed ingredient in a pig’s diet is fresh and clean water! It also seem to be the most likely to be forgotten about feed ingredient, which is why we are going over it first.

Without good water, nothing else you feed your pigs will give you the results you are hoping for. When your pigs have fresh water they can use the rest of their feed well.

The watering set up does not have to be complicated, just a water barrel with a nipple waterer in the side will provide water for quite a few pigs.

If you do not have a waterer yet, go with a flat rubber pan to get you started.

black pigs on bedded pack
This is a pen of my pigs, they have a bedded pack and are using a wheel type feeder.

High quality pig feed

High quality commercial pig feed is the base of most pig diets and will be one of the easiest ways to make sure that your pigs get the calories and the vitamins and minerals they need to grow well.

Well grown pigs will taste good.

You’ll want to feed your pigs free choice feed (they eat whatever feed they want, whenever they want to), as their sole ration or in addition to another or multiple other feed sources like any listed in this article.

How Much Feed Do Pigs Need? goes over the math for raising your pigs so you can plan out your feed purchases.

Do you have to feed pig feed?

Some folks want to raise pigs without any feed whatsoever, it’s doable, but a tough way to go for anyone new to pigs and anyone who is using normal commercially produced feeder pigs.

If you are new to pigs or just want a quicker and easier way to raise pigs for meat then use at least some pig feed. It will make your pigs grow much more quickly and put on fat.

Why does fat matter? Plentiful fat in the meat the key to great tasting pork, which is the entire point of what you’re doing!

If you do not want to feed any feed at all, get your pigs from someone who has proven success on no grain pigs, they are tough to find but are out there.

Start with Sugar Mountain Farm and read through the articles. They also sell piglets, so if you are in the Vermont area (or are willing to drive there) these folks would be a great source for low or no grain piglets.

pigs on pasture
This is a pair of pigs that we put out on a pasture. The white thing you see is a half eaten white pumpkin.

Pigs love to eat living soil

Pigs love to eat soil, not just dirt, but soil, living full of life and nutrients soil. If you have your pigs on pasture, you’ve got this one already!

Not only will the pigs get some of the dirt, of course, they will also get the bugs, worms, roots and whatnot that is also in the soil, in addition to the myriad of good bacteria and fungi.

While it’s hard to point to exactly what the pigs get out of the soil, it’s not hard to see that they love rooting around and finding snacks in it!

Anytime you have pigs eating plentiful food that they enjoy in an environment they like, you’ll have happy pigs and great pork.

Pigs love to eat hay

Pigs seem to really enjoy eating hay. Feeding hay gives your pigs something to do with themselves, since it is more of an involved eating experience than feed, it keeps them busy.

Any good hay is potential pig fodder, alfalfa, clover, orchard grass, bermuda, etc. If other livestock in your area like the hay, get a few bales and see what your pigs think.

Older pigs have more ability to digest hay than younger pigs, so if you have younger feeder pigs, make sure to give them a finer stemmed hay, something like a 2nd or 3rd cutting so it’s easy for them to eat.

Also, pigs love to mess around with hay and toss it around then sleep on it.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but if you see them sitting on the hay rather than eating it, either cut back the amount you are giving them each day or switch to a different kind of hay.

I like to see them playing with the hay, even though it is technically wasting it, that tells me they have plenty to eat now and they can always change their minds and choose to snack on it later.

Pigs enjoy forages, like pasture

Pigs like to eat forages. Forages are any plants that the pigs could go out and find and eat for themselves. An easy to think of forage would be pasture grasses and weeds.

You could put your pigs out on the forage, so fence them onto a pasture or part of your yard, or you can bring the forage to them if letting the pigs harvest it themselves will not work in your situation.

Good for pigs forages include any grass grown for hay, most plant in your pasture, most weeds in your pasture and quite a few of the understory type plants in a lightly wooded or edge of the woods area.

As long as the pigs have choices as to what forages they eat, they’ll pick the ones they like and leave the ones they don’t.

Pigs eating forages is another example of pigs that live a happy, low stress and interesting life providing you with great tasting pork.

Pigs On Pasture gives you a few ideas on how to put together your pig pasture arrangement if you decide to rotate pastures.

Imperfect vegetables for pigs

Less than perfect vegetables are another potential source of pig food. These vegetables could be from your garden or someone else’s, as long as they are free or really cheap.

Pigs will enjoy the variety in their diet and happy pigs taste better, but be careful about what you pay for any non pig feed foods, they are usually not worth the extra costs especially if you have to drive to get them.

There won’t be too many calories for the pigs in most vegetables, it’s more about the new to their diet foods with a different nutrient profile that are also fun for the pigs to explore and eat.

pigs eating hay
These pigs are eating hay as a supplement to their normal pig feed. I like to give pigs hay, since it gives them something that takes a bit more work to eat which keeps them busy and can be used to play with, as well.

Extra eggs for pigs

My pigs love eggs! I normally don’t give them many, we’d rather keep them for the house, but when I have extras or find one or two dirty ones, the pigs get a handy snack.

Food scraps for pigs

You can give your pigs kitchen scraps, but think about what you are doing first. If you are giving them wilted lettuce or slug damaged cabbage, great. If you are giving them old lunch meat, not so great.

The way I think of food scraps is, if the pigs would normally eat something like this, then they can have it, so salad stuff is fine, candy bars or pop are not.

Outdated food for pigs

Pigs can and do happily eat outdated food, as long as it is something they would have eaten normally.

Things like outdated frozen peaches or past their prime crackers would be people type foods that your pigs would happily eat.

Fruit processing waste for pigs

If you are lucky enough to live close to an orchard, you may have a great source of supplemental pig food in the fruit processing waste.

The fruit waste could be peelings, seeds or left over pulp from making cider or juice.

Orchard seconds or dropped fruit for pig feed

Orchards will have a good number of unsellable fruits, either damaged or dropped, that are perfect additions to you pig’s diet.

Damaged fruit is just a cosmetic issue, an odd shape or other small imperfection in an other wise just fine fruit. Some folks buy these for canning or freezing, since they are cutting the fruit anyway.

Damaged fruit would be great for your pigs.

Dropped fruit is unsuitable for resale. When the apple, for instance, drops to the ground it has a big bruise or mushy spot under the skin, which makes it unsellable as fresh fruit but great for your pigs.

Old bread as an occasional snack for pigs

If you have it, old bread would make a nice occasional snack for your pigs, I think of it as more of a fun food, but not really much in the way of nutrition.

The main benefit to the pigs is the novelty of a new to them food that you would be able to use more like you would dog treats.

Dairy processing or cheese making waste

Dairy or cheese processing waste is also a potential source of good nutrition for tasty pigs. This could be whey, cheese trimmings, outdated soft cheeses, etc.

The catch with dairy is that it’s tough to find an economical source for most folks, but if it’s easy for you this is another source of high quality calories that your pigs will enjoy.

Happy pigs taste better

As you can see from the variety of food sources listed here, pigs can and do happily get nutrients from a huge selection of edibles.

Generally, feeding pigs for taste is not so much about giving the pigs something specific to make them taste a certain way, great tasting pork can be raised from numerous feed sources.

It’s more about giving your pigs a happy life so they can grow well and taste great using the things that are available in your area.

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 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.