Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Sheep Join the Homestead

Ian, Hilda, Etta, and Mac
Depending on how you look at it, 2016 was either the year we started a new livestock adventure or lost our minds. Adding sheep to our homestead was not a decision we made lightly. We spent years researching breeds, handling requirements, pros and cons, and anything else we could find. In April we finally took the plunge and brought home two ewes and their lambs in the back of our 26 year old Toyota truck. 

After information overload from the internet and talking with other sheep people, we decided on the Shetland breed. Shetlands are small (about half the size of standard sheep) so handling would be a little easier. They are very hardy having been developed on the Shetland Islands north of Scotland and probably bred from sheep left on the islands by the Vikings. Shetlands are also known for the beautiful and very fine wool so they have excellent economic value. And they are incredibly cute. 

Our two ewes, Etta the whiteish one and Hilda the black one, are registered Shetlands. Their lambs are crossbreds. Did I mention that Shetlands are naughty (the breeders' term for their disposition)? Etta's lamb, Mac (named for my Scottish grandmother's family name - MacGinnis), is the result of an unintended breeding to a Soay ram, another very hardy, primitive breed. Hilda's lamb, Ian, is the result of a secret breeding to a Black Welsh Mountain ram. 

After a short period of adjustment, we started them on their main summer job - mowing. Using electrified netting, we move them all around the house and close up pasture areas where we can't or don't want to graze cattle. They are dainty little grazers and fertilizers.

In June they lost their heavy winter fleeces. Initially we thought that might be a job we could learn but have watching numerous YouTube videos we thought better of it and hired a professional shearer. In fifteen minutes Tom had them slick and ready for the summer weather. 
Tom, Etta, and Don
Tom and Hilda
Etta's fleece

My cousin, Margaret, is a long-time spinner and weaver so I sent her the two fleeces. She's washing, carding, and spinning and will return half as ready to use yard. Next year we'll have fleeces from Mac (a beautiful rich brown) and Ian (black, black) and maybe one or two additions to the flock.

Over the summer we've learned more about their grazing preferences and what they consider barriers to movement. Initially we ran temporary fencing along the creek to keep them from crossing or floating away but we've realized that they don't like to get their feet wet so we can use the creek as a "fence" which allows even more grazing opportunities.

Their first home was more of a mobile home - the livestock trailer which provided a safe location for the evenings. From dusk to dawn they are locked in the trailer. When the sun is up they are out on grass. In June we started building their own barn and it should be ready for occupancy in September. 

We still have a lot to learn but I can say this much - the sheep are really enjoyable to have around. They can be naughty and are definitely characters, but they have filled a void I didn't realize I had.