This year we started out with 5 feeder sheep, which the children named, even though we we intended to butcher them and told them not to. So we had our adorable first lamb, Buttercup, Black Eye, Parmesan, Netflix, and Poptarts. Our thought was to have just feeders this year so as to avoid build out costs and renovations for wintering the sheep. So we built out our lamb stalls and purchased our Trade Lake feeders through Love Tree Farmstead.
We fell in love with our little sheep quickly. They were so cute! We found out that they can memorably identify with up to 50 people and sheep in their herd. Pretty neat! It was fun to have them be so excited to see us. We did loose Buttercup, the prettiest little lamb, early on, later finding out that she likely had too much supplemental grain and died from bloat. She would always hog the treat tin. Be careful with those lambies!
Then we got excited about the idea of milking sheep, and ended up buying our milking pair, Rambo and Snowy (they came with those names!) in the summer. Funny story, when we found an advert about some sheep on Craigslist, we had no idea we were actually about to make a purchase from a coworker in the same company I (Sarah) work at, so we made some new friends as well with the The Little Schoolhouse In the Woods. For the curious, Snowy is mostly East Friesian, with maybe a 1/4 icelandic, and a dash of Awassi. Rambo is East Friesian and Icelandic. He has the most beautiful yellow eyes too!
It was a little tricky at first integrating them with our flock. Rambo and Snowy were an established pair, and our little feeders were pretty leery of them. Snowy was also a bit aggressive at times, butting the little sheep around, and being skittish when we would move the pasture. Rambo was a pretty sweet guy, and gentle, despite his extremely loud and low bleat and general hugeness compared to the other sheep. Eventually, they learned to live with each other, but it was still clear our feeders preferred one another and Rambo and Snowy also spent most of the time to themselves.
We also decided to keep a few of our original feeders and attempt to have our own feeders birthed this Winter / Spring (to be fair, spring is still winter here in Northwestern Wisconsin). We also didn’t separate our ram from our ewes during mating season, so it’s even more likely we will have late Winter or very early Spring births.
We also learned about hoof trimming, and that was a task my husband Josh decided to tackle, quite literally, himself. This is definitely something that if I were Josh-less, I would need some extra equipment for holding the sheep in place, as my brute strength isn’t up to this task, but his is! Some of the quick moves to put the sheep in submission and hold them were cringe-worthy on my part. Josh is the man, man.
I also found myself often worrying if we were doing things well, wanting to take the best care of the sheep as possible. We build a little shelter for them for the rain / wind / heat, which Rambo and Snowy would often kick the little feeders out of. Worrying if we needed to build a second shelter, did they have enough protection from bugs and elements, do they need medical attention, how best to feed them, do they need a supplement, etc…
To be sure that was stressful for a detail oriented person like myself. I highly recommend this book:
We also found a resource for supplies that was helpful when we couldn’t find something from Farm & Fleet or Menards, which is Valley Vet, and they had very fast shipping when we needed items.
Another resource we found helpful was Premier1. We got our netted electrified fence through them. Another cool thing about the fence is it has a solar powered battery, so it is very economical too! We got two paddocks worth, and being movable was a big plus! How big you need depends on the size of your flock. I would have rather gotten a second charger to separate our ram this year for later lambing in hindsight. They have a helpful tool on their site for gauging what type of fence and how much you need.
We also experimented with haying some of the property this year with the help of our neighbor, who also sold us the property. They have a horse, and for payment for using his equipment, time and effort, he got half. We did some lighter half bales so the kids could help gather them from the field. They had a lot of fun “swimming” in it, and also got a lot of bug bites… lesson learned. Don’t swim in hay! Even with splitting the hay bales, we were able to get enough that even with 3 pregnant ewes and our ram, we should not likely have to get any more hay before the pasture becomes available again, which was pretty exciting.
We used more budget building out for the winter with our new plans to lamb out and milk the sheep. We sourced wood from a nearby small shop and built out a side of our shed that had an overhand into a barn, which turned out pretty great. Yet another moment of Josh shining. He is one of those guys who can YouTube and do a Google search for a project he wants to do, then get to work and just do it. I am not that person. I need a manual! So again, handy hubby to the rescue for the sheep and the budget.
Overall, it feels pretty accomplished to have the barn winterized and ready for the sheep. There are still some extras we need to accomodate for the coming extreme cold, but our winter has been relatively mild after an early cold snap and snow. January will be another story…
Here are a few more cute posts of the the sheepies and some other homestead pics:
One thought on “Reflecting on the First Year with Sheep”
Sarah..I was so delighted to meet Josh at Spooner Farmers Market yesterday. Found out our connection..we had owned the farm 2 properties north of yours for 25 years…Big Pine Farm. Raised 2 wonderful girls there who frolicked in the fields there,too. Our foray into farming for a few years was Registered Polled Herefords and I remember those Spring days of birthing the cutest calves. We,too,were city kids enjoying the learning process but without You Tube available! So love to hear of your love of the land and caring so responsiively for the earth. Hope to visit one day.