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Author Topic: Daft questions about adding new sheep  (Read 1365 times)

vegpatch

  • Joined Oct 2016
Daft questions about adding new sheep
« on: May 26, 2020, 06:55:38 pm »
This may be a very daft question but how easy is it to introduce new ewes to an existing pair? 
And does it matter if the incoming sheep look different to the residents eg different coloured fleece, smaller-bodied (I'm avoiding horns on anything after our Dorset Horn wether who became a nuisance - but tastes delicious :thumbsup:)?

 I realise everyone has their favourites but would anyone like to 'talk me out' of considering any of the following breeds?
- Shetland
- Cotswold
- Zwartbles

We only have 2 acres of grass, split into 3 sections. It coped very well with 3 over the winter. So I was thinking 4 adult ewes in total - and then ideally send off lambs before the winter so we'd only have 4 adults on the ground over the winter (with extra hay when needed). 

Other than loving having sheep, the main reason for doing this, is producing meat for ourselves and friends/colleagues, so I'm not envisaging making money - though it would be good not to lose too much in a good year! 

Any help much appreciated - I'm realising that sheep are addictive, just like chickens, but I need to be sensible - for their sake as well as mine.
Many thanks.

bj_cardiff

  • Joined Feb 2017
  • Carmarthenshire
Re: Daft questions about adding new sheep
« Reply #1 on: May 26, 2020, 07:35:25 pm »
Sheep have individual personalities so I think you can have a good one or a bad one of any breed! There are quieter breeds though. I wouldn't consider shetlands because I would try to have a more comercial type lamb and I think they would be small and also lively. Cotswold, I really don't know the breed, but I'd say they are a rare breed for a reason and give the same reasons as above.  Zwartbles, I've not kept them but know people who have and I hear no bad things about them. If I was offered a few at a good price I would definately try them :)

As you would like to have your lambs ready by the winter I think you'll really need a fast maturing more comercial breed or type.

vegpatch

  • Joined Oct 2016
Re: Daft questions about adding new sheep
« Reply #2 on: May 26, 2020, 08:33:48 pm »
Thanks bj_cardiff.  The person who sheared our two recommended Zwartbles - he thought the lambs would be away in time for us which I think is important when we're so restricted re acreage.

twizzel

  • Joined Apr 2012
Re: Daft questions about adding new sheep
« Reply #3 on: May 26, 2020, 08:59:42 pm »
I’ve heard that zwartbles can be harder to finish due to their big frame, but that’s second hand info as I’ve not kept them myself. Shetlands would need a terminal tup to stand any chance of finishing by the end of their first autumn before winter.

SallyintNorth

  • Joined Feb 2011
  • Cornwall
  • Rarely short of an opinion but I mean well
Re: Daft questions about adding new sheep
« Reply #4 on: May 26, 2020, 09:05:28 pm »
If the meat is for yourselves and friends, you really don't need to be thinking about a commercial animal, except from the point of view of not keeping lambs on over winter.  The taste of at least two of your suggestions is orders of magnitude better than any commercial I have tasted, and at least one of those will mature in one season.

You don't say what type are the sheep they will be joining? 

Sheep can be very racist (!), and stick to the pals they know, and newcomers may not be fully integrated until after next lambing.

Which aside, they will integrate in time because they will get used to each other and because 4 is the minimum size for them to feel like a flock.

Zwartbles are huge, very friendly - over-friendly for some; pushy and have no fear of humans.  Mostly the fleece is not very exciting for spinners, but they do have their fans, not least because of the strong solid black colour which is quite rare in sheep.  Feet can be an issue, take someone knowledgeable with you to buy and look at the feet of the rest of the flock if you can ;).  Some Zwarts seem prone to flystrike, but some seem to be quite resistant.  Meat tastes excellent and you can put a Zwart ewe to pretty much any tup and she will have the lambs away before winter.  Joints are a bit large for some households; we love them here, but we are cooking for 15-25 at a time!  A whole leg feeds us all :)   Zwarts might need cake over winter and while rearing lambs; it was a dairy breed so they produce a lot of milk, but need plenty of input to do so.  That's what makes the lambs ready before winter, but if your other sheep don't need feed / tend to fat, that could give you management problems. ;)

I know very little about Cotswolds except they are quite large and very woolly!  Some have fab wool and spinners will pay a lot for fleeces, but unless you know something about it you are likely to end up with sheep whose fleeces are at the rougher end of the longwool spectrum, and are not particularly sought after.

Longwools can need quite a bit of extra care, especially if your ground is muddy in winter, and they may need very careful management to avoid flystrike. 

I have had a couple of Wensleydales and I would expect Cotswolds to be somewhat similar to manage. Wenseys can be rather lazy mums, might need a nudge to get on and clean and feed the lambs, my one had a single every year except her last (and we then discovered half her udder didn't work, sigh), and she and her offspring are quite prone to getting mucky and needing dagging, and to flystrike if not kept clean.  But... big lambs, ready for the off before Christmas.  My "one-half" Wensey has the most amazing steely blue lustrous fleece, and I forgive her a lot of extra work for the quality of that.  :hugsheep: :spin:

I have had a lot of experience of a lot of different sheep, and I have said many times that if I had only shepherding to consider, I would choose pure Shetland every single time.  Lambs squirt out running, straight to the milk bar, mothers know what to do, (main piece of lambing equipment is a pair of binoculars, just leave her to it), fabulous little sheep.  Usually good feet, meat tastes amazing.  Some Shetland fleeces can be a bit ordinary, but if fleece is of interest you should have no trouble finding sheep with really nice fleece.

Big downside is they aren't huge sheep and if you don't want to be keeping them over winter the lambs would be even smaller.  We get some of ours away before Christmas but the majority of pure Shetland benefit from being at least 12 months old.  We don't cake, mind, we find the meat is best on pure grass.

Shetlands can take a larger tup but I would breed pure the first once or twice, and you'd need to go back to pure after say 3 larger crops as the belly muscles start to sag. 

Tell us more about the two they would be joining?
Don't listen to the money men - they know the price of everything and the value of nothing

Live in a cohousing community with small farm for our own use.  Dairy cow, beef cattle, pigs, sheep for meat and fleece, ducks and hens for eggs, veg and fruit growing

Womble

  • Joined Mar 2009
  • Stirlingshire, Central Scotland
Re: Daft questions about adding new sheep
« Reply #5 on: May 26, 2020, 09:10:12 pm »
Hi Vegpatch,


We keep Zwartbles. We lamb at Easter and get the lambs away in good condition in October. I don't think you'd manage that with Shetlands, but can't comment on Cotswolds. Some manage earlier even than that, by giving more hard feed.

@twizzel , I think that's right, and we do feed the lambs to make sure they are finished with good condition score. We didn't do that the first year, and they shot upwards and increased in 'frame' without putting on meat, which then made them difficult to finish. For a small non-commercial flock, it's no big deal once you figure it out, but I can see why they would need good grazing to be commercial.

Anyway, Reasons Zs are great:

  • Naturally very friendly (possibly because they used to be a dairy breed?).
  • Easy to find in rain, snow, fog and mud :-)
  • Docile. I rounded up all our sheep and injected all the lambs in 20 minutes working on my own. I then helped our neighbour with his four Shetland lambs...... took two of us twice as long. (Not all Shetlands are the same of course).
  • They are a milky sheep, and give birth really easily (Z lambs are all legs and have small heads, whilst the ewes are naturally 'roomy').
  • They cross really well with other breeds, so you could try different tups on them, and would not have to keep one (use a tup lamb and then eat him).
Reasons not to choose Zs:

  • They do need additional feeding to keep condition on. Whereas Shetlands would be low-input, low-output, Zs are definitely higher input, higher output. Lambs also benefit from additional feeding, to 'finish'.
  • They are large. There's no getting away from it, but of course that's also what you eat, and slaughter costs are usually "per head", so that helps. Also, they are also so docile that they're easier to handle (and even tip) than smaller, feistier breeds.
  • This might be controversial, but now I know what I'm looking for, I see a lot of really poor animals advertised for sale. Because the markings are distinctive, some breeders are selling poorly shaped sheep with good markings, and thinking that's acceptable. However, there are plenty to choose from now, so you can afford to be really picky.

This is just my honest opinion and experience (others may disagree), but I hope it's helpful  :thumbsup: .
"All fungi are edible. Some fungi are only edible once." -Terry Pratchett

vegpatch

  • Joined Oct 2016
Re: Daft questions about adding new sheep
« Reply #6 on: May 26, 2020, 11:19:15 pm »
Lots to think about here - thanks.
@SallyintNorth - they'd be joining a Cotswold/dorset horn cross (no horns, shearer commented on her 'lovely' fleece - his words, not mine) and a Heinz 57 (who will go for meat once the Cotswold x is settled with new friends). Shetlands do sound good from a hardy, just get on with it, type of animal - which I do like, and I remember eating them as a teenager - they were very tasty.  I also love the way they look. My main concern is not ending up with too many animals for our space over the winter - our field doesn't get particularly muddy (even this year there was very little mud) but I'd like to keep it that way.


@Womble - Zs do sound appealing.  Keeper ewe is friendly with us and generally easy to handle so having other friendly ones would be good.
Not sure about feeding - ours didn't need anything extra (other than hay) and the dorset wether went off after just being fed grass and we got 20kg of meat back so that did seem an economic way of doing things.

I shall have to ponder some more - but all good info.  Many thanks.

Womble

  • Joined Mar 2009
  • Stirlingshire, Central Scotland
Re: Daft questions about adding new sheep
« Reply #7 on: May 26, 2020, 11:57:16 pm »
I guess there's no rule that says you have to keep all the same breed. That said, it is definitely easier if you have sheep that all behave in a similar way, have / don't have horns, and need similar amounts of feed.


We started out with Manx Loaghtans, which are lovely hardy sheep and in many respects more like deer than sheep. They were absolutely wrong for us though, and also didn't mix well with the Zs. In hindsight I should have admitted that sooner and moved on.

If you fancy Zs, this might be a good time to pick up a ewe with lambs at foot. That way you could either keep or eat the lambs at the end of the year depending on how things go for you. Don't let the feed thing put you off - it's easily managed. You just have to be aware that Zs are going to need more input than something like Shetlands, but of course that's one of the things that enables pure bred lambs to be finished 'fat' the same year they're born.
« Last Edit: May 27, 2020, 12:00:20 am by Womble »
"All fungi are edible. Some fungi are only edible once." -Terry Pratchett

bj_cardiff

  • Joined Feb 2017
  • Carmarthenshire
Re: Daft questions about adding new sheep
« Reply #8 on: May 27, 2020, 06:21:07 am »
I guess there's no rule that says you have to keep all the same breed. That said, it is definitely easier if you have sheep that all behave in a similar way, have / don't have horns, and need similar amounts of feed.

I find that its best to have a certain 'type' and size. When I started with sheep I had three black blue faced leicester and then brought 8 Kerry Hill + ram, they were such opposites but hard to manage together as the BBFL needed so much more feed, at weaning they had lost so much condition it was pitiful. I loved the crosses, but again, the ewes would melt away when they had lambs on them while the Kerry hill would have slower growing lambs but retained their condition. I had to wean the BBFC early every year. I introduced a Lleyn Ram into the flock then and several generations later all ewes are a high proportian Lleyn and its made such a difference!

silkwoodzwartbles

  • Joined Apr 2016
Re: Daft questions about adding new sheep
« Reply #9 on: May 27, 2020, 07:35:21 am »
I've got Zwartbles too and love them. I've been keeping them for 5 years and have reached a point where all my ewes please me. I've sent stock for cull every year for bad mothering (they never seem to have any trouble lambing), bad feet or for being flystrike-prone despite proper care, and last year and this year I've barely had to touch my girls except when I want to (they are VERY friendly!)

I have a few mis-marked ewes in my flock that are fabulously well built and their lambs are delicious. As I'm slowly breeding my own replacements, I'll move on the ones that don't conform to breed standards, but at the moment I'd rather a well built, strong sheep that fits in our regime than one with the "correct" markings but that gives me trouble or is badly built.

If you're local you're welcome to come see my flock to help you decide if you like them as a breed :) ETA - after COVID-19 lockdown, obviously! :)

SallyintNorth

  • Joined Feb 2011
  • Cornwall
  • Rarely short of an opinion but I mean well
Re: Daft questions about adding new sheep
« Reply #10 on: May 27, 2020, 07:42:40 am »
A very good piece of advice given to me by a third generation Cumbrian hill farmer... "Buy stock you like the look of.  You will have to get out and see to them in all weathers, when you're ill and just want to be in bed, no matter what.  So they better be something you like to see when you get there!"

So, given that you have a yen towards Shetlands... a few other perspectives.  Shetlands are about half the size of Zwartbles and eat waaaay less.  When planning stocking you would have maybe 1.5 to 2 times as many Shetland sheep on the same ground as Zwartbles.  So as your ground isn't particularly muddy, you could have your 4 ewes, and if they are Zwartbles the lambs will mostly be away long before Christmas (but there may be the occasional one that needs longer, it happens to all types); if they are Shetlands you would probably keep half the lambs over winter.  But 4 Shetland ewes with 4 retained lambs would have a similar impact on the ground to 4 Zwartbles ewes :idea:  (Womble, any thoughts?  Manxes are a similar size to Shetlands, and you moved from the one to the other.).  However, you might still have some ewe lambs present when it's tupping time, so if your ground isn't subdivided, that could present a problem.  And Shetland boys generally have horns, although they are fairly modest horns if you get the testicles ringed at a week or so old.

If you source the right Shetlands, they can be very friendly, but rarely as pushy as Zwartbles  :-J.  And being smaller, not as much of a pest if they do get pushy  :D. (But calibrate that knowing that I am a huge fan of Shetlands and Zwartbles leave me untouched, although our one remaining Zwartbles is a good sheep - does her job well, and will treat me with respect if I demand it - and I like her.)

As an example, one of my pure Shetland ewes got a "cow teat" - a teat which is so large when the lambs are born you have to milk some milk off to make the teat small enough for the lambs' wee mouths! and then teach the lambs to use it.  (Happens occasionally in several breeds, don't keep ewe lambs from ewes which do it.)  She was so tame I could just walk her and her lambs to a pen in the corner of the field, sit down next to her and milk it off and put the lambs on it, no restraint needed at all.  :hugsheep:

Don't listen to the money men - they know the price of everything and the value of nothing

Live in a cohousing community with small farm for our own use.  Dairy cow, beef cattle, pigs, sheep for meat and fleece, ducks and hens for eggs, veg and fruit growing

SallyintNorth

  • Joined Feb 2011
  • Cornwall
  • Rarely short of an opinion but I mean well
Re: Daft questions about adding new sheep
« Reply #11 on: May 27, 2020, 07:50:00 am »
Yes, I absolutely echo that you want sheep that need the same management.  It's an utter pain to be keeping ones that need cake in with ones that mustn't have cake, etc, especially on a small smallholding.

And I would suggest that you buy your Zwartbles from silkwoodzwartbles (or someone like her) since she has got rid of all the undesirable traits from her flock.  There were 8 Zwartbles here when I came and after culling lines that got flystrike, lines that got mastitis, lines that had bad feet, lines that needed help to lamb and lines that needed to be lambed indoors because they were such poor mothers, we just have Gwenneth left.  (But she is a very good sheep.  I like her.)

Another thought I had... if the Dorsets do well for you but you don't like horns...  You know that the Polled Dorset is exactly the same sheep as the Dorset Horn, except it has no horns?  (And yes, nice fleece, which spinners like.  All 3 Dorset breeds are nice to spin.)
Don't listen to the money men - they know the price of everything and the value of nothing

Live in a cohousing community with small farm for our own use.  Dairy cow, beef cattle, pigs, sheep for meat and fleece, ducks and hens for eggs, veg and fruit growing

SallyintNorth

  • Joined Feb 2011
  • Cornwall
  • Rarely short of an opinion but I mean well
Re: Daft questions about adding new sheep
« Reply #12 on: May 27, 2020, 07:50:59 am »
(Helping people choose their sheep is one of my fave hobbies  ;D)
Don't listen to the money men - they know the price of everything and the value of nothing

Live in a cohousing community with small farm for our own use.  Dairy cow, beef cattle, pigs, sheep for meat and fleece, ducks and hens for eggs, veg and fruit growing

Womble

  • Joined Mar 2009
  • Stirlingshire, Central Scotland
Re: Daft questions about adding new sheep
« Reply #13 on: May 27, 2020, 08:50:37 am »
But 4 Shetland ewes with 4 retained lambs would have a similar impact on the ground to 4 Zwartbles ewes :idea:  (Womble, any thoughts?


Yup, you're spot on as usual @SallyintNorth .

The other thing nobody has mentioned about Shetlands is that they come in all sorts of utterly unpronounceable colour combinations, which is really cool for a hobby flock.


Can I throw another one into the mix though? Balwen Welsh Mountains. They look like Zs, but will have characteristics more like Shetlands? Maybe? Or am I talking out of my......  :thinking:

 @silkwoodzwartbles - that's interesting. We lost our rented grazing last year and as a result had to make some really tough decisions. First off we ate everything that had a known problem. Then we sold all of the other problem-free ewes that weren't firm favourites.

The result?  Lambing was a breeze this year, with only one ewe giving us any trouble at all, and of course she'll be going this autumn too (we've found that mutton is really easy to sell if you find the right customers for it). Like so many things in life, Pareto was right - 80% of your problems really do come from 20% of your flock. Get rid of that 20% and life is good!!

Like you, I'd rather have a ewe with good conformation and poor markings than the other way around. The saying is that you can always put white ON a Z, but that it's difficult to get it back off again.

@vegpatch - whereabouts are you?  If you're near Central Scotland, you're welcome to come and have a look at our flock, and our neighbour's Shetlands (which are for sale), once Covid restrictions are lifted?
"All fungi are edible. Some fungi are only edible once." -Terry Pratchett

lesbri

  • Joined Apr 2013
Re: Daft questions about adding new sheep
« Reply #14 on: May 27, 2020, 09:12:04 am »
Just jumping in with my experience of zwartbles - I had/have ryelands and found the carcase on the small side when the lambs were sent off in the autumn so we tried a zwartble tup on them to increase the size of the lambs and this has been very successful. I have kept a couple of the resulting ewe lambs to breed from and find them really good mums, lamb easily (tempting fate here), easy to handle as they are so friendly. I may have been lucky but have had no foot/flystrike problems. I did wonder if mastitis would be a problem given the huge size of their udders, but, touch wood, this hasnt been a problem. Good luck  :wave:

 

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