Livestock

Buying sheep

As with most livestock, there are many ways to acquire your sheep. Every autumn, livestock markets sell thousands of commercial ewes, gimmers and ewe lambs for breeding; in the late spring, there are regular sales of ewes with lambs at foot. Most of the sheep breed societies will hold at least one specialist sale in the autumn and the Rare Breed Survival Trust supports regular sales of rare breeds.

If you are simply looking for a few lambs to bottle rear, ask around your local sheep farmers, but choose carefully. As with all things, there are sheep farmers and sheep farmers.

For a lamb to survive and thrive, it needs to get a good feed of colostrum within the first few hours of life, so you need to be fairly sure in your own mind that your farmer is going to give that initial care before selling the lamb(s) to you. Similarly if you just want a few sheep to run over the summer to keep the grass down then fill the freezer, a local farmer may be able to help.

Breed societies

However, if you want sheep for breeding and if you want a rare breed, for the novice, probably the best way to acquire your sheep is via the relevant breed society. And if you are going to keep a rare breed, I would urge you most strongly to buy registered stock.

Only registered animals are “known” to the breed society and only offspring from these animals can be registered in their turn. By buying them, you continue to support the breed.

Most pedigree breeders are happy to extol the virtues of their chosen breed at length and are usually happy to welcome you to the breed “fold” and offer ongoing support to the newcomer.

Choosing a breed

Choosing a breed can be difficult – there are so many to choose from and every breeder can tell you why his or her breed is best. With a few caveats, choose the one YOU love – on a cold, dark, wet night when you’re looking for the ewe that has decided to go AWOL, it will be much easier if you love your breed.

While the primitive breeds will thrive almost anywhere, if you live on the top of a mountain, a Southdown might not be your best choice. If you are of slight build, the Leicester Longwool might not be for you.

Try and get to a few agricultural shows and see different breeds in the flesh, read the breed society blurb and then make your choice. But, if you decide later that this isn’t the breed for you, you can change  – lots of people do.

Building your flock

It’s probably a good idea to either build up your flock over a few years or buy ewes of mixed ages, otherwise they will all get old and decrepit at the same time.

Also consider having a mix of bloodlines to refresh the gene pool, rather than having all ewes from the same flock. But if you don’t get it right first time, you can always sell some ewes on and try again.

Rosemary Champion

About Rosemary Champion

Rosemary lives on a 12 acre smallholding in Angus, in the east of Scotland, where she keeps Ryeland Sheep, Shetland cattle and assorted poultry. She was destined to be a smallholder from an early age.

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