Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sheep Horns

Depending on how familiar you are with sheep, you may have noticed that some sheep have horns and some do not. Horns on sheep are something that some keepers prefer, while others dislike.

Myself I prefer having horns on a ram, as they make for great handles, but like ewes without. That is to say I like a non-polled (has horns) ram, and polled (no horns) ewes. I do, however, have one ewe that has 5 horns, 3 well formed, and 2 smaller (scurred).

Patsy, one of our sheep, part Jacob, part Barbado.

People who breed purebred sheep might select for, or against, horns as a result of the breed standard and their own preference.   Some sheep breeds do not have horns on rams or ewes, others have horns on both genders, while others have horns only on the rams.  Owners of sheep breeds that can be either polled, or non polled, often select one or the other, but those keepers who have a preference need to select a breed that fits with their desires to have horns or not.

Goats often have their horn buds removed early in life because their horns tend to grow straight up, while sheep horns are often curled, and as such are less dangerous.  This is true of most sheep breeds, but not all, the Jacob sheep often have several horns (four is common) and these can be curled or straight.
Unknown sheep breed - photo by NicePics from London, UK (Sheep with interesting horns) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

You can read more about sheep horns, advantages, disadvantages, what they are made of, and horn genetics, click here.

You can read more, and see other pictures, of the Jacob Sheep, click here.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Meet Favorite Sheep

When we first got our sheep we thought it would be a good idea not to give them names, after all these were livestock animals, that might be sold.  As such our sheep ended up with non-name names, mostly color descriptions, because after all, we still needed some way of referencing which sheep was which and did not use ear tags. 

Soon one ewe got the name "Favorite" simply because she was the friendliest sheep and my daughter referred to her as her favorite sheep.

Here she is at one year of age, after her first shearing.

Favorite sheep became rather tame and would eat from your hand, but one day something went slightly wrong for Favorite sheep.

This was 2008, sheep were living with a donkey, llama, and miniature horses, including a miniature stallion.  All seemed to be fine together, and even now we are not sure if she got kicked, or had a stroke.  The only thing we do know is that one day she was not holding her ear correctly.  This was the summer, we checked the sheep daily but otherwise left them alone for grazing, and as such the small flock often got flighty and avoided us, when in the winter they always would come around looking for oats and treats.  Favorite otherwise looked fine, so we did not call the veterinarian at that time.

As time passed it was clear something had happened (xrays would have been expensive and finding out what happened really would not make a difference), however her tongue would hang from her mouth and it appeared she really did not have feeling in that side of her face, in fact food often builds up in her cheek and she spits it out regularly.

Favorite is at the front of the sheep, obviously still the "leader" of the other sheep, fast on her feet, but you can see she has something wrong when you look at her ear, eye, and face. 

Now... I know most keepers would have culled her (sold her or shot her) but... we had already named her "Favorite" how could we do such a thing?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Pros and Cons of Pet Chickens on the Farm

When we moved to our little acreage one of the things we wanted to get were some hens for eggs. There was a large shed that we easily converted into a chicken coop and build a large run around that, which we could open so the birds could have a proper “free range” after getting use to the home base.

We purchased eight hens, and 5 week old silkie chicks. The chicks were kept in the house in a large guinea pig cage (guinea pig free of course!).

The pros of keeping chickens – obviously eggs. Our hens were older birds, between eight of them we got about four eggs a day. These eggs were more than we could eat, as we want to encourage people eating Free range eggs, we sold the excess for $1 a dozen (in stores they are about $3 a dozen).

We soon learned that free range eggs are healthier than store bought, so that was certainly another plus.
Chickens eat bugs, flies, slugs, grasshoppers, and even fleas and ticks. That year we had a Ked problem (a wingless pest that feds on sheep) and noticed the hens would eat the Keds off the sheep.

Chickens are very low cost pets, we had to pay for laying ration, and chicken scratch, a bag of oystershell, and grit, but still these costs were much lower than dog food and supplies.

Chickens are friendly and trainable. Although most people do not take the time to get to know their chickens, we did. We handled the young silkie chicks daily (as it turned out all but one were roosters, so we sold them all to owners who wanted such). The older gals learned the daily routine and learned by watching us where the strawberry patch was, and were smart enough to eat the strawberries when nobody was looking! They would even talk to us.

Chickens are relatively maintenance free. Since we had a large coop, and let the birds free range, there was pretty much no mess, we only needed to clean the hen house once a month, and made simple checks on them daily to be sure they had food and water, much less work than a dog that would need regular exercise, and proper cleaning up after.


We learned one disadvantage of having pet chickens.. but only one. After keeping pet chickens we found it very hard to eat chicken ever again. Even looking at them dead in the grocery store has been difficult. In fact it has lead to us almost becoming full vegetarians.

Read about the Cruelty of Mass Egg Production (Battery Farms), Click Here

Read about What Breeds of Chickens are Best as Pets, Click Here

Monday, December 6, 2010

Advantages of Hair Sheep

Our first sheep were hair sheep but eventually we decided that hair sheep are the way to go.  They get thicker winter coats, and even have some wool hairs in the winter, but they shed in the spring and summer.  This means less work, which is great, particularly in areas where wool is not worth shearing and selling.  I note here that even if wool has no monetary value the wool sheep should still be shorn or they suffer in the heat. 

Hair sheep do not need their tails docked because they are shorter and as their tails are not covered in wool, the feces do not stick to them.  Typically wool sheep have their tails docked because manure stuck in the tail attract flies.

Katahdin ram
Hair sheep breeds tend to be smaller than most of the popular wool breeds, which makes them better to work with on small farms, or for people who are not strong enough for larger animals.  Although some people consider some of the hair breeds to be more nervous I have not found this to be the case. 

There are also many claims that hair sheep experience fewer problems with internal parasites.  I will say that keds are much less of a problem with hair sheep.

We find having a hair sheep ram to be the best for our breeding program, which includes larger wool sheep ewes as well as some hair sheep ewes.   The hair sheep ram means smaller lambs at birth, which translates to fewer lambing problems for the ewe.  I would not suggest breeding a hair sheep ewe to a larger wool breed ram.  The hair x wool sheep have an odd sort of coat that sheds partially.

We live in Canada, and have cold weather in the winters.  They hair sheep grow thicker coats in the winter, but should have winter protection (we keep ours in an unheated barn at night in the winter).  This is not so much of an issue really as we lamb in the winter so all our ewes are in the barn at night regardless of breed.  As you would expect, they are very tolerant of hot weather.

I would especially encourage anyone who wants to have sheep as pets, for meat, or for pasture control to consider hair sheep.

We have owned Barbado hair sheep as pictured above, Dorper, and Katahdin, which I am sure you will read about it other blog posts here!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Death on the Farm

Our sheep are primarily pets, although we do breed them and sell their offspring (at unusual livestock auctions) we tend to become more attached to them than perhaps somebody who had been raised keeping sheep purely as livestock.

The winter of 2007 had been particularly cold, and as January 2008 rolled around temperatures were not getting much better.  Where we live there are a few coyotes, we use to see them rather regularly just outside our pasture.  If seen we would often run out and chase them away as they scare rather easily. 

At that time we had a farm light, a flood light for the yard, it illuminated the barns that the sheep had free access to. Apparently it illuminated them too!  On January 3, of 2008, coyotes entered the sheep pen at night.  The sheep could not have seen the approaching predators, just as we when in light rooms cannot see into the darkness.

Of course I don't know exactly what happened except that in the morning when one sheep did not come for breakfast I had to walk around to try and find her, but instead found only a backbone and hind legs.  Mrs.  Whiteface had been killed and eaten. 

The picture of her is from the summer previous, as she stands over her two lambs with another ewe (Mrs Greyface).  She would have been an easy target, she had artritis in her legs making her slower moving when she would just wake up, particularly in the winter.

I hold no bad feelings towards the coyotes, although for a while I did at the time, but they were just doing what comes naturally to them - they have to eat too. 

We now have no yard lights, so the sheep can see danger at night, and when winters get more cold they are brought into the fully enclosed barn at night.

Read about How to Keep Yourself Safe from Coyotes - click here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Differences Between Sheep and Goats

Do you know how to tell the difference between a sheep and a goat?  A lot of people think that if it has wool, it's a sheep; if it has hair, it's a goat - but this is not true!

When we first moved to the country we were pretty familiar with livestock... and of course when we found hair sheep we soon learned more about them.  On many occasions when we would share pictures of our hair sheep people would make comments "That's not a sheep, it's a GOAT!".  Well of course we know our animals, and they were wrong... but you cannot blame folks for not being familiar with hair sheep as they are not common. 

There are in fact many physical differences between sheep and goats.  Without looking can you think which one has a spit lip and which does not?

Sheep or Goat?

What is the difference between sheep and goats?

  • Goats are browsers, they prefer to feed on shrubs, bushes, and trees. Sheep are grazers, they prefer to feed on things on the ground, such as grass.
  • Most Goat Breeds have tails that stick up, where as sheep have tails that hang down (many are docked or cut short within a few days of birth).
  • Goats have 60 Chromosomes, Sheep have only 54. Reports of them being able to crossbreed are rare and unproven.
  • Male Goats and some females have “beards”. Sheep do not, but some hair sheep have “manes”.
  • Goats are not very tolerant of rain or cold weather, often seeking shelter. Sheep are more likely to seek shelter from the sun on a hot day, and will tolerate some rain or cold weather.
  • Goats often leave their “kids” in groups to rest while the “does” feed. Sheep keep their lambs by their sides.
  • Many breeds of goats can climb fences. Sheep are not known as climbers.
  • Male Goats rear up on their hind legs and come down to “butt heads”. Male Sheep back up and charge to “butt heads”.
  • Goats have solid upper lips. In sheep the upper lip is divided.
  • Female goats are called does, or nannies, males are called bucks, their young are called kids. Females sheep are called ewes, males are called rams, their young are called lambs.

    The photo above is a sheep, in fact it is a young hair sheep ram.  Below are some goats.


  • Not all sheep are Woolly, some breeds have “hair” and shed in the summer. These sheep do not require sheering or having their tails docked.
  • The average lifespan of a goat or sheep is 10-14 years, but some live much longer, depending on breed.
  • Gestation Period (pregnancy) is about 5 months for both.
  • Goats usually have 2 kids at once, but may have many more, Sheep usually have between 1-3 lambs.
  • Both Goats and Sheep are easily preyed upon by Coyotes, Wolves, and other predators, especially when they are young. A Llama makes an excellent guard animal against Coyotes, but is no match for larger predators. A donkey or guard dog should be used in such cases.
  • Father goats or sheep are called Sires, Mother goats or sheep are called Dams.
  • Goats and Sheep do not have front top teeth.
  • Neutered male goats and sheep are called Wethers.
  • Goats and Sheep can be kept together, but do have different feed requirements.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Painting Sheep

This is about a sheep whose picture I painted, not to be confused with Painted Sheep, a breed of sheep.

Remember that Ram I told you about earlier?... Click Here if you missed it... Well we did have some good pictures of him, and I am a painter - well at least I paint, not so much a "famous artist" or anything of the sort.

I loved the texture of his horns, and his hair, this is in the fall and he has grown a thick main, the angle is so strange it was perfect to paint.  I did the painting in acrylic paints, they dry faster than oils and have no smell.

This is a detail (part of) of the finish painting - of course you can see the background is changed to make it more dramatic from the rather boring pasture.  I also opened his eye somewhat.  I am rather happy with how his horns turned out and the hair as well - remember this is a hair sheep, a Barbado, which is not a woolly sheep - many mistake them for goats.  I really should take a better picture though.

I own the copyright for both images, they are not for reproduction.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What Animals Can be Kept together on a Farm

When we think about keeping sheep, or any animal, in a pen with different livestock, there are many things to consider.  Mostly we have to be sure different animals will not be aggressive to each other, but more so we have to consider feeding and dietary needs; what is safe for some animals is not safe for others  With sheep we want to be very careful about copper as too much can be deadly to them.

Other concerns include your fencing, while one fence might be fine for containing horses, it will be useless for containing goats. 

Most livestock animals tend to be okay with other livestock animals provided they have enough space; they stick with their own kind.  The biggest issue occurs when intact male animals decide to try to mate with other animals. 

I have kept the following animals with my sheep:  Donkeys for protection ,llamas, cats (they come and go in the pasture), and free range hens (they are in a coop at night).  At one time we had horses - large and miniatures - with the sheep.  The biggest concern was when we had a jack (intact male donkey) who was too rough with the other animals.

Guard llama, and a lamb

Ducks and Chickens

Ducks and chickens are not good together for several reasons. First of all ducks need a place to swim, even a small tub, but this will drown a chicken. As well, if you have chicks, there is penicillin added to chick starter which is deadly for ducks. Roosters and Drakes may be aggressive towards the other birds unless kept free range.

Chickens and Turkeys

While the size difference might be the biggest concern there is also a risk of turkeys spreading blackhead disease to chickens. As such it is generally suggested to keep similar ages of birds together, but to introduce them slowly (and not to over crowd them), and not to introduce them until 6 months of age, after their immunity has really developed.

Rabbits and Chickens

This can be done only if the coop is not over crowded. Rabbits might get filthy from hopping in the chicken poop. Also feeding comes into play, the chicken food should be raised so the rabbits cannot get it. If the chickens are free ranged during the day, the rabbit will probably wander off and not return to the coop at night. A rooster might bully a rabbit, but hens probably would not. Finally one benefit is that chickens eat flies, so fly strike is less of a concern.

Chickens and Large Animals

It is fine to keep chickens, and free range them with larger animals, such as sheep, goats, and horses. Even cats are usually okay with chickens, just make sure you supervise the introductions so nobody is spooked and always allow the chickens a place to go for rest at night. Be sure the chickens cannot get into water troughs or they will drown.

Sheep and Goats

Sheep and goats can be kept together provided that their needs are met. Goats need better shelter than sheep, particularly in rain, and need better fencing because they can climb. The biggest concern is feeding, sheep cannot have copper, which is in mineral blocks for goats and their feed. As such a keeper is best to feed sheep mix, use a sheep mineral block, and if possible offer the goats their mineral from time to time when the sheep are not present. In a mixed flock, the goats will usually stick with the goats, and the sheep with the sheep. Goats browse, where as sheep graze, so a pasture with a shrubs and grass is best. Rams and Billies will fight, and might try to mate with the opposite species, however reports of this being successful are unproven.

Sheep, Goats and Larger Animals

It is common for people to keep sheep and goats with larger animals, such as horses, because the sheep and goats are great companion animals in the case where a horse lives alone. The concern is generally fencing as sheep and goats can both walk right through fencing such as three-strands of barbed wire. As well with sheep care must be taken to avoid letting them have horse mineral with copper. Male animals, stallions, bulls, jacks, might show aggression to the smaller animals, particularly if they are bored. Donkeys, llamas, and to some extent alpacas, often serve as excellent guard animals for the smaller sheep and goats, but generally only if one of the guard animals is present, otherwise it bonds to its own kind and will not stick with the animals it is suppose to be guarding.

Horses and Cattle

Although it is not uncommon for people to keep cattle and horses together there are some concerns. The biggest concern is a medicine often added to cattle feed, but is toxic to equines, the medication is known as Monensin or Rumensin. The other concern is in areas where hoof and mouth disease is a concern. While horses cannot get this disease they can spread it, so when outbreaks occur a producer would be wise not to acquire any cattle to keep with their horses, or they risk the quarantine of their horses as well as their cattle.

Donkeys and Dogs

Donkeys have a strong dislike for canines, which is why they are commonly kept as guard animal against coyotes. Donkeys will run at, strike, and kick, any dog they do not know. If you are going to keep a donkey and have pet dogs, be sure to introduce them slowly and keep the dogs out of the donkeys corral until you are sure they are safe

Dogs and Other Livestock

Well socialized dogs and livestock are generally safe together, but some breeds have a very strong prey drive and will kill various types of animals, other breeds like to herd animals and will run them too much if left alone (not allowing for the animal to graze).  For this reason it is ultra important that breed selection and proper introductions/training are given attention. Any dog who is at risk for chasing, or killing, livestock should be penned. Dogs who have killed are likely to kill again. Any dog on a farm must be kept fully vaccinated and dewormed, especially for heartworm.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Popular Breeds of Sheep in the USA

Worldwide there are hundreds of different breeds of sheep (and most are not white and woolly).  Certain sheep breeds are more common in certain areas of the world, according to climate, use and the whims of the people of those areas. 

Some breeds of sheep are more known for wool, although in some areas the wool market is not as strong and hair sheep (used for meat) are favored.  Most of the best wool now comes from Australia and New Zealand, where the Merino breed is popular. 

In North America other sheep breeds are more common, and the popularlity of each is always changing. 

Some sheep breeds are being favored as better for mothers (easy lambers, good milkers), others for meat, wool, and so forth.  Many sheep producers have mix breeds, keeping one breed of of sheep for ewes and another breed for their ram. 

Mixed flock of sheep, some hair sheep (Barbado), some wool sheep (Suffolk x Dorset).

Click Here to learn more about the eight most popular sheep breeds in the United States, including the Suffolk, Dorset, and Hampshire.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The First Lamb

While our first ram (read previous post) was a dud, we did have a lamb that winter.  One of the ewes we had purchased pregnant gave birth to a ram lamb.  We kept them in the barn for a few days, then put the pair out in a small pen only for the days, prior to putting them with the rest of the sheep.

Shown here only a few hours old is our first lamb, and his mother.  You will note that with hair sheep the tails are often naturally shorter and are never docked.  This is January, winter time, so the ewe has some woolly hairs (white hairs) on her back which she will shed in the spring.

We kept this little guy to use as our ram for that year, and when he became a father, we named his mom "Grandma sheep".

Here is her ram lamb as pictured later, you will note he is shedding.

Learn more about the Barbado sheep, click here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The First Ram

We learned more about sheep so by fall felt we were ready to get a ram for breeding.  We had learned all about the advantages of hair sheep and as there were many sheep being sold at an Odd and Unsual Livestock sale about 2 hours away, we felt this would be a good place to find a breeding ram.

They were being sold as Barbado sheep, of course this name seems to be under debate, but that is what they were called at the time, being brown and black hair sheep, with horns. 

We found a handsome ram, and bid on him, and loaded him up with a few other ewes we purchased including some bred ones.
He was a very friendly ram, which was good because it set us up to admire this breed, when many others in our area told us that all hair sheep are "wild" in nature. 

However... we waited all winter... looking forward to cute spring lambs.. and got none.. (well not from him anyhow).

Turns out the ram was sterile.  So much for that year!

Read More about Barbado Hair Sheep, click here.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Llamas too!

The petting zoo we bought the sheep from also had Llamas, we had heard that llamas make great guard animals for sheep.  There were only two for sale, Crystal, and Jade, we could not make up our mind which to get, so decided to get both, for $100 each. 

Later at an auction we decided to get them a mate, the males were cheap, $5 each, so we took two of them... and a younger female.

Well nature took its natural path and 11 months later both Jade and Crystal were mothers.  In the mean time we learned that with guard llamas, you do not want to get more than one.  When you have one llama it will stay with the sheep it is suppose to guard, if you get two or more, they form their own herd and do their own thing, as such we sold all the males, and the baby llamas, (called crias) and kept only Crystal.

The above photo are the two baby crias. 

To learn more about keeping pet Llamas, click here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Our First Sheep

When we first moved to the country the 10 acre property had been badly neglected, overrun with grass and thistles.  It was so bad we had to walk through slowly or risk tripping on rolls of barbed wire hidden by overgrown grass.

The metal roof had blown off the shelter and was at risk of being blown by the strong winds, so a major clean up was due before gettting any types or animals.

The pasture was already fenced for sheep, and I had taken a short sheep course in college so thought sheep would be perfect.  Not knowing where to buy sheep in the area we bought our first sheep from a petting farm a short distance away.  We started with 4 ewe lambs, and along with them bought 2 llamas.

We soon learned that when you get a llama to guard your sheep - you should only get one, but that is another tale.. We had the four ewe lambs, and llamas, and thought we were set.  Of course not long after we realized that four sheep was too few, and we would need to get more.

Here are our four lambs in their new home... Teardrop in the front, then "Favorite" (she's the friendliest), Diamond next, and Speckle is hiding in behind.  As you can see they have their work cut out for them...