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.