15 Tips For Buying and Keeping SheepKeeping sheep can be incredibly rewarding but you need to make sure you approach it in the right way. You’ll need to have certain things in place first and be prepared for some hard work – but if you prepare well, owning sheep is an enjoyable experience.

With so many different breeds available, you should know which one is right for you before going ahead as each breed varies when it comes to feed, pasture and purpose as well as ease of ownership. So if you’re considering keeping sheep, here are 15 tips to help get you started.

1. Decide why you want to keep sheep in the first place. This may be for food reasons, for livelihood purposes or simply as a pet. You may want sheep for a number of reasons, such as for wool and as a pet or for wool and meat. It’s important to know this as each breed is suitable for different purposes, and will need to be cared for accordingly.

2. Think about how many sheep you want. The size of your land and budget will be factors in this decision. As a guide, keep 3-4 ewes per acre. And remember, sheep are flock animals so avoid keeping just one as they are not meant to be alone.

3. Plan how you will actually get the sheep. Ideally, the person you buy from will deliver them to you, but otherwise you’ll need to look into hiring a sheep trailer for the purpose.

4. Attend a short sheep husbandry course at your local agricultural college before buying sheep, if you’ve never owned any before.

5. Buy your sheep from a certified breeder.

6. You need to have an agricultural holding number for your land to keep sheep, and if you don’t already have one you can get one through the Rural Payments Agency (RPA). Also, register with your local animal health office and a vet who tends to sheep.

7. Get everything you need in advance, including shears, water buckets, fencing, antiseptic spray and lots of advice from people who’ve owned sheep.

8. Some breeds are easier to care for than others, so research before you buy to ensure you get the right sheep for you.

9. Factor in the cost of owning sheep before you buy. Costs include the sheep themselves, fencing, vet bills, feed, transport costs, shelter when needed, and the cost in terms of how much of your time you’ll need to devote to looking after them.

10. Beware of predators – take steps to ensure foxes and dogs can’t get at lambs with secure fencing.

11. Sheep waste makes a great garden fertiliser. It contains more nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium than horse and cow manure, so keep this for gardening purposes.

12. Feed and water your sheep regularly. Sheep should have access to good quality pasture and if the land is less good you’ll need to supplement, for example with hay and pellet feed. And be aware that sometimes it’s not possible for sheep to graze, such as when it snows in the winter, and you’ll need to feed daily during these times. Water should be made available, preferably via a long trough, and the source should be checked and changed often.

13. Make sure you or someone in the family is strong enough to flip the animals over when needed, such as for checking feet, shearing and vaccination.

14. Ear-tag your sheep. They should have two numbers, one for the flock they were born into and the other just for them.

15. Get some training before you try lambing for the first time.

Citations:Photograph by Frankcheez (via Flickr) [CC BY 2.0]

Of course one bonus of keeping sheep is the wonderful wool that they produce.  Wool like King Cole Aran can be found online at Yarnfest's online store.