Vermont Sheep Farm, Icelandic Sheep, Raising Icelandic Sheep, Keeping Sheep on a Small Farm, Hobby Farming with Icelandic Sheep

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Vermont Sheep Farm, Icelandic Sheep, Raising Sheep in a backyard: Keeping sheep

When we started looking into getting a flock of Icelandic sheep for our farm here in Vermont all I really wanted was The Comprehensive List. The list of stuff you've got to have before your sheep arrive, and the things you can expect to need after you've had sheep a while. I'm still looking for The List. Since I haven't found it... here's our version. A Vermont Farm's List of Sheep Stuff, (for Icelandic Sheep) if you will. If you'd like to add to it, please contact us!

  1. A list of "legal stuff." Not the first thing that pops into your head, but are you zoned for "sheep?" Is there a limit to the size of the buildings you can put on your property? Does your insurance cover your sheep (a good breeding ram is an investment). Are there fencing requirements in your community? Doing your homework here can save you a pile of heartache on down the line.

  2. A safe place to put the sheep. Note that I did not say "pasture." While a pasture is nice, you can keep Icelandic sheep on hay, if you have a ready source for it and are willing to buy it. But you will need a securely fenced "yard" for them. Fenced to keep them in, and any neighborhood dogs or other preditors out.

    For us, this means a combination of woven sheep wire fence, and electric mesh fence. For people with less of a preditor problem, simple electric, in a 5 or 6 strand set-up, does the trick. Remember: Icelandic sheep have horns, and you'll need to train them to a fence.

    If you have a ewes and a ram you'll need to be able to separate them. A motivated ram can bash his way through a surprisingly solid fence. Which is why many backyard farms pay a stud fee to take their ewes to a larger farm that keeps a ram... or skips the whole spring lambing experience entirely by keeping whethers (neutered males). If you keep a ram, plan on investing in welded livestock panels. Or making some of your own, if you're handy with steel and a welder. (see "Fencing Issues" for more info)

    Not sure about the ram? A good breeding farm will sell you a starter flock of ewe lambs for your first season, and let you add the ram later for a fixed price. The choice of ram will be based on your desire for genetic diversity, and the characteristics you're aiming for.

  3. A shelter from the wind and storm. The Icelandic is a tough sheep, and too tight a shelter will actually make the animals sick by keeping them damp. But they do need a place to get out of the wind and rain, with a dry area to stand (or lamb). The shelter can be as simple as a small pole barn, to a multi-stall complex with space for storage and a haymow. The sheep, as long as they can get out of the wind and rain, won't care how elaborate your building is. Or even if you can stand upright in it. Which leaves a lot of scope for building on the cheap, or making do.

  4. A source of hay. An Icelandic sheep, on average, uses a bale of hay a week during the winter. For both feed and bedding. Unless you can make your own hay, you'll need a ready source of good hay. Even if you're paying premium prices for hay, buying a bale for all 52 weeks of the year won't set you back all that much. But you'll need a reliable source of good hay. Or two unreliable sources.

  5. A source of water. Be it buckets from the house sink, or a babbling brook, you will need a source of water which is clean and easy to refresh. Which means durable buckets used for livestock, which can be purchased at your local feed store.

  6. Minerals and Salts. Your sheep will need the right salts and minerals for your soils. In the east this usually means selenium. And not in block form, but loose. Talk to your vet, or breeder, about what your sheep will need.

  7. A qualified vet. Someone who remembers the section on "sheep" and can answer your questions... one of which is "what medications/tools, etc should I have on hand for my animals?" You do not want your sheep to be someone else's learning experience if you can help it.

  8. A flock of sheep! Well, it seems obvious, but you will need more than one sheep. Sheep are not solitary creatures, although Icelandics are more solitary than other breeds. So you'll need a couple of sheep, at least. In fact, a good farm won't sell you just one sheep.

    Some thoughts on "starter flocks." When we first started talking "sheep" we were encouraged, by some well meaning shepherds, to start with "cheap sheep." Something we found in our local Ag-Rag paper. Or some that someone else just wanted to get rid of. And we decided against it. This is a very expensive decision. Registered Icelandic Sheep go for $500-600 to $2000 each. Depending on what you're looking for in fleece color or other characteristics. Not cheap sheep.

    But the consequences of bringing "cheap sheep" onto your property can be substantial. Icelandic sheep have to be registered, and certified scrappie free. They also (for that price) come free of foot rot, and generally should have been wormed before they get to you. Cheap sheep can bring with them any number of perfectly loathsome diseases and problems that once on your farm and in your soil, are there to stay. Furthermore, they'll have other problems. Bad conformation, leading to lambing problems. Inferior genetics leading to inferior fleeces, or carcasses. You'll have vet bills, and higher feed bills. In short "cheap sheep..." aren't.

    However, $400 may seem a bit pricey to you, if all you want is a set of lawn munching buddies in the back yard. No problem. Many farms will sell you unregistered sheep on the cheap. If you decide you want to register them later so you can sell lambs at a premium, the farm will charge you the difference and send you the papers. Want cheaper yet, because all you really want is wool producing mowing machines? Buy weathers. Neutered males. You can have a happy flock of great sheep on something of a budget if you're willing to skip procreation.

Buying Sheep: a quick primer

Want to visit? We're in Mansfield, VT outside of Stowe.

Go to our Resources and Links Library

Frelsi Farm in Maine sells "flock in a box" for starting shepherds.

Go to the Farm Supply and Support Page

Today on ebay: sheep and lambing supplies under "Agriculture"


Farm History Essays from the Hill: a year of stories from the farm The Guide to Raising Your Own Chickens The Farm Store Stowe, VT

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