Sheep Farm, Icelandic Sheep, Raising Sheep in a backyard: Keeping
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
- 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.
- 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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
Buying Sheep: a quick primer
visit? We're in Mansfield, VT outside of Stowe.
Go to our Resources and Links Library
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"