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Day to Day Realities of Raising Sheep

Specialty Mentor Caroline Owens offered our group hands on experience and a lifetime of wisdom on the ins and outs of being a shepherd.
Livestock mentor Caroline Owens showing how she weighs sheep.

Livestock mentor Caroline Owens showing how she weighs sheep.

Specialty Mentor Caroline Owens, at Owens Farm in Sunbury, helped to prepare PA-WAgN members for the day-to-day tasks of raising sheep. A very experienced shepherd, Caroline took us on a tour of her farm and let everyone try his or her hand at moving and catching ewes. It was a fun and informative day for all.

Walking across the fields at Owens Sheep Farm, there was a lot of fencing. Caroline explained the importance of movable fencing, putting emphasis on placing as many electric switches along the fences as possible in order to save money and headache. She also suggested placing water lines with well-marked spigots along the fences for ease of use and visibility. Caroline relied upon her sheep dogs to help move the herd, and did not need to bucket train. This allowed her to fence without lanes.

We then had a discussion about parasites and monitoring the herd. Caroline suggested that shepherds keep a diary of their ewes; which sheep seem most susceptible to worms, hoof scald, and mastitis, as well as which ewes are not good mothers or do not lamb. Although she gives each ewe some leeway, she did say that too many ticks against an ewe indicated a poor genetic code. To keep her herd healthy, she did not keep these sheep.

The second half of the day was an active one. First, field-day attendees learned to move sheep with their own presence. Caroline explained that different breeds have different ‘flight’ zones, and that the distance from a ewe that is required in order to move her depends upon that breed. Regardless of breed, however, it is important to be quiet and slow when moving sheep. The use of a shepherd’s hook may also be helpful to extend your breadth and even to catch an animal.

After moving the sheep around, we were given a demonstration on how to load a sheep into a tilting table and clip her hoofs. Some of our field-day goers were able to try that out for themselves, while others practiced measuring dosages for worm medication in order to administer it to an afflicted ewe. The day ended with a round of sheep catching and tipping, which was both informative and great practice.

Caroline is a wonderful resource on keeping sheep, but she also suggests a couple of books to keep on your shelf if you are currently or are considering raising sheep:

Raising Sheep the Modern Way, by Paula Simmons

Lamb Problems: Detecting, Diagnosing by Laura Lawson