By Jan L. Carlson.
The operational needs of a sheep business vary greatly depending on the type of operation, climate, feed availability, and a host of other factors. There are at least three basic types of sheep enterprises: Farm flock, range operation, and feedlot.
A farm flock can vary in size from a few ewes to several hundred and its main characteristic is that the sheep usually are maintained on the land belonging to the farm.
A range sheep operation consists of one or more bands of sheep consisting of approximately 1,000 ewes and their lambs herded together by a sheepherder. Range bands of sheep seldom are maintained under fence but are moved often to areas of optimum grazing throughout the year. A range operation usually owns only a small amount of land to house the "lambing camp". This is an area where the sheep are brought to lamb and to be fed during the part of the winter when no grazing is available.
In a feedlot, lambs are fed to market weight and then sent to slaughter. In some cases, farm flock or range sheep owners also maintain a feedlot, but usually the feedlot owner buys lambs from these producers. Besides these three types of management, a wide combination of systems is possible but each should take advantage of the resources available.
Generally, adult sheep need not be housed inside for any reason. Quite often, especially in a smaller flock, the sheep are given access to shelter or are fed inside a barn. This reduces stress on the animals in extreme weather and often is more convenient for the people doing the feeding.
"Jugs" for Lambing
Sheds or barns for use during lambing are useful on any size operation. If lambing takes place in a warm climate or during the warm months of the year, buildings are not absolutely necessary. It is important to have a series of small pens, called "jugs," in which to put a ewe and her lambs for a period of two or three days after birth. These jugs should be four feet square.
The lambing jugs may be placed outside in warm weather, or a barn or shed may be fitted with portable jugs made from panels fastened together. The panels may be taken apart and stored when not needed, thus freeing barn space for shearing, feed storage, or feeding and housing the sheep.
Mixing pens are an important part of a lambing operation. These are small pens that can hold from three to ten ewes and their lambs. The pens are used to group ewes and lambs into small lots directly from the lambing jugs and before they go into the Main band of sheep. This is done to avoid the possibility of' lambs getting lost from their mothers.
Permanent fences for sheep are best when made of woven wire that is at least four feet high. Fences should be kept in good repair to hold small lambs and discourage predators. Many sheep producers make use of unfenced temporary grazing areas by employing woven wire and metal stakes to construct a temporary fence that may be moved.
Portable panels have many uses on a sheep operation. A selection of panels 4 feet high and of lengths from 6 to 14 feet can be made into working corrals, chutes, alleyways or various sized pens. The advantage to the panels is that they can be used for one function at one time of the year and become part of another structure in a different season.
Quite often the profitability of a sheep enterprise depends upon availability of inexpensive grazing land. Federal and State lands, aftermath grazing from cash crops, and grazing of fall regrowth can cut feed costs. In these cases, the sheep are moved to a new area once the feed is gone.