A couple of questions from a soon to be sheep owner

goats&sheep19

Overrun with beasties
Joined
Feb 2, 2023
Messages
79
Reaction score
220
Points
93
Location
NSW Australia
I am hoping to get my first sheep tomorrow!
They are to be coloured Merinos. The seller asked me if I wanted ewe lambs or sheep.
I am thinking of sheep, as (it will be autumn fairly soon, as I am in Australia) I want join them as soon as possible. I presume that lambs would have to wait till next year?
Is there any benefit of getting lambs, apart from the obvious fact that the will live longer? ( and thus have more lambs, but as these are my first ones, and are mostly just for learning, I'm not too worried)
Also, what is the optimum time of year for joining?
I can ask the seller as well, but I wanted to know a bit more before doing that.
 

Baymule

Herd Master
Joined
Aug 22, 2010
Messages
32,810
Reaction score
97,139
Points
873
Location
East Texas
Some people breed their ewes after 6 months. Personally I think that is too young and prefer to wait until they are 10 months to one year old. Give them time to grow and mature. By breeding too young, the ewe puts her nutrition into the lambs she is carrying, instead of her own growth.

Sheep, how old are they? If they have lambed once or twice, and you want to breed them this fall, yes, do it. If they are 5-6 years or older, they may have a few productive years left, and the price should take that into consideration.

Then again, buying ewes that have already lambed, can take a lot of the worry off of you.

Being wool sheep, I believe they breed in the fall. Good luck and be sure to take pictures of your new sheep!
 

goats&sheep19

Overrun with beasties
Joined
Feb 2, 2023
Messages
79
Reaction score
220
Points
93
Location
NSW Australia
Some people breed their ewes after 6 months. Personally I think that is too young and prefer to wait until they are 10 months to one year old. Give them time to grow and mature. By breeding too young, the ewe puts her nutrition into the lambs she is carrying, instead of her own growth.
Thanks!
And yes, I don't want to put too much stain on young ewe.
Sheep, how old are they? If they have lambed once or twice, and you want to breed them this fall, yes, do it. If they are 5-6 years or older, they may have a few productive years left, and the price should take that into consideration.
I'm not quite sure how old, I've only talked to her once so far, but I believe she is selling mixed ages, so I'm hoping to be able to get some around 2 years of age.
How old can sheep breed, and how long do they live? Most things I've read have been about commercial herds, not well looked after more pet type sheep.
Good luck and be sure to take pictures of your new sheep!
Thanks, and I will get some pics if it all works out!

One last question, as far as I can tell, it seems like a good seller, and in the photos I've seen of the sheep they look very healthy, but is there anything I ought to look out for to make sure that I'm actually getting healthy sheep?
Apart from the obvious, of course.
 

Baymule

Herd Master
Joined
Aug 22, 2010
Messages
32,810
Reaction score
97,139
Points
873
Location
East Texas
I’ve had sheep for 8 years. My oldest is 9 years old and she has one month old twins on her. As long as she can handle it and wants to be a mom, we’ll keep going. I just had to put down my sweet ram, almost 10. Life expectancy is 10-12 years. If you get anywhere near that, call it good. If you go past that, call it exceptional and make sure you have saved a ewe or two from her.

Ask the breeder about any sickness, disease, etc. that you should be on the lookout for. Parasites are the biggest killer, ask what she does and how she treats her sheep. Also ask if you can call her with questions and will she help you along. They are her sheep and she will know them better than anybody.
 

purplequeenvt

Herd Master
Joined
Aug 1, 2011
Messages
2,457
Reaction score
4,403
Points
373
Location
Rineyville, KY
As a new sheeple, you’d probably be best getting a couple experienced ewes to start with. While things can go perfectly, there’s a whole extra set of potential issue with being new to sheep and having 1st time mothers to deal with. Just make sure to ask about any breeding/lambing/mothering issues the ewes may have had. Don’t get anything that has had problems.
 

Ridgetop

Herd Master
Joined
Mar 13, 2015
Messages
6,444
Reaction score
21,586
Points
683
Location
Shadow Hills, CA
We have raised sheep for over 30 years. We have raised both wool breeds, dual purpose breeds, and meat (hair) breeds. Here is some information for you as a beginner. I wish we had had this when we started LOL.

Older ewes can be a nice way to start out IF the owner will sell them bred. Then you are hopefully going to see lambs on the ground within 4 months. With the addition of a ram lamb that is not closely related, you will have a ram to breed the purchased ewes to along with any ewe lambs they produce and you keep. Depending on the age of the ram lamb you can also turn hm in with the bred ewes in case one of them did not "settle" (get pregnant and remain that way to term).

On the other hand, you need to know that flock owners usually will only sell older sheep they no longer want in their breeding program. There are many reasons for that:
1. Age - older ewes may only have a few years left of breeding life
2. Lambing issues - these may be ewes that have problems lambing, milk production issues, only produce single lambs, are hard to settle (breed and stay pregnant to deliver a live lamb), or are poor mothers
3. Health issues - hoof problems, have had prolapses, problems with multiple abscesses, or are "hard keepers"
(require more feed/attention than most sheep would to stay in condition)
4. Wool quality - since you are buying Merino sheep, are you planning to shear and sell the wool? If the wool is
poor quality you will not get as much (if any) $$ for the fleeces

You are buying Merinos which is a fine wool breed. Make sure you have access to shearers at a reasonable price since your sheep will need to be shorn annually. Merino wool never stops growing so without annual shearing your sheep can get health problems. Without a shearer that can do your flock reasonably you will have to buy shearing equipment and learn to shear yourselves. This can be tough and expensive. You will have to have your blades sharpened every year. The blades only hold an edge for about 4-5 sheep depending on the dirt in the wool. There are 2 blades on a shearing clipper, the cutter and the comb. Both need to be sharpened. When we stopped shearing several years ago the price to sharpen each blade was up to $15+ apiece. While my family and I have the equipment and can shear, we decided to transfer from our Dorset breed to White Dorpers which shed out their wool. I am older and do not want to wrestle with even a young ewe to shear, and our shearer was charging $50 per animal, extra for the rams.

Since you are in Australia, your breeding season will be in the spring instead of the fall, January through April. Just as the seasons are reversed "down under" so will be the seasonal breeding of your flock. You are coming into weather that would be our autumn and thus into seasonal breeding schedules for wool sheep. Wool sheep are "seasonal" breeders meaning that they start to cycle and the rams to rut as the daylight shortens and days get cooler. Wool breed rams can also go sterile in the heat of your winter months. The older the ram the more sensitive they are to heat affecting their sperm counts.

If you buy lambs, you will not know how they will breed, lamb, or mother their lambs, but you will not be getting someone else's problems either. If this breeder is trustworthy and reputable, I would recommend a mix of ages as follows:
1. Ram lamb 4-8 months old. This way you will be getting a virgin ram who will not bring sexual or breeding health issues into your flock. The ram is half the flock so get the best one you can. He will sire all your lambs after this year, while each ewe will produce only 2 per year. :fl

2. 2 older BRED ewes, no more than 2 years old, having already produced lambs - Since these ewes are already breeding age, ask the breeder to expose them to one of her better rams. This way you will have a head start on lambing, while the younger ewe lambs will have the experience of seeing older ewes care for their young. Herd animals actually do learn by example.

3. 2 ewe lambs 4-8 months old. This way you will have 2 virgin ewe lambs to breed next year, without the pressure of too much work while you learn about sheep and their care, as well as learning about wool quality and finding a market for your wool. The reason I keep mentioning "virgin" rams and ewes is that you will start off without any venereal or reproductive diseases in your young stock. Sheep can contract various sexual diseases and pass them on to others through breeding.

With regard to the breeder and her sheep, ask for what diseases she vaccinates, what problems she has noticed in her flock (if any) and the reason she is selling any of the older stock. Ask for flock records on the older animals - dates of lambing and how many each ewe has produced and raised to weaning. "Raised to weaning" is very important since it shows how much milk the ewe produces and what type of mother she is. A ewe that twins or triples each time and barely raises one lamb or none is worthless. Check vaccination dates.

In a visual check:
Check the hooves on the sheep to make sure they are either being trimmed or are wearing off evenly. Hooves that grow unevenly and fold over cause hoof rot. Sheep that cannot walk to graze will not be able to stand for the ram, or mount the ewe.
Check their mouths for proper bite - sheep have teeth only on the lower jaw in front. If the teeth do not meet the upper jaw they cannot bite off feed. A sheep that cannot eat properly cannot bred, carry through gestation, deliver and nurse her lambs properly to weaning.
Check udders for uniformity and pliability. Udders with hard lumps or solid tissue should be avoided since this is evidence of mastitis. Mastitis is an infection in one or both halves of the udder. It is hard to cure, usually resuts in the oss of the affected half, and any milk from that half can't be utilized by the lamb. A ewe with mastitis can poison her lambs, or seriously stunt them. Ewes with mastitis should be culled (but not to you).
Check for length and conformation - straight legs, width between the rear legs for udder development, depth and thickness of body for rumen room, lung room, and room for developing lambs. Sheep should be longer than they are tall. A square sheep has no length of body and will reduce the amount of fleece you will be able to shear thus reducing any $$ you might want to make on the wool. A square or short bodied sheep also loses out on the meat end since the loin of a sheep (the meaty part around the spine from the back of the shoulder to the hip) is the priciest part of the meat. A short loin loses you $$ on any meat sales.
Check the wool - Merinos should carry a thick fleece. You want to part the wool and check to make sure there are no sores or lice in the fleece. I suggest you read up on fleece weight, and crimp of wool, and length of staple regarding Merino wool since that is the main reason for their fleece being worth $$.

Hope all this information has been of value to you. In the end you will have to rely on the breeder for the truth of the information about Merinos and her Merinos in particular. If she is a reputable breeder you will also have someone you can turn to with questions.
 

goats&sheep19

Overrun with beasties
Joined
Feb 2, 2023
Messages
79
Reaction score
220
Points
93
Location
NSW Australia
I’ve had sheep for 8 years. My oldest is 9 years old and she has one month old twins on her. As long as she can handle it and wants to be a mom, we’ll keep going. I just had to put down my sweet ram, almost 10. Life expectancy is 10-12 years. If you get anywhere near that, call it good. If you go past that, call it exceptional and make sure you have saved a ewe or two from her.
Thats a good age!
Sounds about the same as our goats actually. Slightly off topic, but I had an angora goat live to 12 years old, and have a healthy kid in her last spring. She was very special, and I was there when she was born, right up to the end. Her name was Sally, and she was rather small, but a fighter.
Ask the breeder about any sickness, disease, etc. that you should be on the lookout for. Parasites are the biggest killer, ask what she does and how she treats her sheep. Also ask if you can call her with questions and will she help you along. They are her sheep and she will know them better than anybody.
Thats a good idea, I would a bit anyway, but I'll make sure to cover things.
As a new sheeple, you’d probably be best getting a couple experienced ewes to start with. While things can go perfectly, there’s a whole extra set of potential issue with being new to sheep and having 1st time mothers to deal with. Just make sure to ask about any breeding/lambing/mothering issues the ewes may have had. Don’t get anything that has had problems.
I had another talk to her on the phono last night, and it sounds like she may actually only have older lambs for sale.
If that is the case, I still want them! And I think I am fairly capable, so I think it should be ok.
 

goats&sheep19

Overrun with beasties
Joined
Feb 2, 2023
Messages
79
Reaction score
220
Points
93
Location
NSW Australia
@Ridgetop wow, thanks a lot!
With the shearing, my dad knows how to, and one of the reasons for wanting sheep is actually so I can learn.
I have already done quite a lot of the 'crutching' for our goats, and while I know that shearing a whole sheep would be a fair bit harder, I want to learn!

She says the fleece is ultra fine, is it ok that she says just that rather than giving an actually micron count?
I'll bear everything you said in mind!
 

Ridgetop

Herd Master
Joined
Mar 13, 2015
Messages
6,444
Reaction score
21,586
Points
683
Location
Shadow Hills, CA
If you are familiar with wool, you and your dad can probably judge it for yourselves by handling the fleece on the sheep. It sounds like you are not that much of a beginner so you should be fine buying older lambs. That should get you off to a good start as you learn to know them and they you. Depending on the age of the older lambs, you could still ask her to breed a couple of them for you even though you are going to get a ram lamb as well. That would give you a start by having lambs sooner.
:)
 

purplequeenvt

Herd Master
Joined
Aug 1, 2011
Messages
2,457
Reaction score
4,403
Points
373
Location
Rineyville, KY
@Ridgetop wow, thanks a lot!
With the shearing, my dad knows how to, and one of the reasons for wanting sheep is actually so I can learn.
I have already done quite a lot of the 'crutching' for our goats, and while I know that shearing a whole sheep would be a fair bit harder, I want to learn!

She says the fleece is ultra fine, is it ok that she says just that rather than giving an actually micron count?
I'll bear everything you said in mind!

Micron count only matters if you are selling commercially. If you are using the wool yourself or selling the fleeces to someone privately, it shouldn’t be an issue not to know the count. You can always get them tested yourself.
 

Latest posts

Top