I have had my little flock now for just over a year. I learned a ton in this first year and I am beginning to realize just how much more I have to learn.
So here are some of my largest lessons learned.
1.) If a sheep looks sick call the vet RIGHT NOW. Do not wait to “keep an eye on it”. Call the vet. When a sheep actually looks sick, it is REALLY sick. Like knocking on death’s door. Call the vet, better to have a wasted trip than a dead animal. Also, the vet may not be able to get to the farm lickty-split. Best to get on the list right away.
2.) Having livestock means having dead stock. (See above).
3.) Advice is great, but trust your gut. This can apply to many areas of life, not just raising sheep. A lot of people will try to “backseat shepherd” you. Take the advise given, consider the source, and then do what’s best for you and your flock. In my case, a lot of people who had meat sheep were giving me advise more suited to meat sheep than fleece sheep. There are differences and you just have to be able to take the advice given, use what you can, and let go of the rest. Some people will be upset that you don’t take their advise. That’s their issue, not yours.
4.) Don’t expect anything to go to plan. Go ahead and make a plan. But be prepared to throw that thing out the window when the rubber meets pavement. Doing and planning are very different things, be prepared to roll with it.
5.) Get out of their way. If you follow me on Facebook, you know that lambing went really uneventful this year. I didn’t have to intervene in any of the births, and this was 16 first-time lambing ewes! I gave them space, checked-in on them a few times a day, and didn’t get in the way of the bonding process. For my sheep, this was the best way to handle them. Other flocks might need a lot more one-on-one activity. I’m thankful that lambing capped off my first year as a shepherd. If they had lambed right away, I would have been all up in their business!
6.) Prepare for the worst. Just because I didn’t have to assist in any births doesn’t mean that I wasn’t ready to. Gloves, medicines, and equipment were all at the ready. I also (try) to have all my animals tagged with their USDA tags for this reason as well. The various natural disasters that can face a farm at a moment’s notice make me want to be able to load my animals on a trailer without a thought to if they are ready for this. I also try to keep a little hay on hand for this reason as well.
7.) Don’t read a lot of the sheep books. They will scare the crap out of you. There is one in particular that I read that I’m not going to name here that could have been titled, 1001 Ways That Your Ewe and Her New Born Lamb Can Die a Painful and Miserable Death. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this book caused a number of sleepless nights. It’s good to have them on hand if you need them, but they really aren’t bedtime reading.
8.) Have more than you need on hand. Buy a few extra bales of hay if you can. Spring might take longer this year or you might have to keep a few sheep separate because of issues and you need to feed them hay. I buy the large square bales, so a few extra bales is a fair amount of hay. But this applies to more than just hay, wormers, vaccinations, basically anything, get more than you think you will need. Sheep like to spill things:-)
9.) Cut yourself some slack. I had to keep reminding myself that this was my first time doing all of this and no-one is good at something right off the bat. It’s easy to beat yourself up when something goes wrong, but learn from it and move on.
10.) Everybody needs to get used to the new status quo. My little flock came from a HUGE flock, thus didn’t have a ton of experience up-close with humans. In the beginning, just walking into the area they were at would cause them to scatter as far as they could get away from me. However, as the year went on (and I found out that sheep like apples:-)) they became more accustomed to my presence in their midst.
11.) The Premier Kiwi Crook is one of the best inventions on the planet. It’s fantastic when you are chasing animals around in the dark. Just trust me on this one. Have sheep? Get one.
12.) One of the advantages of a small breed of sheep is that you can carry them if they just absolutely refuse to go where they are supposed to go. Also you can put them in your car. I’m a big fan of smaller sheep.
13.) Don’t try to fight their nature. They aren’t going to go a certain direction just because you want them to. They are going to go the direction that their instinct tells them to go. Learn which direction this is and don’t fight it. You will never really win if you do.
14.) Lambs are obnoxiously cute 24/7. They can’t help it. We have lawn chairs out where they are grazing just to watch the show. Also, they grow wickedly fast! Go watch them tonight as they will be full-grown all too soon.