Sheep Care on Small Farms and Homesteads

sheep care on small farms and homesteads

Is sheep care part of your future? Can you raise sheep in a large backyard? In some cases the answer is yes. Sheep are adaptable and can be cared for in a paddock or small field if their needs are met. It may be a little more labor intensive and take a bit more effort and management to raise our sheep this way. Here on the farm we raise a little bit of everything. Well not really everything. But we do have quite a variety of animals. We have successfully raised goats for many years, a small herd of beef cattle and my sweet little herd of sheep.

Did you think that you have to have a large pasture of grassy grazing land in order to raise sheep? For many years, we did not have any grazing other than the grass surrounding the different areas of the farm. We successfully raised a small flock of sheep this way for six years. Here’s what we have learned about sheep care and how we do it.

Eventually we did add more fenced pasture area, and began working on our silvopastures in the woods. You can see more in the video towards the end of this post.

Have a Shelter

Sheep care

The shelter for sheep can be simple. They will do quite well with a three sides open shed, sometimes called a run in shed. Our small flock of four sheep actually have access to a stall in the barn but prefer to spend most of their time outside in the pen area.

Sheep Care Includes Appropriate Fenceing

When keeping sheep on a small homestead, make sure you have adequate fencing to keep the sheep from getting into the roads or the neighbor’s gardens. We are using board fencing, and livestock panels with T posts. From a durability standpoint, this permanent fencing has solved problems for us. The sheep can’t get their head trapped in the netting and walk off with the entire fence. You will need to assess your flock for potential of getting their heads stuck in the panels. Because the grass is always greener just on the other side of the fence, sheep will test the fence. We had a ewe in the past who would stick her head through, and although she could have backed up, and freed herself, she always was sure she was trapped. The message here is, keep a close eye on the flock with any new fencing style you incorporate.

Some people have success raising sheep using the netting type fences. When we first tried netting fences with our flock, they kept getting tangled up in the netting. I still think it can be a viable option, as many shepherds use this type of fence. The electric netting has to be properly grounded and have enough sun exposure to power the fence line. The advantage of movable netting fencing is being able to move the flock without having more fence installed. This might be the best option if you can set it up properly, and your wooly friends don’t get tangled in the netting.


Raising care

Sheep are grazing animals. If you had a large pasture, they would eat grass all day long, stopping only to rest and allow the rumen to process the grass. This is called chewing the cud. Since our sheep spend a large part of their time in a pen, they are fed a grass hay. They react pretty much the same to the hay as they would to grass. They eat, then rest and ruminate. We do feed a small amount of grain to make sure they are getting enough nutrition and vitamins. By small amount I mean a small handful.

If a sheep begins looking thin and parasites and illness are ruled out, we separate that sheep out and feed extra alfalfa-timothy pellets with a small amount of grain.

Click Below to Buy My Book on Sheep Care

It is important to feed hay with grain so that the rumen does not become inflamed. When choosing hay for non-lactating sheep, choose a grass hay and not an alfalfa. Alfalfa has a high percentage of protein, and since it is not needed, can lead to urinary tract problems. It can be easy to want to over feed grain. Sheep will insist that they are still very hungry! Look at the condition of your sheep. If they are nicely filled out they are getting enough to eat. The majority of their diet should be grasses and hay. 

Cleaning the Sheep Pen

When we did not have pastures for rotational grazing, we had to frequently clean up after them in the pen. This has lessened as we can leave them out during the day, but some cleaning in the barn is always necessary. Old hay is raked up and removed along with feces and any wet moist spots. Replace the bedding in the stall or shed as needed to keep it clean and free of insects. Smelly, wet, dirty bedding is a breeding ground for insects, parasites, worms and disease. Dirty stalls and barns can lead to flystrike which you do not want to deal with.

Free Grazing Time

When we are on the farm we give the sheep time to leave their pen and roam freely. They can browse and graze on grass and various forage. One of our large grassy fields is available now that we are no longer raising cattle. Over the years we have added additional grassy areas. Since there is a large open cattle shed in the field, the sheep can spend all day lounging around and grazing as they wish. We do still bring them back to the barn at night, although with some fencing improvements, they would be fine staying in the field at night, too.


Make sure the sheep have access to fresh water in buckets or a low water trough at all times. Try to keep some water in a shady location so it can stay cooler during the hot weather.


 Sheep Care includes Worming

  Keeping the sheep in a smaller area can lead to an abundance of parasites. Instead of worming on a schedule, we have switched to worming when there is a problem. Good management of your flock includes observing and checking them individually on a regular basis. Look for paleness in gums and lower eyelids for indication of a parasite problem. Check into becoming educated on using the FAMACHA scale of parasite management.

Some shepherds will choose to worm on a routine basis as part of their sheep care plan. Since we have such a small flock, we prefer to worm when necessary and avoid increasing the resistance to some worming products. 

Grooming – an Important Part of Sheep Care

Sheep care

With sheep care for a small herd there are some jobs you will probably want to just do yourself, rather than hire someone. Trimming hooves, checking for teeth problems,  checking overall condition are some things to keep in mind. Starting at an early age, train your sheep to be comfortable being handled. Hold their feet even if no trimming is needed. Inspect for stones or any softness or problems in the hoof. Check eye lids or gums regularly for healthy pink color. 

Shearing Time is Part of Sheep Care

Most sheep being raised for wool will require a once a year shearing. In some cases, with a heavy fiber producer you may be able to shear twice. Even with a small flock, doing  the shearing yourself can be backbreaking. We did all of our own shearing of our fiber goats and sheep for many years. Then we hired a professional one year and I will never go back to doing it myself! Our sheep shearer does the job in much less time and yields better fleeces. I am glad to know that I can shear if I have to. It’s an important part of sheep care. But knowing a professional and getting on their schedule will make your life with sheep much more enjoyable. If you choose to do it yourself, consider attending a sheep shearing school to learn the tricks of the trade. 

sheep care

 You can check out our available yarns here. 

sheep care for small farms and homesteads

or on our Etsy shop

Update on Our Silvopasture in this Video

Why We Keep Sheep

We raise our fiber goats and sheep for the beautiful fleece. After shearing, I will pick through the fleece to remove any badly matted parts or debris. This is called “skirting”, and is a very important first step. I ship or drop the fleece off with a fiber processor to have it made into yarn. Some shepherds will want to do the entire process themselves, including skirting, picking, washing, combing, drafting and spinning. Someday I hope to learn more of the steps but for right now I am doing what I can. 

With a little more thought and adjusting the management style, it can be possible to learn sheep care and keep a small number of sheep on a small homestead. If you want to learn more about how we raise fiber animals for our yarn business, read this post. Let me know how you have raised sheep and learned to do sheep care on small farms and homesteads.

Sheep care

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Sheep care on small farms and homesteads

Goat Care and Maintenance of Healthy Goats

Goat Care and Maintenance of Healthy Goats

Goats have to be one of the most entertaining farm animal to own. Knowing how to perform the required goat care is the most important first step to take, as you begin keeping goats. All breeds of goats need some sort of hoof care, proper nutrition, treatment for preventing worms, and more. Read on, for more information on goat care and maintaining a healthy herd.

Proper Goat Care When Raising Goats for Fiber

Two popular breeds in the fiber arena are Angora and Pygora goats. Both are registered breeds with beautiful, soft fiber,  Their needs differ in some areas from other goat breeds such as the Pygmy and the Nigerian Dwarf, or Nubian, but all require certain regular health and wellness care. The Angoras and Pygoras, though, require a shearing of their fiber once or twice a year. 

goat care baily pre shearing

We bred Pygora goats for a few years, but decided to cut back on the size of our herd so that we could maintain them all in good health. Now, we own ten Pygoras and they yield quite enough soft beautiful fiber for our needs. Pygora fiber is soft and fine and we use it to blend into our sheep wool.

Goat Care Fiber goat Pygora goat

The Pygora goat breed, that we raise, is a cross between the Pygmy goat and the Angora. This results in a breed that has fiber but a smaller size. The fiber on fiber goats, needs to be harvested at least once a year, but we prefer to do the shearing twice a year. We found that not shearing in the fall leads to more matted fiber on the animal in the spring. Pygora fiber is very fine and lends softness and sheen to a yarn, when blended with other fleece.

goat care DSC_0666
goat care DSC_0310

Should you hire a professional shearer?

We spent many weekends each year shearing. We did get better at it but I would never say I reached a professional speed or quality. This is time consuming and hard on your back. Please keep this in mind before purchasing fiber goat breeds. The alternative is to hire a professional shearer to do the job. We went this route a year ago, and it has freed up so much time in our spring and fall schedules. Our sheep and goat shearer can do all of our animals (14) in one afternoon!

After shearing, sometimes, you can see lice living on the skin. We treat for lice twice a year after each shearing by using Pyrethrin powder rubbed into the back area, along the top line. Another product that kills lice on the skin is Ivermectin Pour-On for cattle.

Hoof Trimming is Essential Goat Care

Hoof trimming needs to be tended to every other month. Starting early in a goats life, will help make this less traumatic but don’t be surprised if they still resist. The back feet, especially, seem to be an issue for our goats. Even the older goats do not like having me lift up and hold their back foot for a trimming. I think it is because they can’t see me back there and it probably is a fight or flight response. It helps to have another person stand by their head and distract them with a treat while you trim the back feet.

Goat Care goat care hoof trimming DSC_5521TCF
In this picture you can see the overgrowth of the hoof
goat care well shaped hoof DSC_5535TCF
A trimmed hoof should return the hoof to a smoother natural wedged sha

Using a Stanchion or Milking Stand for Hoof Trimming

Putting the goat on a stand helps by making it easier on the person trimming.

goat care goat on milking stand for shearing

I have done a number of hoof trimmings by having someone else hold the animal still, while I trim the hooves. This requires a lot more bending and reaching but can certainly get the job accomplished. I look at the stand as a great tool to have but we went many years without owning one, too. Gather all of your tools and some treats before you get started.

goat snacks and treats to use when shearing and trimming
Some yummy treats for hoof trimming time on our farm, include honey nut cheerios type cereal, whole peanuts and apple and oat horse treats
goat care using cornstarch to stop minor bleeding

Some of the items I recommend having close by are, extra breakaway chain collars, the hoof clippers, yummy treats, an old rag to wipe mud off the hooves and a sturdy lead rope. Have a plastic container of corn starch ready, If you accidentally trim too close and cause a mild bleeding, applying corn starch will stop the blood flow. Then I apply a dab of antibiotic ointment and it takes care of the mishap. I have never had a serious problem occur after a slight nick of the hoof.

Using hoof clippers makes the job easier because they are shaped to trim hooves. I wear sturdy gloves when doing the hoof trim because the clippers are extremely sharp and animals make sudden moves! I also have used Fisker’s Garden clippers but the shape of the blade makes the job a bit more tricky.
For goat hoof trims I recommend this type of clipper

Maintain a Goat Care Hoof Trim Schedule

Keeping up with the hoof trimming makes the job so much easier. It is possible to bring a neglected goat back to some measure of good hoof health, but it takes time and dedication. I have missed a trimming and the amount of over growth is pretty amazing. Plan to trim hooves at the minimum,  every other month.

goat care and maintenance

Health Maintenance in Goat Care

Keeping goats requires that their health needs are tended to on a regular basis. In addition to making sure that you are feeding a quality goat chow to supplement any grazing, and providing fresh water each day, there are vaccinations to be updated and occasional de-worming medication that needs to be administered. The vaccinations given and the worming schedule is something that every goat owner should read up on and make their own decision about.

If Goats Leave the Farm….

If you are going to take your goats to shows, county fairs and other events, your decision may be different than mine on these matters. I do not want to sway you one way or another on these issues by telling you our schedule. One site that I do recommend you check out is FiasCo Farm’s website. Clicking on the link will take you to their options of schedules for vaccinations and worming. If you are interested in using herbal natural supplements, we are now using these from Biteme Goat Treats.

On our farm, we have what is called a closed herd. We have not been regularly adding to the goat population, and our goats do not leave the farm unless they need an unexpected trip to the vet’s clinic. Because of this, we do not have a quarantine pen.

goat care  sheared pygora goat

If you do plan to bring home new goats regularly, a quarantine or holding stall, would be a good thing to have. Waiting at least 30 days before allowing direct contact with your herd will give you time to see any signs of possible illness. When the new goats first arrive, worm them and include a treatment for cocci. Knowing what parasites and worms are common in goats in your area is important. Ask your veterinarian what parasite treatments they recommend. Not treating parasite infestations can lead to anemia and death in the goat herd. 

Proper Feeding in Goat Care 

Goats should not have full access to feed concentrates. Goats are very efficient browsers and can readily make use of many plants and growth on your property even if you don’t have grass pasture. They will stand on their hind legs to reach the branches and leaves they want and have a high tolerance to plants that other species find toxic. People often utilize a goat  herd to clear poison ivy as it seems to be a favorite food of goats, with no complications. Goats can clear up your pastures in no time.

Should You Add Grain?

If you keep your goats in a barn or a dry lot with hay feeding, you might want to supplement with a small amount of properly balanced grain. The amount will vary depending on the size of your goat, but around a half a cup to a cup of grain per animal once a day is a good starting point. Goats can colic easily from over eating concentrate feeds.

Keep the feed in a metal trash can with a tight fitting lid somewhere that the goats do not have access to. Voracious eaters, as most goats tend to be, will eat without stopping, so make sure you secure the feed. Feeding hay should keep them happy and provide nutrition and roughage. Fresh drinking water should always be available.

Feeding Fiber Goats- Special Copper Issue

The last thing I want to mention concerns feeding fiber goat breeds. If you should choose to raise a fiber breed of goat, their nutritional needs are more in line with sheep. For proper goat care remember that copper is toxic to sheep and fiber producing goats. When purchasing a commercial food, make sure you read the label carefully. The best choice is to feed Sheep and Lamb concentrate or a feed specifically formulated for sheep and goats in a mixed herd situation. This will eliminate the copper toxicity issue. Supplement your fiber animals minerals using the same care. You can read more about copper toxicity in sheep and goats here.

Keeping goats will certainly keep you on your toes. In return, your goats will reward you with endless amusement, goat cuddles, and possibly cute baby goats!

For information on dairy goats,and lots more goat info, please visit Better Hens and Gardens and Feather and Scale Farm

Look for my books that cover goat care, Keeping Sheep and Other Fiber Animals, and 50 Do it Yourself Projects for Keeping Goats. Both books are available here, in our shop and on Amazon.

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