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Sonlit Acres

Encouraging sustainable living


You will find on this page a summary of the animals we have raised, I don't have the knowledge to share of those we haven't. If in the future we do raise other animals I will post what I have learned in raising them. 

Small Livestock For Small Places.

An excellent meat animal for those with limited space is the domestic rabbit, not much can really be said against rabbit as a meat source. It compares very well to most other meat sources and can be raised anywhere, even in the back yard of a small city lot. The cost to get started with domestic rabbit is minimal and a return is realized fairly quickly. Many people get a deep satisfaction from raising them as they are quiet and affectionate. The time has come that many are realizing the domestic rabbit as a food source here in America, after all Europe has used the domestic rabbit this way for a very long time. One ten pound doe can produce up to 120 pounds of meat per year, a production of over 1000 % of her own body weight. They make a great back yard venture and do not require a whole lot of care or space. Rabbit meat is similar to chicken but in my opinion is far superior it is all white and has a delicate flavor. It exceeds Beef, Pork, lamb and chicken in protein and is lower in cholesterol and fat, ounce per ounce it is also lower in calories. There is less waste in butchering because of their small bones only about 20 %.

One has several choices as to what meat breed they can raise if they are raising for their own table. There is the Flemish, Belgian hare, Californian, Dutch, New Zealand Whites, Rex, English Spot, Lops or any one of the other meat breeds or mixes of breeds. It would be wise to not try to raise the mini or smaller breeds that most raise as pets as their size when dressed would be fairly small and hardly worth the effort in dressing. Also, the giant breeds such as the American Chinchilla and the Flemish Giant which can weigh near 20 pounds will not give as good results as your medium meat breeds. New Zealand and Californians are considered commercial breeds and would be easier to find as they are regularly sold to markets. We raised both New Zealand and Californian.

Housing for rabbits is as diversified as the folks that raise them. We use square wire cages that measure 30 inches by 30 inches and are 16 inches high, they should have one square foot of cage for every pound of weight when full grown, we hang our cages under an open shed with a roof to provide protection from the elements. In the winter tarps are hung on the side to protect them from harsh weather. Rabbits can take considerable cold but do not handle heat so well. If raising rabbit in the back yard is something one would like to try I would start with 2 does and 1 buck. At this point you could either purchase the three cages required, or stop by the feed store and look a cage over and build one to your liking.

There is no way for me to cover all the ins and outs of rabbit raising in these short articles and can only give some of the basics. I would very much recommend that you go to the library and check out a book on raising rabbit and read it before starting out. 



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The Homestead Milk Cow

We had been homesteading for a few years before we decided on finally getting our first milk cow. Before then we had kept a few sheep as meat animals, and as the family grew and the price of milk started to climb we decided it was time for a milk cow. The benefits of a milk cow are great as she will produce milk needed for the family and at least once a year give a calf that can be raised for meat. It takes a couple of years for a calf to reach a decent size for meat but after that first couple of years you will have a beef to send to the butcher near annually. 

The benefits of owning a milk cow are great, but it does have drawbacks. One must be ready to be committed to owning the cow, she has needs and these needs must be met. The feeding watering and cleaning all has to be done and on a routine and about the same time each day, cows thrive on a regular routine. So one must be settled enough to be able to schedule themselves around the needs of their cow especially when she is in milk, she needs to be milked twice a day through her lactation period of right around 300 days. That's 300 days of fresh whole raw milk to feed to a family that loves it. How much milk depends on her breed in general and the cow herself. We get right around three gallons a day early on and it begins to drop after about three months. With our large family we don't have any extra milk for the purpose of making cheese, but hope someday to do so. We do separate our cream and make butter a few times a week. All in all owning the cow is cost effective and for a larger family well worth the time and investment as we get far more savings from her than we put into her.

We put about $850.00 in the milk cow to care for her through the year. She gives us around 820 gallons of milk a year and at $4.00 a gallon, that's $3,353.80 in milk, not to include the 200 pounds of butter we make in the year that's an extra $558.00, last I checked on the price at the store. That’s $3061.80 ahead of the game. (I think the 600 or so pounds of beef we get works out to be near free.) As you can see on average the cow will more than pay for herself if you have a need for the milk. Even if you didn't want the milk and only wanted to raise a beef cow from her I think you would find that it will still work out, though I can't imagine not wanting at least one milking a day out of her. We many times have only taken one milking and we do this by penning the calf after evening chores and milking in the morning, then turning the calf out with mom the rest of the day. This system has worked for us many times when we didn't need the extra milk.

There are variables in the raising of one’s own cow and one of those is whether you cut your own hay or buy it, I do not have figures for the purchase of hay because we produce our own and with current fuel costs the price of hay has also risen, because of the cost associated in producing it. As a rule I try to figure on no less than 200 bales of hay per year per cow. The amount of hay needed will also depend on the breed and size of your cow, ours are Jersey and Jersey Herford mix and are not a very large cow.

Most cows are very docile and friendly unless they are not used to being handled or have been treated rough from the start. All our cattle are handled much from birth and are friendly even with our youngest children. Our first cow was raised around children and was game for just about anything, even giving the children rides around the yard as if she was a horse. She was very careful when moving if the children were near her and loved the attention they gave her. All her calves were playmates to the children and Emma was her first born here on our homestead. Emma is like her mother with the exception that I never poled her and she still has her horns. She is careful with them and has never given us concern that she would use them.

If looking for a family cow my best advice would be to look around and ask allot of questions of the owner. As always when I write about animals, I recommend buying a good book and reading it before even considering the purchase of any animal, a good book will go further into detail than I can here, and you will always have the book for reference if needed.

I will no doubt write more on the homestead cow in the future, as I consider the homestead cow a big part in self-substance living.

What is Pastured Chicken

Pastured chickens are raised outside in fresh air and sunshine on fresh green growing pasture, some in small groups, protected by large bottomless pens which are moved daily onto new ground. Or allowed to range in the yard on the Homestead during the day and penned at night to protect them from predators.

A bit of history...

Long the days before there were refrigerators and freezers, most poultry was raised on pasture.  Most farms raised a small back door or kitchen yard flock for eggs and meat.  Production followed nature in that the birds hatched their young in the spring, raised them through summer into autumn and the excess was harvested and stored for winter or sold as a cash crop.  Only a few young laying hens and a rooster or two were over wintered for the next year's cycle.  This system was efficient enough for the birds to perpetuate themselves and there was extra enough to encourage some use of limited resources for their husbandry; but not much! A chicken dinner was cause for celebration.

Around the turn of the last century things began to change.  Steam, electric and combustion engine power came to the farm.  Man power and horse power were replaced by machines and men moved to town. Birds began to be raised inside for year-round production, and men began to think in terms of "conquering" nature. On the farm, things got bigger and bigger.  By the end of the twentieth century one man could grow not hundreds, or thousands, but tens or hundreds of thousands of confined birds with very little labor. Economies of scale allowed large fortunes to be made. Chickens made it into bologna, fast food restaurants and gas stations.

But where there were advances, there were also setbacks. Things had gotten bigger and faster, but often not better. Living conditions inside crowded chicken houses became marginal because the waste matter from so many birds was also being concentrated. Ammonia caused respiratory problems and fecal dust coated everything. All sorts of things were added to feed to try to overcome problems caused by the unnatural conditions. Whole regions in which poultry operations surrounded huge vertically integrated chicken factories began to smell. Once beautiful byways became littered with feathers, and dangerously high levels of nutrients began to show up in streams and ground water. Farmers no longer controlled the birds they grew and lost touch with local markets. Meanwhile, consumers understandably lost track of those who grew their food, since on average, it had changed hands six times and traveled eighteen hundred miles getting to them. Along the way, chicken became a commodity that lost not only its identity but also its quality and flavor. 


Raising Chickens

Allot can be said about raising poultry and there is no way I can be specific in these short articles on the raising of chickens. How they are raised will vary from person to person, but the basics are the same. The two reasons that one would raise them are for eggs and meat. On our homestead we raise them just for that reason and there is nothing like a fresh egg or fresh home grown chicken coming out of the oven. Many times one will ask what did a particular thing taste like and the other will answer it tasted like chicken. Well that is the problem with large corporate raised chicken; the true flavor of the chicken just isn't there.

A home grown chicken has flavor that isn't like anything you will buy in the store! One would have to see for themselves how mass produced chickens are raised in the first place to understand. They are in huge buildings with barely enough room to move, more like standing room only. Many places force feed these birds or inject them in an attempt to gain rapid growth rates.

On the homestead it is a much different process and a very natural process. Chicks are normally purchased from a hatchery and mail shipped to you. They are day old and full of energy but very fragile and must be put in a box or room with heat lamps to keep them warm. Water must be made available as soon as you get them home along with a good starter feed. This is called brooding, and the brooding process takes about four weeks or until the chicks have all their feathers. We never use sawdust as bedding for young chicks, they will confuse it with feed and it can kill them if they ingest too much. We normally use newspaper to line the floor of our brooder box and as the chicks get older we use straw or hay to bed them.

Feed and water is made available at all times for them. Once the brooding is finished the chicks are brought to their coop and kept inside for a couple of more weeks with a light on through the night. Once two weeks has passed we allow them out in a fenced area so they can adjust to going in and out of the coop. Once we are confident they will return to shelter at night we allow them to roam the yard and scratch feed themselves in the way nature intended it. Feed and water is still made available to them 24/7 in their coop and if you watch you will see them go in and out throughout the day. If you live in an area where letting them roam is a problem a move able fence will serve the purpose for you.

We purchase two different breeds on our homestead; they are Barred Plymouth Rocks for egg production and Heavy Cornish Cross for meat. The two breeds are brooded together and then separated to two different coops to finish off. The biggest reason for this is that the meat birds are fed grain with a higher protein content than the layers are. The Cornish grow at a much faster rate than the layers and the extra protein is needed for proper diet. Both are allowed to pasture the yard together and all find their way back to the proper coop in the evening and are locked in to protect them from predators, though we do loose one from time to time to a predator.

The Cornish are a meat breed and will dress out nicely at eight to ten weeks of age, making the commitment to raise them for meat short. The layers will start laying eggs at about five and a half months old.

Something About Pigs

The pig is the great scavenger of the homestead, and no homestead should be without at least one. Pigs are the smartest and if well cared for, cleanest of the farm animals. Believe it or not pigs don't have to be the smelly hogs that most folks say they are. You may not want to make your own glue or shoe polish, but keeping a couple on the hoof in the back yard along with one in the smoke house, means you will be eating good, and so will your land.

Pigs produce some 16 tons of fertilizer per year per ton of animal weight, each ton of pig manure contains 500 pounds of organic matter, 10 pounds of nitrogen, 10 pounds of potassium, and 5 pounds of phosphorus. Imagine what that can do for your garden or used up field on the homestead. Pigs have been raised in many countries for many years, primarily for their fertilizer and scavenging ability.

Pigs make for maximum economy, when raised with other animals, pigs will eat all the food spilled or wasted buy other animals on the homestead, if you have a cow any excess milk can be fed to them, and will fatten them up nicely. Pigs transport nicely and are very adaptable animals. They are also 100% usable and have contributed to the making of many products useful to man. Such as Glue, insulin, high quality charcoal from the bones, brushes, air filters, and mattress padding, to name a few.

Having a couple of pigs around the homestead means that you can have your bacon and eat it too.  Pigs in years gone buy were nick named mortgage lifters and rightfully so as many farmers raised them to make extra cash to pay on their mortgages.

The best way to get to know how to raise pigs, is to read a little basic information on them, ask questions from someone that has raised them and then get a couple of shoats in the spring. Pigs are fairly easy to raise. They are social animals and love attention, and are suckers for a good belly rub. They will do well in a small area and can be fenced fairly easy. If you use an electric fence they need to be trained to back away when they come into contact with it, the best way to achieve this is to have them in a boarded pen and run an electric wire inside it so they can't charge through.

After a couple of days of touching the wire and not being able to charge through it they will back away from it. We have always used electric fence for our hogs on the homestead, it is easier to move and repair, we use portable housing for our pigs, one of our pigs houses is big enough for a sow to give birth and start her young. The others are easily moved with a tractor from one place to the next. Pigs are great for reclaiming land and as mentioned earlier for fertilizing it.  When picking a garden spot, put up a fence the size of the garden and turn the pigs loose, they will till and fertilize it along with pulling the rocks and sucker roots to the surface.

Once the ground has be worked over, move them to another spot. Never fence pigs into an area that you don't want the trees to die, because they will once the pig has done his job in that area, pigs love to work at the roots of trees.  Some folks consider breeding their sow once they get used to the idea of having a pig and I encourage you to try it at least one time.

We bred pigs for several years. Many factors come into play when one decides to breed a pig. One is the cost to keep her fed through the winter. The other is adequate housing, especially in cold climates. Several years ago we decided not to breed pigs anymore as the cost of grain became prohibitive. Much to our surprise allot of folks did the same thing and piglets became hard to find. And we ended up not getting any for a few years. All I can honestly say about not having the homestead pig is, we missed having them, and we sure did miss the spring litter. We did remedy that and get a couple for breeders. We have never had any trouble selling off our excess piglets and there is something to be said about raising your own from day one.

Shade is important to a pig as well as a place to wallow in the mud, these need to be provided for them whether it be a portable shed and a hand dug  hole filled with water, pigs can't sweat so wallowing in mud cools them, it is not something they do because they are dirty animals as folklore says. It is important to their health and well being.  Pigs will gain weight quickly if allowed to be hogs, buy giving them free feed and having it available at all times, we always had a large j-box feeder for our meat hogs so they could eat whenever they wanted. Along with a good supply of fresh water at all times.

Our breeders had well managed rations as not to allow them to get too fat, an overly fat sow will have trouble giving birth, we did learn this the hard way.

Pigs truly do have personality and can be trained to do many things; one of my daughters took to one of the runts of a litter and used to take it for a walk with a collar each day. When that pig was 300 pounds our Daughter could still put a collar on the pig and take it any place she wanted to go.  One must be very careful as to how attach they become to an animal they intend to eat. I have inherited many meat animals because the folks that raised them could not bring themselves to eat them.

The easiest way we found was to make a rule, if we are going to eat it we don't name it, that way it is less personal. That doesn't mean that one can't treat the animal with great care and love to it; just don't let yourself get too attached. It can be difficult especially for the first time or two. We choose to slaughter and process our own, how to do this has been passed on through my family for many generations now and I intend to pass that knowledge down to my children. If you never have done your own or don't feel you can, by all means hire the job done.

I help a couple of my friends every year because they just can't bring themselves to do the kill, they can be there and watch and help with every part of the rest of the process, they just can't seem to get buy the kill part, and there is no shame in that in my book. It's not a problem for me, as it was a part of my upbringing and that's the way country life was when I grew up.

Which reminds me of the first time that my wife witnessed me slaughtering our first pig, It never occurred to me that she had never seen it done. Needless to say I was deprived a few days of meaningful conversation along with being called a few names that I had never heard before, the following year I sent her shopping while we did the slaughter. She has grown accustomed to it now and accepts it as part of how we live.


Brooding Chicks.

Newly hatched chicks must be kept warm and free from drafts, be properly fed and watered, and be protected from predators. We use either a 95 gallon stock tank with one 250 watt heat lamp, and a few boards with gaps when we have less than 30 chicks and an 8 x 4 foot aluminum brooder with 19 inch walls and a sheet of ½ inch plywood with holes cut in it to install the two heat lamps and provide ventilation for our meat birds. Normally 80 birds go into the brooder.

The size and shape of the box is not too important as long as it provides enough space for the chicks and the equipment to feed and water them. A 2 x 2 foot box 12-15 inches high is adequate. A screen or wire mesh should cover the box to restrict handling and to protect the chicks from cats and other predators. In a small box of this size a 75 watt light bulb should be sufficient to provide the chicks with warmth.

The sides of the stock tank and or brooder provide adequate protection from drafts. The 1st week, keep the temperature at the level of the chicks at 90-95° F. Reduce the temperature about 5 degrees per week until room temperature is reached. It is best to use a thermometer to measure the temperature, until you become comfortable reading the actions of your chicks. Their actions will be a good guide.

When the chicks are cold, they bunch up and give a distressed "cheap." When they are too warm, they stand apart with their beaks open, and their throats may have a pulsating or panting motion. A comfortable temperature can be maintained by simply moving your heat lamp either up to cool or down to warm.

There are as many chick brooding box designs as there are people that brood them. However we do not recommend the use of cardboard for fear of fire; if the lamp should become upset and rest on the cardboard wall it could cause a fire. (Yes we know many folks have used cardboard boxes to get the job done.) This is why we use the metal stock tank and aluminum brooder. A wood box of sufficient size would do well as long as your bulb cannot come into contact with the wood surface.

A few layers of newspaper on the floor give the chick’s good footing and help keep the box clean. Wood shavings, chopped straw, peat moss, or sand are suitable once they are a couple of weeks old. Replace the litter when necessary to keep the box clean and dry.

Waterers are available at farm supply stores at a reasonable price, we use small plastic ones for the chicks, but when they are full grown they will need something larger. Since we raise a large number here we use 5 gallon metal Waterers. All Waterers should be placed on a wooden block to help keep them free from litter. We normally use a block 2 inches thick for chicks and as much as 6 inches for chickens when they are full grown. Replace the water twice a day, or more frequently if necessary to keep the water clean and fresh. Clean the waterer each time you make the change, and refill it with lukewarm water. Once grown cold water is fine in the summer, in the winter we use a heater to keep the waterer from freezing.

Although chicks don't need feed or water the first 48 hours after hatching, should be provided as soon as the chicks are transferred to the brooding box. Use a small box or tray for a feeder or you can purchase one at your feed store that is designed for the purpose of brooding chicks. These cheap manufactured feeders prevent the feed from being spilled all over the floor of the brooder. We normally sprinkle some feed on the brooder floor lined with newspaper to Let the chicks scratch around in the feed for the first few days so they get off to a good start on the feed and don't end up eating litter.

Chicks are best started on a chick starter mash. For other poultry, use the appropriate starter feed for that species, of bird, if available. Once the chicks are covered in feathers, normally in 4 to 5 weeks they are ready to be placed in their coop, the coop should also be draft free. And they should also have access to free food and fresh water. Again feeders and Waterers can be purchased at your local feed store. These are more costly, but if cared for will give many years of good service.



More On Free Range

The August 1998 issue of the Angus Journal included a supplement titled Feeding Options.  In the supplement's first article, written by Troy Smith, there's an interesting line. For the ruminant animal, there's nothing more natural than range.  ("Range" means "large pasture.")  Just think about this for a minute.  Notice the words natural and range.  Also, there's nothing more natural? Means that every other situation is less natural. Probably the least natural cattle feeds are waste products from bread plants, potato processors, breweries, ethanol plants, and candy factories; corn silage; and grain. 

 Yes Cattle, like all other ruminants and many other animals, on this Earth eating green leafy plants, mostly grass.  They ate virtually no grain.  In fact, there is not an animal species on this planet (which includes people) that was created eating grain!  This is important since scientists are reporting that many of America's leading health problems are due to diets top heavy in Omega-6 fatty acids versus the intake of Omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-6 fatty acids come mainly from grains which are also deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3 fatty acids, or rather the appropriate balance of Omega-6 to Omega-3 Fatty Acids, come mainly from green leafy plants, some nuts, and of course animals that ate green leaves

 The story about fatty acids is very important.  It started unfolding back in the early 1980's when nutritionists and scientists started making new discoveries about fats.  They knew there were many different fats, but they did not fully understand the role they played in animal body function.  But they started realizing that some actually play a pivotal role in human health.  Some of the most crucial fats are in the list of compounds found in the membranes of every cell in a human body.  That means some fats are not what we usually associate with the fat we can see around our waist for instance.  With more study the dietitians and scientists figured out that the human body needs a very particular balance of certain essential fats in its diet because the body's only source for those fats is food.  Two of the most important essential fats are in Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acid families

 After isolating these fatty acids scientific experiments determined that if the ratio of Omega-6 fatty acids to Omega-3 fatty acids in cell membranes exceeds 4:1, people develop more health problems.  This is especially meaningful since the ratios in grain-fed beef can exceed 15:1 whereby grass-fed beef is down around 1:1.   Similar ratios are also found in ALL grain-fed versus grass-fed livestock products!  The products include all meats, poultry, dairy, and fish.  For instance, skinless chicken breasts from the store are 18:1 and it does not matter if the chicken is Tyson, organic, vegetable fed, free range, or grown-on-the-moon chicken.

 The health problems associated with diets high in Omega-6 and low in Omega-3 are cancer, heart disease, depression, obesity, insulin resistance, allergies, autoimmune diseases such as lupus and arthritis, diabetes, attention deficit syndrome, and the list goes on.  These diseases are not associated with bacterial infections.  They are all body failures, not from aging, but from improper diets. We know the positive health story for natural grass-fed beef is ironclad.  But if this is your first exposure to grass versus grain, you need to study up more than just this article.

  Beef quality grades (prime, choice, select, and standard) are supposed to compare the eating experience. The grade is based on fat content.  The greater the quantity of intramuscular fat in the meat, the higher the grade.  The higher the grade (more fat) the more tender the meat.  (Fat is more tender than muscle!)  But everyone knows that sometimes standard grades of beef (beef with low levels of visible fat) provide better eating experiences than some prime grades of beef.  So the current grading system is not perfect.  Yet it's the measure the beef industry uses to sell beef to the consumer.  Since this quality grading system is based on grain-fed fats (high Omega-6 and low Omega-3 Fatty Acids -- saturated fat), it promotes the wrong kind of fat, rather bland tasting meat, and meat tenderness as the most important aspects of meat.  Alarmingly, it totally neglects the nutritional characteristics of the meat and the actual eating experience.

Unfortunately, what the industry sells is what the consumer believes it wants.  Therefore industry wants the fattest grain-fed beef possible because Americans believe the beef with the most marbling and a close trim on the external fat is the best beef.  Of course, a few consumers actually want healthy, nutritious food.  But the vast majority really does not care.  They want cheap and bland.

 The consumer's fascination with bright-white saturated fat (which develops when cattle are fed grain) started about a century ago and industry picked up on this consumer preference.  The feedlot industry then evolved on the back of the grain feeding concept.  Therefore for the past 60 years the modern grain-fed beef industry has been promoting fat as the reason why beef has good flavor, why it is juicy, and why it is tender.  All the while it has been promoting fat the beef industry has had to fight a rearguard action because many modern health problems have been linked to eating beef.  But it wasn't until just recently that scientists determined that it wasn't just beef that caused the dramatic increase in health problems in the United States, but the feeding of grain in the production of all meat, poultry, dairy, and fish/shrimp products (plus the feeding of grain to people) and the dramatic reduction of Omega-3 fatty acids in the American diet that was a result.  To this day the beef industry is still ignoring the grass-fed health conscience story.  But the facts are overwhelming and in time the consumer will wake up and industry will change and provide the consumer with grass-fed meats

We know that there is at best a 10% correlation between intramuscular fat and tenderness

We know that studies comparing tenderness in grain-fed beef versus grass-fed beef have shown no significant differences.  (Grass-fed beef is not as consistent because it is raised in an uncontrolled environment.

We know that in grain-fed beef the flavor is in the fat, and that the meat has very little flavor.

We know that beef from cattle that graze lush grasslands definitely has flavor in the meat, plus the visible fat.

We know that fat is juicy, but meat can be juicy too, so fat isn't needed for a juicy steak.

We know that nutritionists say people shouldn't eat excessive quantities of saturated fat.  Yet they say the human body requires a proper balance of the right fats.  And we know that the proper balance of the right fats comes automatically from livestock grazing lush grasslands.  That's why we should eat their visible fat for our health.

We know that diets high in Omega-6 fatty acids and low in Omega-3 fatty acids are very bad for human health.

We know that grain-fed beef products have high ratios of Omega-6 fatty acids to Omega-3 fatty acids even when they are "extra lean."  (That's because the fatty acids are components of all cell membranes.

We know that beef from cattle grazing lush grasslands is a natural source of Omega-3 fatty acids.  And, unlike grain-fed beef, it is also high in CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid), beta carotene, and vitamins A and E.

 For a fact the consistency, flavor, look, smell, and texture of grass-fed beef differs from grain-fed beef.  Therefore some consumers will have to learn to appreciate the differences if they are going to eat grass-fed beef.  Others will like it immediately because it actually tastes like beef.  Others will gladly learn to like it because it does a body good.  In all cases folks will need to learn how to properly cook grass-fed meats.

Yes, the time for Grass-Fed livestock is now, the best way to be sure that is what your getting is to raise it yourself or buy it locally from someone that does.

A Little About Sheep

One of the many books that helped allot of folks get back to the land in the 40's and sparked the interest of many more was Five Acres and Independence by M. G. Kains. I have a copy of this book and have read it. I disagree with the author's statement that sheep have no place on the small farm. Sheep require no elaborate or expensive equipment or housing, and very little care with the exception of lambing time. They produce a fine carcass on very little grain and with current feed costs could do a nice job on just grass and hay alone, as long as your hay is of good quality. Like other livestock, sheep come in many breeds and colors; we raised Dorset's and had very good luck with them, with the exception of a bad Ram. The Dorset made a good meat and wool animal.

Just for the prospect of home produced meat the sheep is much less expensive to raise than a cow and is much easier for the beginner to care for and to learn with. They will produce meat in about six months compared to the 12 - 24 months it takes for beef and are much easier to butcher. Of course if you like to or want to spin you also have the wool. If you have no interest in the wool you could find someone I am sure that would buy it from you as many folks all over spin wool.

With just these reasons for raising lamb as well as other livestock for the table it will hold no water unless one has the support of both Dad and Mom at the dinner table. Without the cooperation of Dad and Mom at the dinner table a sheep project could be a disaster, no matter how well thought out or worked out on paper it is. In my opinion the best way to find out if you would like to raise sheep for the table would be to buy a lamb from a local breeder and raise it to slaughter. If the family agrees that it is something to pursue then I would buy a ewe and have it bred when it is time.

Like any livestock one would do well to find a local breeder that they can trust, this is very important because if you don't know anything about the animal you will have to take his word for it. A good breeder will take their time with you and are   much interested in your success and would want you to succeed and can be a wealth of advice and help to you. As is the case with any livestock you want to start out with the best animal you can find and afford. Upkeep of an animal is the same whether it be a good or bad animal.

In general you will be looking for heavy searing ewes with fleeces free of dark fibers. A yearling is best but sheep aren't old until they are six or seven years old, they can live to be twelve in some cases. At any rate make sure they have all their teeth, if they have teeth missing they are considered to be broken mouthed and are over the hill. My best advice would be to buy a good looking lamb and raise her to breeding age, if that is possible.

A lesson on teeth:  So you won't be confused. A lamb has eight milk teeth on the lower jaw by the time it is a year and a half, the second set of permanent teeth come at age two, likewise on year three and four. At age four they are said to have a full mouth. After that the teeth begin to slant forward, and as she ages they spread out, wear down and break off, When all of her teeth are gone she is called a gummer.

Raising sheep as well as any livestock is a commitment and should not be ventured into lightly. They all require a certain amount of care and attention. As I say to anyone and say in all my posts regarding livestock is, I cannot give you all the ins and outs of sheep but there are plenty of good books that you can buy or check out at your local library. I prefer to own the books for future reference and have gone back to those books on any animal many times.




Proverbs 27:23   Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds.