Everything You Need to Know About Products Produced by Sheep
Many farmers, homesteaders, and land owners invest in sheep due to the variety and the diversity of the products they produce and the different ways they can be used to make money. The cost of caring for sheep is often low compared to the return you can get from selling their products or running a breeding operation.
So, what do sheep produce? Sheep produce a variety of products that can be used to sell as a source of income or to harvest for self-sustainability. Here is a list of popular sheep products:
- Fiber (wool fleece)
- Meat (mutton or lamb)
If you plan on raising sheep as investments rather than just pets, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the care your sheep will need to be effective at production time. In this article, I’ll share more detail about the products sheep produce and other ways you can make money from your small livestock.
Raising Sheep for Wool: What You Need to Know
When we talk about commercial products that come from sheep, the first thing you probably think about is wool! Certain sheep breeds produce a thick wool fleece coat that can be removed and treated to sell as yarn, clothing, and other fabric pieces.
How to Get Wool From Your Sheep:
Before you invest in sheep for wool, you should know that not every sheep produces fiber, or fleece that can be removed and turned into fabric. Some sheep breeds grow normal fur coats like a horse or a cow while other breeds grow wool; these breeds are designated as “wool sheep.” If you want to raise sheep for fiber, you’ll need to invest in wool sheep specifically.
Wool sheep naturally grow a thick fleece coat throughout the year. If you never remove the fleece, it will continue to grow and get heavier and heavier. Shearing (shaving) your sheep will remove the heavy wool fleece which will enable you to treat it and use it yourself, or you can sell it raw to another company.
Shearing is often done during the Springtime to remove thick wool fleeces from the sheep before the outside temperature rises. Not only are sheep sheared to harvest their wool but they’re also sheared for hygienic purposes. Leaving thick fleece on your sheep can cause them to develop skin conditions and be weighed down by the coat.
Special Requirements for Raising Wool Sheep:
When it comes to raising your sheep for wool, you should know that a healthy sheep with good wool genes will often produce quality fibers. If you have sheep with a good pedigree for wool production, ensuring that your sheep get quality forage, minerals, food, and water can be enough to help your sheep produce good wool.
Properly caring for your sheep can go a long way in the quality of their production. To learn how to care for sheep, check out my article How to Care For Sheep: Essential Guide For Beginners.
How Much Wool Does One Sheep Produce?
The amount of wool produced by one sheep depends on the sheep’s health, breed, and time period the fiber has had to grow. A sheep in poor health may not grow a beautiful thick fleece like it usually does. Another thing that can determine the length and the amount of the fibers the sheep produces is the specific breed. Some breeds will produce short fibers while other breeds will produce a thick long coat.
The average amount of wool that is removed from a sheep during the shearing process is 7 – 8 lbs. If the wool is left on the sheep for a longer period of time, you may remove more wool than that; however, keep in mind that leaving wool on a sheep for longer than one year can be a risk to their hygiene.
Raising Sheep for Meat: What You Need to Know
While sheep meat is popular in many countries across Europe and the Middle East, it can be considered more of a delicacy or rarity in the United States. The few times I’ve had mutton or lamb has always been in a fancy restaurant. That being said, you may find it easier to market sheep meat to your friends and family and local high-end restaurants rather than trying to go into commercial production.
How to Get Meat From a Sheep:
In order to get meat from your sheep, they will need to be butchered. You can do this yourself or send your sheep off to be professionally butchered and prepared. There are quite a few steps that go into preparing the meat yourself, from killing the animal to then skinning and eviscerating the animal, and then aging the meat for storage purposes.
I won’t go into the details of this process since it’s not for everyone, but you can find simple-to-follow-tutorials online.
When to Butcher Your Sheep for Meat:
If you plan on raising a sheep for meat, understanding exactly when to butcher your sheep can determine the quality of meat. While you could technically butcher and prepare meat at any point of the sheep’s life, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get a good quality or quantity of meat.
There are two kinds of sheep meat that determine when you butcher the animals. Mutton is a more popular sheep meat that has come from a mature sheep while lamb is more of a tender delicacy that comes specifically from baby sheep.
Old wool sheep that won’t produce quality wool anymore or ewes who have gotten too old for breeding are often the sheep that are used for meat. The typical age for these cull ewes to be prepared for meat is 6-8 yrs old. If you’re looking to raise more quality mutton, many people will raise wether sheep (male neutered sheep) until they are a few years of age before preparing them for meat. The reason for this is that wethers are often larger sheep that will provide more meat.
When it comes to producing lamb meat, lambs are usually butchered at 6-8 months. At this point, the lamb has grown and matured with optimal muscle and fat.
Specific Requirements for Raising Sheep for Meat:
One of the best things you can do to help your sheep produce quality meat is to make sure your flock has access to lush quality grass. If you’ve ever tasted grass-fed beef compared to grain-fed beef, then you know that grass-fed beef tastes much better! Well, the same goes for lamb or mutton. Grass provides a natural healthy diet for your sheep, which in turn produces a tastier and healthier meat for consumers.
Ideally, your meat sheep should be turned out on lush pasture 24/7 to get the nutrients and vitamins needed to produce good meat. You can supplement your sheep’s diet with protein and vitamin supplements as well as a small amount of grain, but ideally, a meat sheep’s diet will consist mainly of grass or forage.
Raising Sheep for Milk: What You Need to Know
You may have never heard of drinking or consuming sheep milk, but sheep dairy products are known to be higher-quality and healthier than cow’s milk and goat’s milk. Sheep milk isn’t pungent like goat products, and it can be consumed by people with a dairy intolerance and won’t effect them. It’s also great for making cheese, as it contains more solids than other milks.
How to Get Milk From a Sheep:
In order for sheep to produce milk, they must first give birth to a lamb; sheep will not naturally produce milk unless they are lactating to nurse their babies. To get milk from a sheep, you will need to milk the sheep once or twice a day, depending on how much milk you want.
The easiest way to milk a sheep is to milk them at feeding time. This way, they’ll be occupied by their feed while you milk them. While you can use goat milkers on sheep, you can also hand-milk them into a pale.
Specific Requirements for Raising Dairy Sheep:
Lactating sheep require a lot of energy to produce quality milk. Often times, you should provide your dairy sheep with high-protein feeds to help them produce milk. Alfalfa hay is a high-protein forage option that is great for dairy sheep. Lactating sheep can also have a diet supplemented with grain, as grain is designed to provide more sugars and proteins so the sheep has the energy to produce the milk.
How Long Do Sheep Produce Milk:
There are a few aspects to consider when it comes to milking your sheep. Sheep can have multiple lambs at a time, meaning that they will produce more milk to feed all their babies. When first born, lambs will usually feed 4 times a day. As the lambs age and become more independent from their mothers, the ewe’s milk production will naturally start to decrease. However, if you keep milking them, they can keep lactating anywhere from 140 – 250 days depending on the breed of sheep.
To learn more about ewe sheep, check out my article What A Female Sheep is Called & Interesting Female Sheep Facts.
Raising Sheep for Breeding Purposes: What You Need to Know
Another thing that sheep produce is…well…sheep. Sheep breeding operations can coincide with other operations, like dairy, meat, and wool operations. Many others often run breeding operations to produce specific breed-registered quality-pedigree sheep to sell to others.
How Long Are Sheep Pregnant?
The gestation period for sheep is 145 – 150 days. A short gestation period is one reason why many farmers are investing in sheep. Sheep can also technically be bred at any point of the year since they have an estrus cycle every 16 – 17 days; however, most farmers often breed their sheep during the Autumn so the lambs can be born during the Springtime.
How Often Can Sheep Give Birth?
For safe health practices, a female sheep can give birth once a year. Sheep are pregnant for around 5 months at a time. After 5 months, a sheep will give birth and lactate for about 150 more days. Lambs are usually weaned at 3 -4 months old. Once a lamb is weaned, the ewe should have a few months to recover and rest before they are bred and have to do it all again.
How Many Lambs Can One Ewe Have?
Did you know that sheep often birth more than one lamb? Sheep can produce anywhere from 1 – 3 lambs at a time. This is another attractive trait for raising sheep; they produce a higher yield compared to cattle or horses. Most times, a healthy sheep will produce two lambs.
Sometimes, a ewe will accept one lamb while rejecting the other. While this isn’t a common occurrence, it does happen. If you plan on raising sheep as lambs, you should be well-educated on how to bottle-feed and hand-raise lambs.
Specific Requirements for Raising Sheep For Breeding:
When it comes to raising sheep for breeding, it’s important to practice good flock management. Rams should be kept separate from the ewes unless it’s breeding season. Rams that won’t be used for breeding should be castrated. Pregnant sheep and newborn lambs will need to be monitored, as they are often more at risk for health concerns.
Gestating sheep should be fed a high-protein diet to aid in the development of the lamb in the womb. Pregnant ewes can be fed extra grain to help support them. Lambs require their own special diet; while they’ll rely heavily on their mother’s milk for the first two weeks of their lives, they will start nibbling grass as young as one day old. They can also be fed small amounts of grain as early as one week old to help them develop their digestive systems.
To learn more about lambs, check out my article Baby Sheep: What a Baby Sheep Is Called & Other Fun Facts.
An important part of raising sheep is understanding the different behaviors they exhibit. Certain behaviors can mean your sheep is feeling a certain way. To learn more about how sheep communicate, visit my article Sheep Behavior: Ultimate Sheep Behavior Guide.