You may have noticed a trend among homesteaders, perhaps even a trend that you're experiencing yourself, in which life on the farm has become so full of summer busyness (that is, awesomeness) that there's hardly time to even document it all! So many things throughout my day cause me to pause and think “Oh, I've gotta share this with my readers!” or “I better Instagram that!” or “How pin worthy!” or “I better remember to write about that!” or “Where's my camera?!”
And then I realize that something, be it an animal, child, garden, or husband, needs me desperately and I must come back to said “thing” when I have the time to.
Which never happens.
Because as we all know, summer on the farm means work. It means getting loads of hay every weekend and stocking up the barn for the winter ahead. It means battling with weeds and bugs to begin to bring in the harvest from the garden that's been back breaking work since March. It means new animals. Watering pasture. Washing mud stains out of clothes by hand because your washing machine is broken. Preparing slop buckets for pigs. Building trellises for growing roses. Caring for newly transplanted plants. And ya know – that whole raising children and pregnancy thing.
I love the work. I love the bustle of summertime. I love beginning to see the garden fill in and holding onto the promise of the great harvest that the late summer and fall will bring. This year, we'll be butchering 50 broilers, 2 hogs, and 1 sheep! Lord willing.
Yes, I said sheep.
“But Shaye, you don't have sheep!” I hear you say.
Oh dear reader. I'm thankful that the Good Lord has given me enough time left in this day to tell you about the dear sheep we brought to Beatha Fonn Farm just the day before last. Because, as I'm learning, there may be few things I love in this world more than sheep.
And so, even though there was other tasks to complete, I grabbed my camera and took an entire day away from the farm to drive 3…4…5…6 hours… (truthfully, I lost track) to pick up said sheep.
And so. Yes. Beatha Fonn Farm is now the proud home to a small herd of Katahdin sheep. And by small herd, I mean really small. But we all must start somewhere. And humble beginnings can often be the starting point of great achievements. I'm sure there are examples of this, but frankly, I can't think of any right now. I'll blame it on the farmer brain.
Preparing for Sheep On The Farm
Why Katahdin Sheep
Because they're delicious. Katahdin sheep are known for their succulent and delicious meat production – the entire reason that we're raising them. Even though sheep's milk is delicious, we've got our dairy cow and we're happy to keep her here. Raising sheep for meat production came with a few great benefits to us on this particular farm. For starters, we have scrubby landscape that really needs to be worked aggressively to bring it back to life. Sheep are fantastic and pretty non-picky grazers. For two, our pasture land (we have five acres) can get pretty steep and rocky in spots – again, something that sheep are fantastic at handling. Because of this, we knew we'd be able to utilize a huge portion of our land for red meat production without having to have established, lush pasture for a steer. Sheep eat much less, are ready to butcher much earlier, and can still provide our family with a good amount of red meat each year.
A friend of mine raised Katahdin sheep and they were instantly appealing when we began looking into the prospect of raising sheep. Unlike most sheep, Katahdin's don't grow fleeces so sheering is not a requirement. Another major bonus, considering we don't know how to sheer a sheep and in our super hot summer climates that would be essential. Couple that with the fact that they're meaty, delicious, quick to finish, and have good temperament – sign me up, baby.
Why Travel So Far To Pick Them Up?
A few reasons, really. Katahdin aren't a super popular breed of sheep so it's not like there was a breeder down the road eager to sell me their best ewes. The farm that we purchased them from I've known of for awhile and I know take excellent care of their animals – including hoof care, worming, proper supplements, high quality pasture and hay, etc. It just so happens that when we were looking to acquire our sheep, they were looking to sell their herd (they are transferring their operation to a dairy business). Couple that with the fact that they've got proven, high-quality genetics and it made sense for us to trek over the mountains and bring the sheep back to our farm.
As we briefly talked about before, there are times when pinching pennies is not the most important thing to me. This was one of those times. I wanted high quality ewes and a high quality ram that would provide us with high quality breeding stock for years to come. I wasn't interested in hunting Craigslist for the cull of another farm. I wanted the goods, baby. The Farmstead had 'em. And so, we drove.
We brought back four sheep with us from our journey. Would you like to meet them? Oh fantastic! They want to meet you too. They told me so. They're pretty excited to be featured on the website. Naturally.
Hamish is the ram of the herd. He does what any male animal does best – eats, sleeps, leads the pack, and well… breeds the females. Hamish is beautiful – resembling a lion of sorts. He doesn't have any long hair on his face or chin – but he is boasting quite the tuft of chest hair. It makes me giggle when I see it.
By the way, someone should have told me that giggling is not the best idea when you're super pregnant with your third child. Things happen.
But I digress.
Hamish is also like any other male animal in that while he is kind, fairly gentle, and tame he is not to be trusted. One does not simply turn their back on any intact (uncastrated) animal. While he's just a sheep, his head is still hefty and hard enough to do some damage. And thus, one does not (for example) carry a bucket of oats through their pasture. That would be a stupid decision. Because Hamish would attack you for your oats – he would want your goodies. He is scratched and loved on – but ultimately, respected.
Rosie is a three month old ewe that will be one of our breeding ewes. She's shedding out now and is still a bit shy, but she's a sweetheart and is wonderfully feminine and kind. I think it's taken her the most time to settle in, but she'll come around. I've got the goods (like garden clippings!) to make 'em love me.
Guido is Rosie's twin brother, a three month old ram. For being just three months old, he's got a serious set of testes. Just sayin'. He's pretty spunky but is happy to spend most of his day cuddled with Rosie and nibbling old grass. It's amazing how much difference there is between the two – Rosie is feminine and Guido is anything but. He's stocky and beefy already. Frankly, he's going to make really good eating.
Oh sorry. Did I forget to mention that part? Yes. We'll be eating Guido. His slaughter date will be sometime in November. (It's best to harvest them before they're a year old).
Eleanor is the baby of the bunch, just a week old. Her Mom Conky died while lambing and so she is currently a bottle lamb. Eleanor has stolen our hearts. I came out from my bath tonight to find Stu curled up with her in the chair – her head laid across his shoulder, sound asleep.
If you don't love lambs, you aren't human. That's all there is to it.
Eleanor is currently living in a closed in section of the chicken coop where we can closely monitor her milk intake and easily grab her for feedings. She happily grazes with the other sheep during the day, but for the most part, we keep her pretty close. Partly because she needs us to survive. And partly because she's so danged cute we can't even stand to be away from her.
It's a rough life.
She'll need to be bottle fed for another seven weeks or so – we're feeding her Sal's rich, raw milk with a water bottle and inexpensive sheep nipple. Tonight, we even successfully latched her onto Sal – who happily let her nurse a quarter. I'm hoping that once Hiro is gone and Eleanor is slightly bigger, she can stay in with Sal and nurse from her until she's ready to be weaned. But that's another breeding/lactation/farm life story for another day.
Eleanor will be another breeding ewe that we will keep for years to come. Hamish, Rosie, and Eleanor will be the foundation of our future stock.
The sheep's shelter is very basic and minimal. It was on the property when we moved here and with a bit of clean up and fresh bedding, was ready to go. It fits them all nicely – even though it's pretty teeny. The metal roof protects from the weather. It's nestled at the bottle of a hill in a patch of sage brush, safe from the wind. I'd like to paint it, but that's unnecessary and low on the priority list for now.
The Water System
A sheep trough settled amongst the sage brush is working wonderfully. We can utilize irrigation water for seven or eight months out of the year, which is a huge blessing. Winter will be a different story, but that's always the case.
The sheep are mostly grazing, though we have been offering them some grass/alfalfa hay free choice as well. They seem to prefer the scrubby weeds, grass, and wildflowers for now. I'm thankful for that! The land so badly needs to be used and reestablished. I'm continually amazed at the wonderful work animals can do for the land – managed correctly, they can completely revive it! They'll really never need grain, which is nice. And besides the occasional sheep supplement, are pretty low maintenance in the feed category. Especially after being used to a dairy cow and bull!
Thankfully (seriously Lord, thank you!) the sheep were already trained to hot wire upon their arrival. We currently have them on a half-acre pasture that's fenced in with a 4,000 volt, three-strand electric fence. Thus far, it's kept them in wonderfully. It runs parallel to our cow pasture but is on more of an incline – not so good for Sally, perfect for sheep. It also runs parallel to our driveway which means I get to sneak a peek of them every time I drive up and down. It helps to keep a close on them. I did run some orange tape alone the fence line, just to help them to visually see the boundaries until they got familiar with “their domain”. It also helped the kids to remember that this portion of fence is now HOT and is considered a “no touch!”
That's a touch lesson for farm kids to learn. Luckily, they don't forget it easily.
Our acre pig pasture is fenced in the same and we will be utilizing that for grazing ground as well.
The First Impressions
Acquiring and becoming familiar with a new animal is always a bit frightening. Because we consider ourselves their caretakers, we know it's important to use our time and energy to their well-being. Yes, it's another set of mouths to feed. And yes, it's another set of potential problems. But it's also the promise of food, companionship, and land management for our farm. I'm thankful we went the extra mile… or hundred… to pick these sheep from people we could trust. I think that made all the difference. The sheep were what we expected, healthy as horses, and were trained in the way that we had been told – all of which are incredibly important (as you may know, if you've purchased livestock in the past).
Sheep have been a missing piece on the farm and it feels good to finally have their pasture full of life. I'm excited to learn more about them, not only as a species, but also as individual animals on the farm. It's like bringing in a whole new group of friends to the farm.
There's something so old-worldly about sheep. Something so timeless and… biblical.
When I caught a peek of Stuart loving on them in his grey wool pants, flannel shirt, and flat hat – I may have cried a little bit. Could have been the super pregnant hormones. But I think it also just had to do with the beauty that can be found in our Good Lord's creation.
As we care for and shepherd these sheep, He cares for and shepherds us.
Which I'm going to use as validation that He's pretty happy these sheep have arrived on Beatha Fonn as well.
More posts on Sheep:
Is there a reason your meat lamb isn’t wethered?
The previous sheep owners never wethered their rams and had no problem with meat flavor as long as they were butchered early enough.
I totally understand about going with a flock you know is going to be well taken care of AND trained/ handled in the way you need them to be for your situation. That alone is worth the driving. Good luck with your sheep, whatever may happen between now and your first taste of sheep, I can personally attest to the deliciousness of Katahdins. P.S. turns out Katahdins are the most popular breed of sheep right now! Going off sale/registration records, I love that a hair sheep is becoming popular. here’s an article I read about them being the most popular breed, if you are interested. http://mdsheepgoat.blogspot.com/2014/04/katahdin-is-most-popular-sheep-breed.html
I am so proud of Sal for letting Eleanor nurse! So special. And good for you for getting into the world of sheep!
Curious about when/ if you will castrate your ram that you will be eating? We are new to sheep as well ( we raise Finn’s) and last week our mama’s birthed 15 lambs.
Understood that if you are going to eat, you need to do that somewhat early in their life? Thoughts?
We have heard that as long as the ram is butchering before he is a year of age, it won’t affect the flavor of the meat at all if he is intact. We will be butchering at about 10 months so I’m hoping it’ll be fin!
Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!!! So happy to see a young, starting out farm family choosing sheep 😉 They are sadly so often overlooked for all of the qualities you mentioned in your post – good for you!
LOL, I just posted on my own blog about lack of blogging time along with photos of sheep (and new hay fields) So happy for you, and for your new flock.
Sheep are so overlooked! I agree! I feel I may not be able to stop acquiring them… 😉
We have the same breed…two ewes and a ram. They are almost 3 weeks old and fenced in with portable fencing in our front yard. We don’t have to mow as much! How are the lambs doing feeding on raw cow milk? I was told not to feed them that since it could be too hard on their digestive tracts. The lambs are actually my son’s that he bought and paid for from the farm where we purchase our raw dairy products and grass-fed beef so I know they came from healthy stock. They are his breeding trio and hopes to sell some and help fill his family’s freezer too. Good luck with them. They are very sweet, but I’m not gonna lie, I’m glad the bottle feeding stage is over. I’m a tired mama to 5 kiddos, I did not want to get up anymore than I had to at night to feed them, plus my little guy. I wish we lived closer (we are in Kansas) I would love to come to your hog butchering class. We have butchered two of our own, but we felt like we were just haphazardly doing it. It still tastes good, but not butcher quality cuts were produced by us.
* 3 months, not weeks…guess I should proof-read before hitting enter.
The ewe is doing really well on cow’s milk thus far – I think it helps that it’s raw, fresh, and full of cream! She only eats 3x per day so it’s not too hard to keep up with it thus far. I do love this breed!
Congratulations on your adventure with the sheep! God bless! I have been following your blog for some time. My sister has a homestead in VT and has been raising sheep for many years. I have such an incredible yearning (almost a need) to have a small homestead but my husband does not share my interest, whatsoever. So, for now I love reading about the adventures of those that are living it and maybe someday, God will change my husband’s outlook on it. Until then, I will keep reading!!
Glad to have you here, Dawn!
Really enjoyed this post. Pictures and writing. It was so peaceful. I can feel the peace you must feel every time you look out into your pasture and see your sheep.
One question that’s been bugging me…
Where did you get the name Beatha Fonn, and what does it mean?
Many blessings to you.
Beatha Fonn’s name deserves it’s own post… written by my husband who chose it! It’s an old form of Gaelic that means fruitful land.
Shaye, Thank you for sharing your life on the farm. I love all your animals. No, I am not a vegetarian, but how did you get to the point, where you could care for your animals and give them a name knowing you had to butcher them later in their lives? I know God gave us 6 of these types of animals on the ARK for this purpose, but I have not gotten to the point and not sure if I could. I admire your life style —- it sounds very peaceful. We have an acre of land and I would like to have a few chickens, but time (gone 12 hours a day as a teacher) and the possibility of losing some of them, keep me from doing so. For farming, I know it is a necessity and a privilege to have your own meat, as well as a whole lot of work. We have animals too, strays in the neighborhood seem to find our home, so we have cats, a dog and numerous amounts of birds. I guess, what I am asking, is did it get easier or were you raised knowing the animals that you raised would probably end up on the kitchen table. This is “urban, city girl” who lives in a small subdivision on the edge of the country with a farm across the street, who wonders about the facts of farm life. Blessings.
I tend to look at my meat animals differently than my breeding animals. In my mind, from the beginning, they are serving a different function on the homestead. On top of that, I know that when we butcher our animals they are killed humanely, treated with respect, and completely utilized. Nothing is wasted or unappreciated. It’s really one of the highest honors and animal could have and I am so thankful for the Lord’s provision in it!
Amen. I love reading about your homestead. You guys are living the dream. Congrats on the sheep.
Thank you, Bobbi!
I enjoyed your article. We have 15 Katahdin sheep. We love them. They are really no trouble. They birth easily without help. They shed their hair in the spring. They are good mothers. It is so peaceful to look out in the pasture and see them grazing. I hope you enjoy yours as well.
I love watching them graze! It’s one of my favorite parts.
I can attest that Katahdin’s are delicious! They’re the breed my lamb guy raises, unfortunately it’s unlikely I’ll have a property big enough to raise my own anytime soon, but I’m so happy to have found a local source of high quality, grass-fed lamb (and he also raises beef cattle, double bonus).
Oh I just love Katahdins! We’ve had ours since November, after a yearlong stint with American Blackbellies, and we love the Katahdins. Your little brown ram is gorgeous, I love colored Katahdins. I’d be careful with that little ram though, he may seem like a baby still but I’ve heard stories of 5 month old rams breeding multiple ewes! Apparently when they hit that age they’ll just go ahead and go for it. We got our “freezer” ram castrated when he was newborn so we wouldn’t have to worry about it, since we only have a few acres and our ewes and rams aren’t kept separate. Wethers (castrated males) grow a little more slowly than rams, but for us it’s worth it to have the peace of mind that he’s not going to knock up his twin sister before he hits slaughter age around 10 months.
Enjoy your little flock! They’re beautiful. 🙂
But to avoid all of this separate your little Ram at 3 months old.We have to deworm our heard also and there is a waiting period after you deworm before eating.Unless you use natural dewormer..
I agree little boys should be castrated asap. Also make sure that the moon is decreasing not coming full so there wound will heal up .by the time they are 4months old they will mount your ewes they don’t care how little they are!The big ram will fight the little ram when he starts mounting the ewes he will also breed your little ewes when there 7 months old ! We also know they will rebreed your big ewe as soon as they can we separate our bucks and give our mothers at least 3months to nurse her new lamb’s.and 1 month off before we reintroduced the ram. We don’t not breed our lamb ewes until they reach 100 pds. and we don’t breed them back to the ram that sired them.Get a book that says sheep 101.
Love it! Another great and inspiring post for me. I want to have a homestead one day, hopefully before I have any little ones of my own. I love all of your posts because they’re honest, funny, and heartfelt. Everything you write has a meaning, a message- at least that’s how I see them! As someone who’s just wading into the homestead life, and into full faith in God, I see something I can learn every time I come around.
Thank you for putting your experiences, good and bad, out there for others to see!
Hi Shaye! I love your posts! I currently raise goats for milk and chickens for eggs (and for meat if they are roosters/stop laying)! I love my little piece of sustainability and do plan on adding more variety in the future! I am curious though as to your approach in the future for when your ewes lamb as far as gender goes. Will you keep the young ewes for breeding, or will you eat them as well as the males… I know in most animals, the males are typically the ones kept for butchering, just wondering if that is a typical practice on a homestead! Thanks for all you share!
We will most likely keep the ewes for breeding. More sheep is always a good thing in my book 🙂
Deanna Price Johnson
I love the pictures you share, I did not know there were so many colors.. however we have two Dorper ewes, one too young to breed this Nov. but the other one is old enough . I got a very young /Ram from the Boise , Idaho area when my daughter saw it in the paper or on the internet and he is Black and white Dorper cross and Katahdin , he is so pretty so we are looking forward to babies out of the two crosses. this is our first time raising sheep but we are excited.. your pictures makes me so excited to see what Idaho Boss the Ram and Snipper have for Snipper has the black face and neck with white body.. she is on the wild side but with some work she is getting better to like us… my grandchildren that are 8 and 6 yrs old love coming way out here to see the animals for they are city kids from Pleasant Grove , Utah and we live out in Cleveland, Utah which is 22 miles south of Price , Utah ,. we love raising sheep for the first time even at our age.. so thanks for sharing your photos and in put…
I admire your hard work! I would love to see a post on your time management and schedules. I find success with children, home, and farm good time management makes a huge difference! Something I need to work on 😉
Sell the Rams by the time they are 45 pounds you will get more $ per pound. When there between 45 and 65 pounds. You only need 1 ram to begin with. They will start mounting your use before they’re four months old you have to separate them out get rid of all the boys unless you’re going to eat them and you do not want the ram that sired your ewes lamb’s to breed them you get a different Ram from another herd if you don’t and you breed your new ewes to the old Ram if he’s a big old Ram you can lose your ewes when they can’t give birth to big babies.
Sooo much great information! I’m prepping my new little homestead for sheep and am reading everything I can find!