We love to travel around the world. We are especially drawn to small villages across the European country side. There is such an ancient beauty that comes across in these regions. It seems every village has a signature wine or cheese with a rich history and family lineage.
Nothing reminds us more of English County side than the sight of a few sheep dotting the vista. So, naturally we were drawn to the romantic notion of sheep.
Sheep are wonderful choices for small producers because their smaller size makes them easier to handle and house then many other farm animals. We love that sheep deliver meat, fiber, and milk. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful personalities of our girls. One of our ewes will stand like a statue as long as someone is willing to give her a good rub down. We find them easy to clean up after, and haven’t had much trouble with flies in a tidy paddock.
Sheep do not like change. They can spook easily, and are creatures of instinct rather than reason. It is up to the Shepard to be vigilant for potential hazards. Sheep do not like isolation. This can cause problems when a Shepard is forced to move a sick or injured animal. Sometimes the stress of quarantine can impact the health of an isolated animal.
I have to admit we completely underestimated the impact sheep diseases would have on us as producers. We naively believed that most anything we might encounter could be handled with an antibiotic or some wormer – NOT TRUE. There are several sheep illnesses that are particularly nasty including Scrapie, Johne’s, CL, and OPP. The diseases mentioned are incurable, and require focused management to keep them from infecting an entire flock. What makes these diseases most insidious is their difficulty to diagnose and eradicate. Many of them have very long incubation times, and may not show up reliably in blood testing. Producers with a commitment to eradicating these illnesses from the flock must institute comprehensive screening and management processes that take time and money. Unfortunately, some breeders believe these diseases are simply part of the sheep industry, and do not take the time to protect potential buyers from bringing these illnesses into their new flock.
For us, sheep are the right choice for our small franch. But, we will never again purchase any livestock from a breeder who does not keep diligent records, have a disease management program, and offer some sort of contract guarantee.