Thursday, September 27, 2007

Start Your Own 4 Legged Yarn Farm!

Finally the promised post!

It's not as hard as you might imagine to start a hobby flock of fiber animals for your own use. You don't need to start big, small is best, especially if you have no prior experience. I have experience with sheep, goats and rabbits so that is what I will refer to here. Initially we had no fiber animals at all, just a Quarter Horse colt named Breeze, and a leanto that we had built.

Then we bought a Border Collie and decided, well heck now we need some sheep for the dog to herd! We started with two,yearling ewes one of whom was bottle fed as a baby and very friendly. We extensively used the sage advice of the farmer who sold us the sheep and immediately bought the book "Raising Sheep the Modern Way" by Paula Simmons. I then subscribed to an email list called Sheep-L which was an invaluable source of wisdom and feedback. We had already built a barn for the horse, so adding housing for the sheep was relatively easy. Much later we added two angora goats and an angora rabbit.

We set up a sheep area initially made of stationary panels, but after mucking out a years worth of sheep manure too many times, we decided on a different, less back breaking, approach. We installed removable panels, took them out once a year, and drove the tractor with the bucket into the pen to remove the manure and dump it in the pasture.

Also a feature of the pen was our creep feeder....allowing the lambs to eat at will, while keeping the mother's out. You can see the slats allowing just the lambs to get in at the end of the pen. They also grouped up in here to hang out away from mamma's watchful eye.

So the barn was ready, the pasture fence was next. We used plastic Gallagher fence posts, fence and a charger. You get what you pay for when it comes to this stuff. We are still using the Gallagher fence 10 years later but have thrown cheaper fence away several times already. You will recognise the cheap stuff as blue or yellow. Gallagher fence is white. The boys constructed a movable leanto for the sheep as they are moved from pasture to pasture in our rotational grazing scheme.

The goats arrived three years ago and as we already had two horse stalls which have been vacant for several years now, that was where we put them. Sure goats and sheep can go together but mohair requires a little more care and I wanted to keep them separated from the messy eaters! Then we added the rabbit and our yarn flock was complete!

We only have 5 acres under pasture and our sheep flock size has ranged from 15 to about 8 head. Five acres has been more than enough to feed the sheep throughout the grazing months. In fact this year we have some untouched pasture by the pond.

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