Sheep, And Their Role On Our Farm

I was always dead set against having sheep. I didn’t like the idea of them, I don’t eat lamb meat, and I don’t naturally have a “heart” for sheep like I do for cows. That being said, we have recently welcomed 10 St. Croix sheep onto our farm. Why the change of heart, you ask? Simple – economics.

Here is our batch of ewes, bred to lamb in April 2014.

Here is our batch of ewes, bred to lamb in April 2014.

At a grazing conference I attended while still stationed in MS, the grass-fed guru there (Jim Gerrish, of American Grazinglands Services) included some statistics on the amount of protein one can raise on a per-acre basis, comparing beef-only, lamb-only, and combination herds. The dollar amounts might differ based on location, but the point remains the same:

  • Cow-calf operation = $552/acre
  • Ewe-lamb operation = $1399/acre
  • Combination herd = $1806/acre

Let’s just say that I perked up at those numbers! I love cows, but I love staying in business and raising my children on the land even more! Not to mention, there are some really cool studies out there that found a combination herd actually creates a symbiotic relationship. One example of this concept is the fact that cows and sheep are “end hosts” for each other’s parasites, reducing the risk of sickness by sequestering each other’s parasites before they get to the target species. And so I began to consider sheep. As usual, we started our research at The Livestock Conservancy and quickly realized that we didn’t want to raise “wool” sheep, based on the additional learning curve and the upkeep required (docking tails, grooming rear ends, shearing, etc). Despite the potential income stream and diversity of enterprises that wool offered, we just didn’t have enough brain cells free to dive into that with everything else we’re taking on. So “hair” sheep it was.

This is a mature St. Croix ewe. Ours are a lot smaller than this right now, but will get there next year.

This is a mature ewe. Ours are a lot smaller than this now, until fully grown next year.

From there, the St. Croix breed practically jumped off the page as the best option for our approach and values. They are listed as “Threatened”, have incredible parasite resistance (a common issue with most sheep breeds), are excellent foragers, and have a strong mothering instinct. They are also extremely prolific, ewe lambs become fertile at only 6 months of age and mature ewes commonly give birth to twins and triplets. A perfect animal for a low-input meat operation like ours! We purchased 5 feeder lambs from Grace & Joy Farms, 5 bred ewes from Hemmer Hill Farm, and we’ll be buying a ram sometime prior to December 2014, which is the first time he’ll be needed.

Pretty little group of sheep, aren't they?!

Pretty little group of sheep, aren’t they?!

The St. Croix does come with some liabilities: they are smaller than your commercial meat breeds and take longer to grow out to market weight. Our customers can expect a smaller, but much tastier chop, even though we will be processing our lambs at 11 months of age (normal is around 4 months). We believe we can overcome those minor issues with a combination of customer education and incredible taste. In fact, the St. Croix sheep is listed on Slow Food’s Arc of Taste as a culinary experience not to be missed! Our first pastured lamb will be available in April of 2014, so please feel free to contact us if you are interested in reserving a whole or half a lamb (retail cuts may also be offered, depending on availability).

Paul Sig


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