Sheep

Beep sheep for service. So what are sheep doing on a pig farm you ask! Well, first of all the sheep are responsible for having originally taught our pigs to eat grass so many years ago. Now our piglets learn from their mothers but the sheep are still great to have around for co-grazing with the pigs. Sheep mow brush down, even taking down small saplings and regen. Together with the pigs and poultry they make for diversified grazing that improves the soil and pastures.

Currently I’m sheepless in Vermont but we’re preparing new pastures that will have sheep in the coming years. I originally learned to do managed rotational grazing with sheep. While I was very good at raising sheep, and love lamb, they couldn’t pay the mortgage. Back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s the price of lamb was low. Sheep also reproduce slowly, grow slowly and have a low yield. All of this made them unsustainable since a farm must be profitable to survive. The biggest problem was that the processing ate up about 90% of the sale price. Compare that with processing being about 30% to 60% on pork. Now that we have our own butcher shop this will change the economics and I plan to be sheepish again. Likewise, cattle will become viable for us in the future due to having our own on-farm processing which is why I built the butcher shop with the full height 20′ ceiling in the Abattoir a.k.a. the kill floor.

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32 Responses to Sheep

  1. Nicole says:

    Love what you’re doing and keep up the good work!
    Let me know if you ever have any stillborn lambs or old sheep for sale.

    Cheers!

    • The problem is fighting the dogs for it. :} They love their raw meat diets and complain if I ever get them dry food. Katya signed to me “That not meat!” when I gave her some dry food the other day. She was quite emphatic.

      Right now we are sheepless although I hope to get a new flock next year. I am thinking to fence the new east field along the road and put the sheep in there first. We’ve been working on getting the grasses growing there this year after logging it to open up the old pastures last year. It is a process.

      • Callie says:

        I find it so amazing how intelligent your dogs are. Their signing reminds me of Koko the chip who I saw a movie of. She used american sign language. That so cool that your dogs doo too!

        • ethan says:

          I think it’s less a factor of outstanding canine intelligence and more a factor Walter Jeffries’ outstanding attentiveness, sensitivity, capacity and willingness to relate.

          I think we often tend to project our own incapacity to relate to others onto them as a form of stupidity. When I interpret the situation summarized by, “I don’t understand you,” I think of two possible factors:
          1. Your ability to communicate with me.
          2. My ability to acknowledge and comprehend your communications with me.

          I get tired of humans who are lacking in #2 above taking no responsibility in the process. Instead of, “I don’t understand you, I clearly have much to learn,” we tend to project our own density onto the others as, “I don’t understand you, clearly you are stupid.” Which in itself is ironically, really stupid. But it seems prevalent in this society.

          I tend to try to find and associate with those humans who embody the humility and inquisitiveness of the former rather than the insecurity and hubris of the latter — I have found such people to have much greater intelligence, presence and interest, and are typically just more pleasant to be around. I apply this same criteria to non-human people, too, but typically don’t have to look as hard to find them.

  2. Amy says:

    Hey Guys
    Great info on the website. I was just wondering if you pasture your pigs and sheep in the same paddock at the same time or if they are rotated before or after each other? I have had pigs the past couple years and am looking at getting sheep this year. I was hoping that I would be able to pasture them together but someone mentioned to me that the pigs may become aggressive towards the lambs at lambing, what do you think?
    Thanks!

    • We run the pigs and sheep together most of the time. During lambing it is important to separate the ewes so the pigs leave the lambs alone. A new lamb, covered in placenta, is too tempting to taste. Lambing is just a very short season in the late winter or spring. Once the lambs are spry and up and running everyone is fine. In fact, they can like each other a bit too much at times. We joke about ending up with wooling shigs.

  3. Eileen Grant Szeto says:

    Love your website and all the info. Very inspiring. We raise chickens, duck, geese and nubian goats for milk. Want to add pigs, sheep and rabbits. Would like to order 3 piglets from you. What type of sheep do you recommend? I’m leaning towards shetlands. I had olde english southdown babydolls and had awful luck with them.

  4. Sandra Pearce says:

    I’m confused. Still researching pork. If pigs eat grass, why did the sheep have to teach them years ago? Love your site. Wish I could purchase, but I live in Texas so shipping is prohibitive. Have thought about capturing some feral piglets and raising them on pasture. Sandra

    • Good question. Because animals eat what they see their parents eating or cohort members eating. The reason for this is that some things are toxic and thus dangerous to eat. Since the parents of our first pigs ate grain the piglets didn’t learn to eat grass from their parents and had to be shown that grass, clovers and other forages were good to eat. Thus our pigs have become encultured to eat pasture.

      Humans are the same way. You children learn at a young age that they can safely eat what you eat. So why do kids eat marbles? They’re not really trying to eat the marbles but rather are mouthing them to explore them since that is their first primary sense.

      Note that pasture consists of a lot more than just grass. Grasses are low in protein so we improved our pastures by planting a variety of clovers, alfalfa and other legumes as well as kale, rape, turnips, beets and such. These then self seed which continues with the strongest plants. Pasture is low in lysine which is a limiting amino-acid for pigs. On just pasture I find that they take a couple more months to reach market weight. By adding dairy to their diet the pigs grow at about the same rate as if they were getting free fed commercial hog feed or grain in the warm months. Winter always takes about an extra month to get to market weight of about 250 lbs.

      • Andrew says:

        Very interested in the sheep-as-teacher process. Is there a critical number of sheep or can you just use a few and the pigs get the message? The pigs we have here rotate to a new paddock and immediately root and till it up bc I don’t think they know how to graze first. Did your first pigs do this as well and how long did it take for them to realize grazing was an option? During the learning process, did you reduce feed rations to really encourage grazing?

        • I think that a single sheep would suffice.

          Some rooting is not unusual, especially with new paddocks that have interesting things below the grounds such as grubs and tubers. See the article Rootless in Vermont.

          If you free feed grain, what I call candy, then you will get less grazing. After all, why bother with your veggies if you can have dessert first?! :)

          • Andrew says:

            Yes that makes complete sense. I guess what I was getting at more was the balance between teaching grazing while still making sure the pigs are growing. For instance, would you not feed them anything (whey for example) while they are learning so they have no other option but to graze? Did you get a sense for how long a totally inexperienced pig would learn to start grazing? Thanks again for all the responses I hope my ?’s aren’t too annoying!

          • If you have pigs who are currently on a grain feed then I would suggest fading it by first gradually shifting the grain feed later and later in the day. Then start gradually decreasing it. This will make them spend the morning and then the day grazing for food.

  5. Leona Klassen says:

    Thank you for sharing your journey of naturally raising livestock. You mentioned feeding your pigs milk, is it skim (do you keep the cream), more fermented, whey? How much approximately do you feed to a pig or a group of 20 feeders? Also with pasture raised pigs can they get bloat from too much alfalfa or certain legumes?
    thanks Leona

    • The dairy we feed varies. Primarily it is whey from cheese making and butter making. Sometimes it is cream, sometimes milk, occasionally butter or cheese. They deliver it in a 1,800 tanker truck and we have about 4,000 gallons of storage capacity here to act as a queue since their production ebbs and surges. The animals will drink about 2,000 gallons a day or more but we rarely get that much. I add yogurt to the tanks which I make in five and ten gallon pails from the incoming milk – this helps with preservation and with digestion. The pigs drink up to 3.6 gallons per day per hundred weight of pig. We free feed the hay/pasture and dairy. See these articles about the dairy feeding.

      Fortunately pigs don’t get bloat from alfalfa and clovers. That’s a ruminant problem.

  6. Nancy says:

    Hi Walter,
    Absolutely love your way of farming. We
    are hoping to do the same here in Ontario. Could you please give us some advice about pig temperament. We recently purchased two Berkshire gilts hoping to breed them this winter. They have turned quite hyper and aggressive. We are sure they ate one of our chickens and attempted to bit our llama and myself. They are well fed and have plenty of pasture and shelter. I’m hoping this is related to generics but some suggestions would be appreciated. I fear the safety of our chickens and goats. Thank you!
    Regards, Nancy.

    • I don’t have enough information to make a completely well informed guess.

      It could be that they learned this behavior in which case with extensive training you may be able to teach them to leave the chickens alone, not bite you, not bite the llama, etc. For the chickens see this article where I discuss my electric chicken in the comments. I haven’t had to do this for years as it seems that we have trained into our livestock’s culture the right behavior and they pass it on to the next generation.

      If you can’t train it out then I would cull these pigs to the freezer.

      It is also possible that this is a genetic based aggression. In that case I would cull these pigs to the freezer.

      You do not want to breed animals that have bad temperaments. Your breeding stock is the source of genetics for the future plus they will get very large. They must be very well behaved. They could hurt you very quickly and badly, even kill you, another person or a child.

      We have a firm rule here, we eat mean people.

  7. Paula Perron says:

    We have had a difficult spring and summer with Barber pole worms and coccidiosis in our sheep. We lost seven lambs. We have Finnsheep and Shetland/Gotland and a mix of all three. The weather was cool and wet here in Indiana. We have been putting several of our pigs and sheep together in the same paddock, for instance, just weaned piglets with lambs, or sows with adult rams. We also rotate our sheep in the paddocks. Can our American Guinea Hogs pass parasites to our sheep? Should we not keep them together? They do fine otherwise. Thank you for responding.

    • I don’t know of any parasite problems crossing between sheep and pigs. Currently we’re sheepless in Vermont but when we’ve had sheep we grazed them with our pigs. The key was to separate them during lambing as fresh lamb is too tempting. Once they’re up and running all is fine.

      • Michael Web says:

        Are there any issues with the sheep eating the pig feed?

        • I don’t feed hog feed to my pigs so I don’t have experience with this being an issue. Sheep are sensitive to copper and pigs are sensitive to salt so that is a cross over that can be trouble.

        • Nicole says:

          Sheep can’t eat copper- it’s in a lot of feeds. It’s kills sheep.

          • That’s the theory and what I was taught however the reality is different breeds and lines of sheep have different tolerances for copper. This probably develops because some areas have high levels of copper in the soil, like where we are, so sheep that have been here for many generations have a higher copper tolerance. That said, I wouldn’t pick a high copper feed or mineral block for our sheep as that combined with the naturally high levels of copper in our environment might push them over the edge.

  8. Eric Hagen says:

    When you had sheep, how did you deal with their fencing? Did they respect the 2 strand meant for the pigs?

  9. Ben says:

    I raise pigs and sheep but typically keep the pigs in the woods and sheep on pasture. I’d like to experiment by putting a few pigs in with the sheep but wondering how to keep the sheep out of the pig’s grain. Any ideas?

  10. Ben says:

    I raise pigs and sheep but typically rotate the pigs in the woods and sheep on pasture. I’d like to experiment by putting a few pigs in with the sheep but wondering how to keep the sheep out of the pig’s feed. We use grain and spent brewery grain. I’m trying to design some kind of portable creep feeder but am stumped for the moment. Any ideas?

    • We don’t feed a commercial hog feed / grain feed so we don’t have to deal with this but when I want to keep one type of animal from getting to an area I setup a creep that is pig accessible but not sheep accessible with a combination of side bars, hurdles and a top bar.

  11. Nicole says:

    I have a tough question: we have a large sheep farm ( 500 ewes) in southern Indiana and we bought a 1 yo Anatolian shepherd to guard a group of 15o on 20 acres. The people who raised her had her with sheep and cows all day everyday. Last week she started chewing the testicles off of our ram lambs. It has killed 2 of them from blood loss. Today she killed 2 lambs by chewing their front legs off. We don’t know if her tendency to chase and chew the lambs can be cured. Any advice? She’s penned up away from sheep until we figure out what to do. Thanks

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