Until that year, my husband and I had little interested in raising sheep for meat. You see, between the two of us, we usually managed to fill the freezer with fresh meat during hunting season! But because we were planning to build a new home that year, we decided to try something different. In attempt to be proactive, we bought and raised two meat lambs instead.
Let’s just say that while my man and I enjoy animals, neither of us had much experience with sheep, and we were continually being educated by the woolly little mammals!
Here’s a few lessons we’ve learned raising sheep for meat and specifically, what we learned about bringing lambs home!
Source Lambs from a Local Breeder
Whenever possible, source your meat sheep from a local breeder. Not only will the lambs be well adjusted to your climate, but you’ll also be able to observe the health of the flock.
Another perk of keeping it local is this: the breeder may allow you to hand pick the exact lambs you want! Unlike purchasing animals at a livestock auction, you’ll get to compare sizes, temperaments, parents, etc, before buying.
Choose a Meat Breed That Suits YOUR Need
But before you choose a breed, take time to calculate how many pounds of meat you need! Then, consider the ‘finished’ weight of each breed available in your area. On average, a lamb will yield 40% of it’s live body weight in actual cuts/meat.
How many animals will you need to meet your quota?
While smaller breeds may be cheaper, remember you’ll have to buy MORE lambs to meet your need. Smaller breeds=more animals and also more work!
What are you willing to deal with?
Nursed vs Bottle Fed Lambs
When you visit the sheep farm, you’ll quickly discover bottle fed lambs are the friendliest. If buying for meat, don’t be taken by this! Lambs that are allowed to nurse will be larger and healthier. When raising sheep for meat, choose the best!
Typically, breeders wean lambs when they are 60 days old. Go for these ones!
Preparing for Lambs
Before bringing your lambs home, it’s important to talk with the breeder! What type of fencing are the lambs accustomed to? What will they need in way of a shelter? How do you keep them safe from dogs and predators? What has their diet consisted of? Do they need to be de-wormed?
For their safekeeping, prepare everything as outlined by the breeder before bringing new lambs home! Once, just once, we went against the breeder’s recommendation. We never will again!
Bringing Lambs Home
When lambs are young, they can be transported in just about anything, so long as they can’t escape from it!
We chose to take our 8 week old babes home in the back of our trusty old mini van. After spreading a tarp and blocking the front with a pallet, these woolly little fellas were stowed away and hauled home!
Establish a ‘Home Base’
Once you’ve brought your lambs home, be sure to establish a ‘home base’ for them. Instead of turning them out to pasture, keep them confined in a small space for a few days.
Ideally, this space would include a small pen attached to the shed or barn where they will live and receive food/water.
After a few days have passed, your lambs can be released to pasture.
If they ever escape or are frightened, they will return to their ‘home base.’ It’s the first thing they knew and sheep feel safest in familiar surroundings.
Your home base doesn’t need to be fancy. Because we are in transition mode, we made a simple shelter from pallets and plywood. It’s surrounded with a makeshift pallet pen. When frightened, our lambs make a beeline for that space!
Offer Necessary Protection
When raising sheep for meat, your little lambs will need protection from dogs, coyotes and other large predators. If you live rurally, you may want to lock your lambs up every night. If this isn’t an option, you can also string a high voltage electric wire around the outside perimeter of their pen.
Take Time to Observe Your Lambs
When raising sheep for meat, it’s important to take time to observe your lambs. When you know what ‘normal’ looks like, you’ll be able tell if something is wrong!
If you take good care of your sheep, things should go smoothly. Be sure to follow your breeder’s advice and you’ll significantly decrease the likelihood of harming or losing one of your lambs!
These are our best tips on raising sheep for meat!
Charles Lemak says
Thank you, this is very elucidating. If I might ask, at what age do you recommend slaughtering lams before they develop a mutton flavor? Also, is it more humane to shoot them in the brain or cut their jugular? Sorry to be graphic but I have never raised sheep.
Most people butcher between 6-8 months of age. Personally, we send a .22 bullet to the brain and then cut the jugular in the throat immediately afterward to bleed them out. If you are going to butcher, I recommend doing some research to ensure you do it properly, with as little stress and pain to the animal as possible! It’s a very sobering process, one you don’t want to have go wrong.