We have currently 13 sheep, 6 ewes, 2 ewe lambs, one ram and 4 ram lambs. The lambs are almost the same size as the ewes, at around 5 months old. They are a very unique breed of sheep, (likely not many other sheep of this breed in Wisconsin.) The breed is called California Red, and if you google that, you will come up with a variety of pages, all telling a similar tale about the origin of this breed. Long story short, a shepherd in California wanted to try to build a medium sized, gentle sheep, that was resistant to parasites, with good mothering skills, and heat and cold tolerant. By combining some hair sheep (Barbados) and wool sheep (Tunis), a new breed was born, but the result was not exactly what was wanted, so the flock was sold to other shepherds, and they developed was is now the California Red sheep. They are a naturally polled breed, which means they are born without horns, with red hair on their faces and legs, and beautiful cream colored wool with flecks of red and grey. They are born dark red brown, and grow their cream colored wool as they get older. They are good mothers with rich milk, and very docile, although their personalities vary. The wool is great for hand-spinning, of medium weight and softness. They are good for both meat and fiber, the small scale farmers dream come true.
So when a nearby farmer called us on a Wednesday in August of 2013 about selling her little flock of California Red Sheep, we were at a crossroads. We have always talked about sheep, and now we had a real live farm to keep them. But were we really ready? We had never heard of California Red Sheep. We decided to look at the them the following Friday. I fell in love with their beautiful doe-like faces and darling personalities, and we proceeded to bring them to our farm on Saturday using a borrowed trailer and truck.
We had just moved to our farm in May of 2013, and were very busy with our vegetable operation, but the chance to welcome such a unique breed of sheep to our farm was hard to pass up. We have about 7 acres around our farmhouse that was horse pasture in the past and would be so great to keep a few sheep. These sheep are so very gentle. We love having animals that our children can be with and pet, and know by name and personality.
We bought our chickens, and their coop and fencing and supplies from the same farm at the same time with our plan to follow behind the sheep doing rotational grazing. They work up the manure the sheep have left, and scratch up the top of the soil, and of course eat the greenery, and bugs. It is a good system, and has been helping to build the soil. We decided not to keep the sheep and chickens in the same fence together for a few reasons, but mostly because the sheep were eating the chicken feed, and the chickens were perching on the sheep, causing bare spots in the wool.
Sheep eat grass, very simply, we don’t have to feed them anything else. We buy local grain that we tempt them with when we need to move them from place to place. Grain is like candy to sheep, best kept at a minimum. We also give them a small amount of minerals each day. The minerals are important, since the pastures have been neglected and are likely missing nutrients, and the sheep are always eager for them. When the sheep are pregnant and lactating, they need more hay, more water, more minerals.
Our current goal is to continue growing our flock of sheep until we have around 10 breeding ewes and one ram. We raise our own hay, (a neighbor has been baling it for us in small bales) so we know that it is good quality mix of grass and alfalfa. Besides storing the hay there are a variety of jobs required by a small scale shepherd. We bring them fresh water every day. We move them around the pastures using portable electric fencing, and this requires us to have two sets of fencing, grazing the pasture one section at a time. We have had some crazy days in the past nine months where they sheep have pushed under the fencing, their wool insulating them from the zap. We’ve learned that they don’t like to be separated, don’t like to be hungry, and don’t like fireworks. The first few times they escaped, it was like a most exciting adventure in farming. The 50th time, surprisingly, not as fun. We are getting a new permanent fence later this summer that should really help keep our troubles to a minimum.
We also have to trim their hooves, which can be okay in the winter when the ground is snow covered, but not very pleasant in the spring when things are muddy. When the ewes are lambing, we patiently wait for the lambs to arrive, watching, waiting. When they do come, there is much celebration! Last winter was hard, very hard for us, every day, frozen water, and carrying hay through the deep snow. But we lost only one little lamb out of seven due to the cold, and all the ewes made it just fine.
We had the sheep sheared in April, and it went really well. We took the wool to a small woolen mill in Appleton, down on the river called Courtney Woolen Mills. I highly recommend taking your wool there to be cleaned and carded. As a new shepherd, I needed help figuring out what to do with the wool, and Tom Courtney, the owner, provided excellent customer service. He is a third generation owner operator, and uses the same machinery they’ve used for many many years. If you are a shepherd, please consider supporting them. As with many small businesses, it is hard to find a way to meet your costs these days.
So now we have cleaned, carded wool made into batts for spinning, or for quilts. Anyone could buy the batts for crafting too. It would be great for stuffing into small toys, or pillows. It is going to be used for some dyeing projects, and for needle felting here on the farm, and of course for our children’s school projects. Next week, at the Saturday Farmer’s market, we will be bringing our wool to sell, and we can’t wait to show everyone our ‘golden’ fleeces.
California Red wool for spinning
We also have cuts of lamb available, shoulder roasts, leg roasts, ground lamb and stew meat. The boneless roasts are $12/lb, the bone in roasts are $10/lb. The ground and stew meat are each $7.50/lb. If you are ordering a whole or half lamb the cost per pound is much less, but you would pay the butchering fee. We do have to pay license ($165) fees every year to sell our lamb at the farmers market, so we have to figure this into the cost. As it is right now, we have only taken four lambs to the butcher, and we put one of those in our freezer so that we would be able to try the meat ourselves. I would have to say that I really do like the taste of our lamb. It is somewhat closer to the flavor of venison, but almost like grass fed beef. We have simplified our cut list to roasts, ground and stew because some of the other cuts are just not as practical for our uses (lamb chops), but if you order the whole animal, you can get whatever cuts you prefer.
So if you are interested in coming out to visit with the sheep, buying some wool, or ordering a whole lamb, please contact us 715-281-0812, or firstname.lastname@example.org