A Beginning Soay Sheep Keeper's Checklist

If your first Soay sheep are about to arrive, you may be a little apprehensive about whether you have the right “stuff” and the right setup for your new flock. There are a number of detailed “how to” accounts online and in books, but here is a rock bottom list that will get you started.

1. Food. Grass and forage in the summer if you are lucky enough to have grass all summer, either naturally or because you irrigate. When the grass gives out, switch to good quality grass hay. Sheep do not need anything as rich as alfalfa hay and you should not feed it to your rams anyway.

2. Water. A stock tank will do just fine. Where we live, they come in tall and short – get the short one. If you only have one or two animals, you can make do with a big plastic bucket secured so it will not tip over. Sheep need access to water 24/7/365, which means if you live where water freezes in winter, you need to make provision for that sooner or later.

3. Mineral. Get sheep-appropriate granulated (not a block) mineral from your farm store. Cow mineral contains too much copper and is toxic to sheep. Put a pan of the sheep mineral where the animals can get at it 24/7. Keep it out of the rain, preferably in a container up off the ground so it will not get kicked over or pooped in.

4. Treats are an easy way to persuade your sheep to follow you. Use just a little in a bucket (so you can shake it and make a sound the sheep recognize), but do not give it to the sheep on a regular basis or they will follow you all the time and become a nuisance. Any sort of treat will do: ewe/lamb mix, beet pulp (soaked overnight), COB (corn, oats, barley mix). See what is on order at your local farm store. Caution: never give more than a few particles of a grain-based treat such as COB to the rams. The only times Soay need supplement beyond grass or hay are when you are flushing them or they are gestating or lactating ewes, and all that comes later.

5. Fencing to keep your new flock from running away. You need mesh with fairly small holes, e.g., 2 x 4 no-climb or similar, or else a solid wood barricade fence. Sheep can get their heads stuck in ordinary field fence trying to reach for grass on the other side (remember, “the grass is always greener … “), and lambs can crawl right through. If you are buying both genders in order to breed later in the fall, you need two separate areas, and a view block if they adjoin. You do not want your new ram(s) bashing down your new fence(s) to get at your new ewe(s).

6. Shelter. In the summer, any structure or area with a roof that is big enough to let the sheep get in out of the sun. A tarp over a section of the fenced area will do in a pinch. In the winter, depending on your climate, the sheep will need an area they can retreat to in heavy rain or snow, and in severe winter areas, the shelter will need sides to cut down on wind. If you have a barn, all the better. The sheep do not need heat, just protection from rain/snow and wind.

7. Predator control. Unless you are sure there are no coyotes or mountain lions in your area, protect your sheep at night by (1) bringing them into a barn or other enclosed shelter that coyotes can’t get into; (2) procuring an experienced livestock guardian dog or llama that can live with the sheep outside 24/7; or (3) electrify your fences with a hot wire on top and on the bottom (coyotes will dig under).

8. Medical. Locate a veterinarian who will treat sheep and if you can, get to know him or her before a medical issue comes up. Buy a rectal thermometer and keep it where you can find it, since it is your number one ally in diagnosing whatever may ail your sheep. If you do not already own a large airline dog crate (hard plastic, slatted sides for ventilation, we’ve all seen them), go out and get one so you can take a sheep to the vet if necessary.

9. Book learning. If you do not already own either Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep by Simmons & Ekarius or Ron Parker’s The Sheep Book, go online to your favorite book purveyor and get yourself one of them to read in your spare time (see below).

10. A comfortable chair. How else will you be able to sit and fritter away hours watching your irresistibly adorable Soay?