What's the minimum herd size?

Discussion in 'Sheep' started by PACrofter, May 15, 2005.

  1. PACrofter

    PACrofter Well-Known Member

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    If you were looking to have a herd of sheep that didn't need external bloodlines, how many rams and how many ewes would you have to have (to avoid inbreeding problems, that is)? I would think three rams would be the minimum, with probably nine to twelve ewes, but I'm not sure how the breeding would have to work. Any ideas?
     
  2. SmokedCow

    SmokedCow Well-Known Member

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    a big fat zero...a bunch of sheep is not a herd...its a Flock...so really u should ask...whats the min. flock of sheep. 3 rams for 9-12 ewes is far to many. we have 1 buck for our 24 ewes...works just fine. before you try and get in to sheep...read as much as you can! it will really help!
    AJ
     

  3. Ronney

    Ronney Well-Known Member

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    Hi Donal,
    Smokedcow is quite correct - it is a flock of sheep and a herd of cows.
    3 rams for that amount of sheep is two too many and you would have one hell of a job working out which ram sired which lamb unless you broke them up into little mobs and kept excellent records. Even then, within ten years you would have to buy in a new ram as your existing rams would end up going back over their daughters or grandchildren (sorry, I can't be bothered working out how many years you could circulate these rams around your little mobs before they started to inbreed). In the meantime your feeding mouths you don't need to and to no good purpose that I can see.

    Like Smokedcow, I keep one ram to cover 30 ewes. I keep replacement ewes from within the flock and every two years I on sell the ram and buy in a new one.

    Before getting into sheep, do as much research as possible. They are labour intensive in comparison to cattle and subject to the same breeding criteria as any other animal. I'm sure that everybody on the forum will be happy to help you out and answer any questions you may have.

    Cheers,
    Ronney
     
  4. Ross

    Ross Moderator Staff Member Supporter

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    OK I'm not the most awake but I think so long as your home grown ram isn't breeding anything related by 3 generations your OK. To be practical flock size is around 40 if you want to keep a closed flock with no new blood lines added. You do need to seperate for breeding and keep good records.
     
  5. MorrisonCorner

    MorrisonCorner Mansfield, VT for 200 yrs

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    I think we need to know the purpose of this flock... 40 animals is a hell of a lot of wool for one household, and (at least in Icelandics) 36 ewes could be counted on to produce 70 some odd lambs. Every spring. I have a large chest freezer but...

    I think a minimum flock size for a family's use is between 6 and 8, although it looks like we're going to end up with 10. 7 ewes will produce 12-14 lambs, 3 rams keep the genetics reasonably clean. But we add a ram (and subtract a ram) annually. We shear the lamb's fleeces before they go in the freezer, occasionally keep a replacement ewe lamb, and try (not particularly hard) to sell ewe lambs if we can because it seems a waste of lovely genetic stock to eat them.

    The real challenge with a small flock is that the flock is individual sheep (usually with names). It becomes darn difficult to eat 'Marmalade' or one of her offspring (Bonnet and Daisy this year). So you decide you'll keep one (or two) and by year three you have a problem. Year three is when many new shepherds throw in the towel, because the flock has grown to such a size they can't handle it any more, nor can they make the hard choices that need to be made.

    I advise people to start out with 3 ewes, 2 ewe lambs and one yearling ewe you've bought from the original farm pregnant. That way you've got a lamb (or two) on the ground your first year, which is fun, you've got time to figure things out, your ewe lambs will be yearlings before they are bred, and if your yearling throws a ram lamb, you've got the makings of your own little flock right there.

    But watch out for year 3 or 4... if you haven't been able to cull ruthlessly it is a humdinger.
     
  6. PACrofter

    PACrofter Well-Known Member

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    Ross and MorrisonCorner, I think you understand where I'm coming from. The idea is to find the size of flock (sorry for my misuse of the terminology earlier) that can be kept as a closed flock (see, I'm learning!) without having to worry too much about inbreeding. At this point I'm not worried about the relative inefficiencies of feeding too many rams; that's one reason I'm looking at Icelandics because of their (purported) ability to live only on grass and other forages -- I figure I could turn the extras out to some brushy pasture that needs manicuring.

    As far as the purpose: I'm trying to get this sort of information on other animals as well. If I can get it for sheep and pigs (assuming the size for ducks and chickens is relatively small) I'll have an idea of what size farmstead I'd like to have where I wouldn't be reliant on the guy down the street who specializes in pigs or on the availability of AI for my flock of sheep. (Of course, it could well be that this ideal farmstead is really a small village, in which case I'd need to figure out the sustainable population of idiots, too!)

    And I'm assuming I would do a good job of record-keeping and culling / thinning so that I'm not swamped in "pets". (Just as a side note, though, my grandfather never had any problem eating "Timmy" the steer. We'd often have Timmy over for dinner. As a bonus, he got to reuse the name each year -- made it easy to pick out a name.)

    Thanks for the comments, and I look forward to any more info you have.
     
  7. southernlymie

    southernlymie New Member

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    I once had a very successful sheep producer tell me that, "If it works, it's called linebreeding. If it doesn't work, it's called inbreeding." He felt that if you didn't breed back the ram on his daughters, you couldn't increase the desirable style that you were trying to develop in the flock.

    Some flocks have used the same ram for years without problems. On the other hand, the "Spider lamb" syndrome has been traced back to a single Suffolk ram. Although that particular genetic defect first appeared in the Suffolk breed, through unscupulous breeding, so-called "purebred" Oxfords, Hampshires, and other breeds now have the defect.

    I don't know about Icelandics but Finn rams have been known to reach reproductive maturity at about 4 months of age. I hope you're planning to wether the ram lambs or securely separate the ram lambs from the exe lambs at an early age if the breed you raise is equally precocious.
     
  8. GoldenMom

    GoldenMom Well-Known Member

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    Check out the goat forum. They recently had a similar question (search for closed herd), it's the first link.
     
  9. YuccaFlatsRanch

    YuccaFlatsRanch Well-Known Member Supporter

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    We started with three carefully chosen mostly unrelated California Red Ewe lambs and two more carefully chosen unrelated Cal Red Rams. Since all were either registered or registerable (guaranteed by breeder) we know how who is related to who.

    From a past of breeding rabbits - a good linebreeding program is the proper way to concentrate the best animals and improve type, conformation, wool etc. It was true in rabbits and is true also in sheep - a line is improved not by what you keep, but by what you kill / sell. Be ruthless in your culling - save only the very best for breeding stock. That said there are sometimes "MAGIC" animals that consistently make lambs that are much superior to themselves. I once had a couple of satin rabbits that when bred together consistently produced litters that had 7 of the 8 babies recieving their Grand Champion Certificates. This was in a large popular show breed - Satins, so there was significant competition to judge their true worth by. Niether the Female Satin (a broken doe from Al Lunde in Wisconsin) nor the Buck, a Chinchilla Satin were outstanding as an individual, but combined together they were MAGIC.

    BTW - the problem with the 3rd year is exacerbated with California reds as you will get almost 2 lambings every year, averaging out a 5 lambings in 3 years. The 3rd year comes QUICKLY with California Reds. Fortunately I like to eat lamb, and with the price of beef so high, it cuts down dramatically on my meat bill.
     
  10. bergere

    bergere Just living Life

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    My parents ran a lot of head,, but I desided I wanted to just improve a breed, and not get so big I couldn't do some special stuff like halter training & Etc.
    I picked my market niche and went for it.

    I averaged about 10 ewes. Two foundation rams... plus the lambs each season.
    But normally I sold out of lambs every year.
    My Flock was closed. Made sure I had enough basic unrelated stock,, and worked on two lines. It is do-able.
     
  11. PACrofter

    PACrofter Well-Known Member

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    GoldenMom: This is exactly what I was looking for! Thanks so much!