List of Items for a Beginning Sheep Farmer, Part One: Tips and Resources for Beginning Sheep Farmers
by Ulf Kintzel
“What do I need when I start?” It is a question that is posed to me often. The almost inevitable follow-up question almost always is “Where do I get it”? I figured I should compile a list of items that one needs and while I am at it, also state where to get it. I remember how difficult I found it to figure out where to source various times when I first started out. This list should be helpful. I will not get into much detail about each item since this would go beyond the scope of this article. However, if you want to read about it in depth you may find your answer in one of the comprehensive articles I wrote for Small Farm Quarterly over the years, which almost certainly address any item or subject I touch in this article; all nicely compiled on my website under “articles” here.
Please note that I don’t have any financial interest in any of the companies or their products that I will mention. I merely will state my preference of where I purchase my supplies. Call them up if you don’t have Internet access. They all send you a free catalog. Furthermore, this is part one of two. The second part will be published three months from now, which will leave you time to ask for the source of a specific item on the commentary page. I will include any relevant info if it wasn’t already included in the second part of the article.
First, I will start with some general information about companies that offer supply for sheep farming. On that list is Premier One Supplies, 800-282-6631. In my view, the company tends to be on the high end of prices compared to others. However, their free shipping policy can at times make an item competitive or cheaper if you spend enough money to get over their $100 threshold for free-shipping. Aside from that, this company carries a few items that no other US-based company seems to carry or not at that quality. For instance, I get my leg crook there, although you can always get the leg crook attachment at other places and mount it on a handle. I also order my customized scrapie ear tags from their wide variety of choices.
For fencing needs I can recommend Kencove, 800-536-2683. It isn’t specifically a company catering to sheep farmers, but is a good source if you are an able fence builder yourself. I like their clip-on plastic electric fence signs that I found nowhere else.
PBS Animal Health, 800-321-0235, is one of my preferred sources for veterinary supplies because of their competitive prices and a generous free-shipping policy. I get my dewormers there most of the time. They offer more than just vet supplies. Others like getting their vet supplies from Jeffers, (800)-533-3377, or Valley Vet, 800-419-9524. Another company offering vet supplies is Pipestone Veterinary Clinic (800) 658-2523. I have found this outfit to be the only source for wound clip forceps and wound clips if you need to treat the occasional inverted eye lid yourself. I also like to get my Selenium-Iodine Premix there to make my own minerals without unnecessary additive.
Hunter Nutrition, (765) 563-1003, is on my list because of their Matingmark products. I find their red nylon ram harness second to none, simply because it stays on better and doesn’t cause the same skin irritation after days or weeks of wearing that other harnesses I previously used tend to do. In addition, the crayons can be snapped in, which eliminates the cumbersome use of a pin.
The Mid-States Wool Growers are worth mentioning as well, even though I don’t shop there often. The number to call depends on where you live: West of Mississippi River Call 1-800-835-9665, East of Mississippi River Call: 1-800-841-9665.
Locally, I like my Tractor Supply Company (TSC) here in Canandaigua, NY. It is convenient and their manager Steve is very good. I get vaccines, troughs, salt, cattle panels, syringes, needles, flat-back buckets, dog food, work clothes, and T-posts there, just to name a few.
Check out local dealers also. I had good success in beating prices by purchasing from various Mennonite dealers, like Sensenig Electric in Ephrata, PA (717-445-9905). My 6-Joule Speedrite plug-in energizer unit was nowhere else to be found for less money. I bet some of these dealers can beat the prices of more known suppliers.
Now let’s focus some more on various individual items. The law has it that you must individually identify your sheep with scrapie approved ear tags when they leave the farm. First, you need a premise ID number. If you live in New York state, contact Anna Draisey (USDA) at 518-858-1424 or Anna.Draisey@aphis.usda.gov. The USDA also hands out a certain number of plastic tags for your replacement ewe lambs and metal tags for your market lambs at no cost to you. The number depends on the size of your flock. Leave yourself extra time when you order and you plan on using these for lambing season. You can also purchase custom-made tags at places like Premier One Supplies, their choices are much greater.
Assuming you will graze sheep, regardless of whether you intend to supplement with grain or wish to do grass-fed, you will need fencing. If you have deep pockets and consider permanent fencing, I suggest woven wire fencing. If you want to use temporary fencing, I suggest electric nettings. They are offered by various companies. Premier One Supplies has a rather large selection. If you use fewer than twenty nettings you will be fine with a 2 Joule energizer. A two-Joule charger is the smallest size energizer suitable for sheep.
Personally, I use the IntelliShock 20 Energizer from Premier One Supplies when I am off the farm, powered by a deep-cycle marine battery. You want two of these batteries so that you can run the fence while you re-charge one. The smallest size available is the right size. The bigger ones are very clumsy and you will soon start regretting having to move them around. If you use a plug-in unit, you will need to do the research what size you want and then buy just a little bigger to leave room for further growth. There are numerous places that sell these plug-in units, I mentioned some companies above. Almost any fencing or sheep supply company will carry energizers.
Watering sheep is a necessity. You will need troughs and you may need means of water transportation if you can’t reach every place with a hose. You want to get a low trough with a height no more than a foot. I have been using the 50-gallon Rubbermaid troughs for many years. Smaller sizes for fewer sheep are available also, just make sure it is a low trough that your lambs can reach the water.
For water transportation, if you want to omit water lines in your pasture, you may consider a flat-bottom portable water tank, which can be easily strapped onto the bed of a pick-up truck or small carry-on trailer. I have no specific recommendation where to purchase these tanks, since they are offered at so many different places. During lambing when you set up jugs, you will need to water individual sheep. I want to make sure that no newborn lamb drowns in a bucket, so I hang a two-gallon flatback bucket into the jug. I like TSC’s Fortiflex brand bucket, eight quarts in size, because I have lambing during the winter months as well and these buckets have rubber incorporated, which keeps them from cracking and breaking when I try to pound the ice out.
Supplementing minerals assures that your sheep have the macro and micro elements that your feed stuff doesn’t provide or of which your soils are deficient. I don’t like using readily available sheep minerals because the ingredients include grains or molasses, which increase intake to an unnecessary level, just like fat, sugar, and salt does in your snacks that you can’t lay down once you started. It costs additional money but serves no good purpose. The vitamins in these sheep minerals are not needed for sheep that graze, simply because they either consume any necessary vitamin while grazing or can generate them themselves. Supplementing vitamins is most often unnecessary, unless you lock your sheep in a barn for prolonged times. Instead, I mix my own minerals, using salt and the afore-mentioned Selenium-Iodine Premix from Pipestone. I also like to blend in trace mineral with iodine and selenium as well. I don’t mind the copper in it since I am grass-fed and therefore my sheep have no copper intact that’s in grain. In fact, at times that additional copper is needed, i.e. during pregnancy of the ewes.
Why is my mineral protocol so complicated? Why not using just one source? Because one year I ended up having iodine deficiency in a few lambs, which killed them, although the label stated iodine as an ingredient. If you are more trusting than me, feel free to pick one source. In the pasture, I use high-wall rubber pig feeders to provide the minerals and in the barn, I use buckets made from the same rubber, which I hang on a post or tie to a panel. They are long lasting, in fact mine are more than 20 years old, but need to be removed outside for the time being when it rains since they are not waterproof.
Ulf owns and operates White Clover Sheep Farm and breeds and raises grass-fed White Dorper sheep and Kiko goats without any grain feeding and offers breeding stock suitable for grazing. He is a native of Germany and lives in the US since 1995. He farms in the Finger Lakes area in upstate New York. His website address is www.whitecloversheepfarm.com. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 585-554-3313.