It's been said a sheep spends all day working out how to die.. Well, that might be an exaggeration, but they do seem to get a whole load of lurgies, have to be drenched, dagged, their feet trimmed. and so on, and that's not even starting on lambing!
But I still prefer them to cows, if you get run down by a sheep you are bruised, more people get killed by cows than bulls, and really I feel if you are going to keep an animal, you have to like it from the start for the job to be successful. I go further - I think you have to like the look of it too, but more on breeds later, and in return for your efforts you do get wool (not alot of value in wool these days) and meat in the form of lambs.
So, although keeping sheep was the last thing we had in mind, it seems the obvious way to go. What first? First making the fences relatively sheep proof. This involved a lot planning as to the final layout of our fields, vegetable plot, orchard etc. Chances are we will change our minds somewhere along the line, but its worth thinking about rather than charging in, and then getting on with it and accepting undoing some work later if necessary.
We decided which part of the land could be fenced off the quickest, as all the time the grass is growing!, and set to work. The previous owner had kept a horse - which meant that there were fences, but not adequate enough for sheep. We were able to reuse most of the fence posts, and just replace and add as necessary. To this we fixed stock fencing.
Next, was to sort out the dreaded paperwork... and spend some evenings reading various sheep keeping books and frightening myself with all that was involved. If my parents hadn't kept sheep already - I would have been put off! And I spent a fair amount of time considering different breeds. Obviously, what we wanted was a nice looking, really hardy, traditional for our location, docile, sheep. They should only ever have single lambs, never prove a problem at lambing and be great mothers. Don't want much huh! Found out there is even a breed called 'easy sheep'.... seriously!
I did spend some time looking at the Rare Breeds Survival Trust website, and then started searching for local breeds. Partly because I like the notion of sticking to something local, keeping a tradition alive etc, and partly because a local breed would be more likely to do well in its natural environment.. There are a few Devon breeds - I rejected the Devon longwool, as just seeming to be too much hassle with all that wool, and the Dartmoor breeds have a reputation for being far from docile and escapologists too. Then we found the Devon Closewool .
We really liked the look of them, they are pretty sturdy, white with black noses, the wool is fine and of good quality - which means it will be of worth to the home spinner (well you never know) and for selling - and its also good for the sheep, as it does not part easily so keep the skin dry and therefore is suited to our location! Apparantly they are fairly docile - we shall see!
We made contact with a local breeder, who was extremely helpful, went to see his flock, and were pleased with the results. We then arranged to purchase our first three - three because we are novices,and wanted to start small and see how it went, and any less would not be a flock and therefore a bit cruel on the sheep. We might get more in the future, but shall see how it goes.
I am surprised how much I like these sheep - having had sheep in the fields around us for years - it seems its different when they are yours!
Now it's just a matter of taking care of them.