Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Salad Bar Lamb

Here on the Phelan Ranch, my dad raises hair sheep and for the past 6 years has sold the lamb on the commodity market. Most of the lamb has gone to the east coast... much of it in or near New York City. My goal with Phelan Ranch Company LLC is to sell as many if not all Dad's lamb locally in a direct market fashion. He has been producing a salad bar product, but hasn't seen some of the benefits of his great stewardship. Lamb is actually not to difficult to fatten on grass (at least not as difficult as beef), but their are some things to consider. Below I listed some thoughts about raising sheep. They by no means cover everything, but I think they might help get your motor running on my philosophy of raising such an awesome animal.

Here are some thoughts to raising Salad Bar Lamb.
(Just hitting some of the highlights.)

Thoughts # 1:

Get over the cuteness of Lamb. This step more than any other may hold you back from developing a wonderful herd of ewes and a customer serving product for the market.

But you might say, "But Grady how can you not think that little lambs are cute? Don't they call Jesus 'The Lamb of God' ?" I didn't say that lambs weren't cute. On the contrary, they are beautiful. So beautiful in fact that they were one of the top choices when ancient Jews made a sacrifice to the Lord. Let us also not forget that the reason we call Jesus the Lamb of God is because he was the only sacrifice that would save us from our sins. We need to look at lamb as God intended, nourishment for our bodies. I'll leave it at that... If you want to discuss more just let me know.

Once you develop a proper relationship with lambs, true stewardship can begin. Start to pick and choose the best and worse ewe's and their sons and daughters. Keep the best ewe lambs for breeding and market the rest. Keep only the VERY best young rams and use them or bring in the VERY best rams you can find. Market the rest. If you have any dry ewe's at weaning time or any other ewes with undesirable characteristics, cull them. It may be your favorite ewe, but if she's not pulling her weight then she's holding you back from serving your customer the best possible lamb. Its our responsibility to strive for the very best. God would not like it if we were lazy and offered a poor product to his people. Offer the best you have and always be developing a better herd.

Thought #2:

Make sure that the herd has the capability to graze the best possible grass year-a-round. Good hay is hard to beat but in my mind its extremely important for all herbivores to be able to graze the way God intended. You may need to feed hay and graze during the winter, but strive to develop a way to only graze. I have no scientific studies to back that up (even though there are probably a few out there), it just seems right to try to mimic nature. This means that we should steward the land as well as the animal. In fact, if you only have time to properly steward one or the other... pick the land. Imagine the land as a gigantic solar panel absorbing the best source of free energy available. If you keep it tuned up, it will keep you and your business full of its reusable energy.

Thought #3:

Find protection for your sheep. Sheep are not like cattle or horses or even pigs for that matter. They are timid, shy, and flighty when it comes to danger. Most ewes will run at the first sight of possible danger, leaving their lamb behind to be the dinner of some hungry predator. It is up to us to protect them from such dangers. Guard dogs are one of the top choices for the modern American sheep herder. In the past, shepherds fulfilled this role, but since we decided that a shepherd's life is not one we want to live, we need to fill that spot. Dogs, Donkeys, Llamas, and even cattle can serve as their shepherd. If you do find a ewe that protects her lamb, keep her and all her ewe lambs. You might just breed courage back into the herd.

If you are interested in sheep and have a little land I encourage you to get some and feel it out. Their are many ways to market sheep including but not limited to he following: commodity; meat sales to customers, restaurants, and retail stores; sheep milk in the form of milk, cheese, soap, etc; and wool in the form of wool, yarn, sweaters, etc. The opportunities are endless with most enterprises especially sheep. Here are a few details about Dad's flock that might be helpful. We aren't even close to the full potential of the sheep enterprise, but we are refining all the time.

Size: 300 ewe's
Target Lamb Crop: 150% (450 lambs)
Lambing Season: May - June (6 week window)
Growing Season Feed Supplement: Nothing
Dormant Season Feed Supplement: Alfalfa cubes
(They are always grazing something year-a-round)
Mineral Supplement: Salt

Feel free to ask any questions... I only hit the highlights and only the things I think about. Something I didn't mention may appeal to your curiosity and I would love to hear what it is.


  1. Great post! We have been considering sheep for the last year(just for our family) and were encouraged by this post. Loved the wisdom you taught and the phrase "God would not like it if we were lazy and offered a poor product to his people" Wow. We have neighbors growing calves in a dark windowless barn, stanchioned at all times until they reach a certain weight. Its terrible, and this goes to our stores. If people only knew.

    On a lighter note, we live in a small world. We met a former Polyface apprentice right here in our own backyard! ;) J. Murphy and his beautiful family(hubby mentioned your name and he said he knew you!) just sold their home here to move to Joel Salatins(?) Buxton Farm in Virginia. We look forward to reading their blog of adventures, too. ;) Congratulations to you and your bride-to-be, marriage is beautiful and only gets sweeter with time.

  2. I live in Oklahoma, raise cattle and winter wheat, and have thought about grazing a few hair sheep along with our cattle.

    But, I have had a number of questions about adding sheep.

    What handling facilities are needed for sheep compared to cattle? Is hoof trimming necessary or a problem with hair sheep? What type of pasture is needed for sheep compared to cattle? Will typical cattle fencing work for hair sheep?

  3. Future post suggestion - a post on ram logistics would be great!

    I remember a presentation by Joel Salatin (Acres conference, maybe??) where he said that he put his ram, when he had sheep, in the "RAMbler" and used that to mow around buildings, etc. I'm wondering if that was far enough from the ladies so that he didn't escape and get one into "trouble" before breeding season. And how a successful RAMbler might be constructed.

    Thanks muchos,

  4. I am a thirteen year old homeschooled boy in Virginia. My family has a small farm (5 acres) and I am raising sheep and chickens and will be taking the last of two pigs to the butcher soon. Anyway, if you don't mind I have a few questions:

    Do you see any problem with manure management when wintering sheep on pasture as opposed to putting them in a barn as they do at Polyface?

    Also you said that you give the sheep alfalfa cubes. Do you give those to them whole? Mine can't eat them whole, I have to grind them up.

    Thanks for the help.

    By the way, I know what you mean about the cuteness of lambs. I get told by visitors all the time, "Oh it must be so hard selling the lambs. I could never do it." Almost everyone who comes tells me that. But I like what you said.


    P.s. Feel free to take a peak at my blog.

  5. After the recent ice storm and snowfall in OK, how do hair sheep handle these types of weather conditions?

    Is some sort of covered shelter a must for them?

  6. Let me see if I can answer everyone's questions.

    Squaw Creek,

    Joe is Awesome!! Enough said.


    Handling facilities need to be tighter... that is you need to use sheep panels on the corral fences so they don't climb out. We also have a sorting shoot that makes sorting much easier. I'll try to get a pic soon, or you could come down and see it and I can walk you through our corrals.

    We don't ever trim hooves, but we are in a rocky environment so the ewes probably keep well conditioned hooves because of the rocks.

    We run all livestock on Native Tall Grass Prairie. As far as specific grasses or annuals, you'd have to ask an expert. They find more than enough on our native range.

    We have net fencing on our perimeter fences and we use two electric wires on our permanent electric fences, and one poliwire for our temporary electric paddocks.

    We don't have any special shelters for the sheep, but we do allow them access to the brush for shelter during bad weather. They handle our roughest weather great. Even the guard dogs look great during all this.


    Polyface didn't have sheep while I was there so I don't know much about the Rambler. What we do here is a little different. We use the same Rams that a couple other ranches use so they just travel around to everyone during breeding season. If they are hear during the off-season then we just put them on the other side of the 3000 acres.


    We don't see any problem running sheep on pasture during the winter. Something to keep in mind is that we are grazing all year around and don't need to feed hay the way Polyface does. So putting our sheep in a barn and hauling pasture to them would be silly for us but essential for the Salatins. Remember... Different environments = different strategies.

    Our cubes are 3/8 in. in Diameter and the sheep don't have a problem eating them.

    Keep it up. We need more people like you.

  7. Can you use a one line electric fence like the Salatins do for their cows or do you have to use a net from Premier?


  8. Hey Jason,

    Our "permanent" electric fence has 2 wires, but the we sub-divid with one wire about knee high. We usually don't pen them up to tight, so they aren't pressuring the fence much. If you were to pen them in really tight, you might want to consider the net fence.



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