So, you want to be a sheep keeper and wondering how many sheep per acre you can keep? We can’t blame you! It’s not a secret that sheep are nifty. They make warm wool that can make you money, their rich milk can make delicious cheese and other foods, they’re sweet animals to raise as pets, and you can make a load of money raising and selling them.
And perhaps best of all, IMO, they’re super tasty!
Yummy sheep meat! (Sorry, vegetarians. I love plants too.)
So. It makes sense to raise a flock of sheep on your land.
But how many sheep per acre is possible? And what about the laws governing sheep raising?
That’s just what we’re here to learn. And it’s going to be tons of fun!
Read on for about five minutes. We promise you’ll know more about raising sheep than most other homesteaders – and you’ll learn precisely how to determine a sustainable sheep stocking rate for your pastures.
Then here we go!
- How Many Sheep Per Acre Can You Raise?
- How Many Sheep Per Acre of Land Is Best?
- Hilarious Half-Time Sheep Joke!
- Factors that Affect the Best Number of Sheep Per Acre of Pasture
- Closing Thoughts about How Many Sheep Per Acre Is Best
How Many Sheep Per Acre Can You Raise?
We usually recommend anywhere from two to four sheep per acre for new homesteaders starting a farm or small flock. But the exact answer largely depends! We’re about to share an easy sheep stocking rate formula in a moment so you can estimate how many sheep your homestead can support. There are other sheep stocking rate variables, too!
Consider the following sheep stocking rate nuances.
First Things First – Sheep Need Sheep!
As a rule of thumb, sheep are not leaders. Their instinctual manner is to be timid. And they do not feel well alone or just with their young.
Sheep are herd animals! They feel and thrive best when they live in flocks. It’s in their genetics.
Regardless of the square feet of the pasture, sheep find safety in several similar-aged sheep.
Ewes with only lambs for companionship may get nervous because they feel overstressed about protecting their youngins. And themselves. It keeps them on edge all the time, unable to enjoy their lives.
So, please, for the sheep’s sake, never buy just one sheep and make her live alone. Get at least two sheep. Three or more is better. Flocked sheep are happier, less afraid, and more relaxed.
Second Things Second – Sheep Come Last!
If you begin raising sheep, it’s vital to have their environment prepared before getting them. So, before buying the sheep, ensure that you have everything in place, including the following.
- Fencing (typically the single costliest expense)
- Barn or other protective structure
- Access to freshwater
Other miscellaneous items to raise sheep properly include ear tags, hoof cutters, buckets, feeders, a crook to catch sheep, a drench gun, and syringes and needles for necessary vaccinations.
Third Things Third – Sheep Terminology
Real quick, let’s review the following sheep terminology and facts.
- Adult sheep can be female or male
- Adult female sheep are ewes
- Adult male sheep are rams
- Sheep that are less than a year old are lambs
- Female baby lambs are called ewe lambs
- Male baby lambs are called ram lambs
OK, good talk.
Let’s get into the primary reason we’re here. How many sheep can you raise in an acre?
How Many Sheep Per Acre of Land Is Best?
How much land do sheep need? What is your pasture’s sheep stocking capacity?
It’s important to remember that every piece of land has a unique land grazing potential.
Creating a favorable environment depends on several variables, including:
- Whether the sheep will be grazing all or just part of the year
- The ready availability of clean water on the land
- The breed and size of the sheep
- Access to quality pasture
- The quality of the soil
- The climate
We’ll discuss each factor in detail below. But first, let’s look at how to calculate your property’s sheep stocking rate.
No worries – it’s simple and fast!
How to Calculate Your Land’s Sheep Stocking Rate
This method is not a precise science, but it will roughly estimate how many heads of sheep per acre your property can feasibly sustain.
This formula assumes that your grazing animals will consume 3% of their body weight each day, which is the amount that Cornell University asserts is common.
And the formula adds 0.5% waste and another 0.5% buffer, bringing the recommended daily foraging amount per sheep up to 4%.
Assign a beginning value to represent your pasture’s average per-acre yield. Estimating the average per acre might be tricky, especially if you’re beginning to experiment with raising sheep.
If you need help and you’re in the USA, it’s wise to contact your local branch of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). They’ll have estimates of average yields in your locality – plus further guidance if you wish.
Here’s the formula:
- Total Acres * Average Per-Acre Yield
- Divided by
- 365 * (4% of the Average Sheep Weight)
- Equals How Many Sheep
So, let’s say that:
- You have 5 acres of land
- And your average sheep weighs 100 pounds
- Then each sheep would require 365 * 4 = 1,460 pounds of food yearly.
Now, let’s say that each acre produced 5,000 pounds of forage annually.
- That means that 5 acres produce 25,000 pounds of forage annually.
- And each sheep needs 1,460 pounds per year.
- That means you could feasibly accommodate 25,000 divided by 1,460 = 17 sheep on the 5 acres.
Here’s the sheep stocking equation after plugging in our figures from the example.
- 5 * 5,000 = 25,000
- Divided by
- 365 * (4) = 1,460
We end up with 25,000 Divided by 1,460 = Approximately 17 sheep!
That’s a basic idea of how many sheep the entire 5 acres can support. You can always choose to stock fewer than the maximum possible number.
Now we understand how to calculate how many sheep per acre we can sustain. So let’s dig deeper into the factors influencing the above formula from one pasture to another.
But first, consider the following.
Hilarious Half-Time Sheep Joke!
What kind of cars do sheep like to drive best?
HA! Get it? Lamborghinis!
I’m dyin’ here!
OK, back to business.
Factors that Affect the Best Number of Sheep Per Acre of Pasture
How many acres of sheep pasture you need depends on whether it’s lush, productive land that accommodates nutritious green grass or arid land where no grass grows well.
One acre of grass high in nutrients can be superior to 5 acres of grass with low nutritional value. Every parcel of land is different.
It’s important not to exceed your maximum sheep stocking rate for your pasture. Doing so will stress both the sheep and the natural production of fodder.
Destruction of fodder creates smaller yields with substandard nutrition, affecting the general health of the sheep grazing there.
So, to abide by your stocking rate, you’ll have to consider relevant variables, including the following.
- Size and breed of the sheep
- Quality of water sources
- Your local climate
- Soil quality
Let’s zoom in on each of these vital factors.
Breed & Size of the Sheep
Size matters. Metabolism matters. Rams are bigger and more aggressive than ewes. And they need more food to sustain those traits.
So, it makes sense that lamb rams eat more than ewe lambs, ewes consume more than lambs, and rams eat more forage than ewes.
Sheep breeds matter. Larger breeds eat more than smaller breeds, increasing the food needed for the flock.
The equivalent acreage will support less of a heavier breed of sheep than a smaller breed. So, to maximize the number of sheep per acre, consider raising a smaller breed.
For instance, an adult Babydoll sheep will top out in weight at about 120 pounds, while a much larger Lincoln sheep typically weighs up to 350 pounds.
Assuming that the average sheep eats 3.5% of its body weight daily, that’s 4.2 (120 * .035) pounds daily for a Babydoll. And 12.25 pounds daily for a Lincoln.
That’s a huge difference, so it’s easy to see that the breed and size of your sheep directly affect how many of these lovely livestock animals per acre you can intelligently plan to sustain.
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Weather conditions matter when it comes to raising sheep. Locations with more winter months will not supply as much natural fodder as locations with fewer winter months.
If you have long winters and lots of snow where you live, the vegetation there is likely much sparser than in locations with short winters and less snow.
Most species of grass require warmth to grow. Sheep can’t forage in snowy winter pasture conditions with no fresh grass and, therefore, must get fed supplemental foods – like grain and hay.
Milder climates support a more consistent reliability of food throughout the year, which allows you to rear a healthier, more robust flock.
Soil quality largely determines forage quality. Like all plants grown outdoors, fodder is only as healthy as the soil. Nutrient-rich soil grows healthier, thicker types of grasses. Nutrient-poor soil creates the opposite.
Sheep will need to consume less fodder when it’s packed with nutrients than if it’s nutritionally devoid. Less nutritional value means sheep must eat more to meet their dietary needs.
The Importance of Paddock Rotation
It’s vital to practice regenerative agriculture by rotating the paddocks your sheep graze in. That’s because overgrazing destroys the root systems of the available fodder sources. Remember that access to water must be constant.
Rotating the paddocks allows for regrowth in one pasture paddock while the sheep graze in a different one. This rotating foraging cycle encourages healthy roots and better access to food. We believe this rotating cycle leads to better nutrition and longer life.
Closing Thoughts about How Many Sheep Per Acre Is Best
Every sheep-raising scenario is unique. Different animals, climates, sources of natural fodder, and numerous other operation-specific variables affect all shepherds and flocks differently.
Remember, it’s much better to have your pastures, fencing, water supply, barn or other protective structure, and miscellaneous supplies, like hoof trimmers and fleece shears, in order before you ever go out and purchase the first sheep or lamb.
That way, when you bring your new friends home, everything’s ready. Their supplies are waiting to keep them comfortable, nourished, hydrated, and protected.
It’s wise to begin your sheep-raising operation with a tiny quantity of animals until you better understand your pastures, sheep, and how one affects the other.
I’d also like to tell you another sheep joke before signing off for today, but I feel that would be in Baaaaaaaad taste.
Get it? Baaaaaaad taste!
HA! Gotcha again!