let's talk farm animals

A day in the life of a sheep farmer

by Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

Previously I have written blogs showing what dairy farmers do during the day.  This one focuses on what happens at a sheep farm…specifically, my sister Barb’s sheep farm.  Barb has a flock of Oxford breed ewes and rams, and does most of the work with them on her own.

Ewes with their young lambs

The busiest time of year for a sheep farmer is lambing season, which stretches from January to April or May, depending on the flock. 

During lambing season, Barb is in the barn by 6:00am to check and see if any ewes have lambed during the night.  If she finds some, she takes the ewe and her lambs from the main barn into the small barn, where they are placed in individual pens called “lambing jugs”.  Barb makes sure all of the lambs have nursed from the ewes, and gives the ewes fresh water, feed and hay.  She documents all of the new lambs in a book, to later be added to her flock records.
Between 7 and 8 a.m.,. Barb is finishing with the new lambs, and goes back to the main barn to take care of the rest of the flock.  She has to mix the grains and supplements to make sure the sheep receive a balanced ration.  She scrapes the feeders to make sure they are clean before putting the fresh grain down.  Then she spreads the grain and gives the sheep fresh hay and water.  There is an area of the barn which is sectioned off called a creep.  In the creep, lambs have an area to access feeders filled with a ration full of needed nutrients as they grow and develop.  The lambs can come and go as they please, and ewes cannot access this area, so competition for feed is limited.  While feeding in the main barn, Barb also has to make sure the creep feeders are clean and full of fresh feed.

When the main barn has been taken care of, Barb goes back to the small barn where she checks on all of the young lambs and makes sure all of the ewes have fresh hay, water, grain and bedding.  The feeding process takes approximately two hours.

By this point, Barb has been in the barn for about four hours, and has worked up an appetite.  The rule on the farm is the animals have to eat first!

After breakfast, there is a lot more work for Barb to do.  She goes back out to the small barn, where she weighs all of the new lambs and gives them ear tags for identification purposes.  At the same time, Barb places an elastic ring on the lamb’s tail.  This will eventually cause the end of the tail to fall off, in a pain-free procedure.  “Tail docking” is important because it will protect the lambs from a potentially serious infection caused fly-strike, caused by flies laying eggs in the manure which collects around intact tails.  Once finished, Barb returns the lambs to the ewes. 

As lambing pens in the small barn fill, Barb has to move the ewes and lambs around.  Any lambs that are three days old are taken with the ewe back to the main barn.  In the main barn, there is a pen for ewes that have lambed and their lambs, and another pen for ewes that are waiting to lamb.  All ewes in the small barn that have lambs two or three days old are in a small group pen so the ewes and lambs can become used to finding each other in a group setting while Barb can still closely monitor them to make sure all lambs are nursing properly.

As Barb is doing all of her tasks, she is also returning to the main barn every two hours to check for new lambs.  She will continue checking for new lambs on a regular basis right through until midnight.  At some point during the afternoon, which can be as late as four o’clock, Barb manages to go in the house for a late lunch.  When Barb does get a chance to be in the house, she is entering all of the notes she made in the barn onto her computer so she has a complete set of records.  She also works on updating her financial books. 

When 4:30 p.m. comes, it is back to the barn for feeding time.  Feeding will take two hours, the same as it did in the morning.  At any point during the day, if Barb finds a weak or chilled lamb, she will bring it into the house to warm up.  While it is in the house, Barb feeds it with a bottle and checks on it regularly.  Once the lamb is healthy and warm, it will be returned to a lambing pen with its mother. 

Not all times of the year have Barb in the barn as much as lambing time, but other seasons have other jobs to keep her busy.  In the spring, summer and fall months, the sheep have access to pasture.  Barb has to monitor the fences and repair any breaks as soon as possible after they happen.  There is also field work to do.  Barb grows the crops needed to feed the sheep when pasture is scarce and during the winter months.  When Barb has time, she also helps on our parents’ dairy farm.


Posted by FFC on July 7th, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,Farm life,Sheep
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One Response to “A day in the life of a sheep farmer”

  1. Bess
    August 26th, 2013

    Super article de Baraqueville

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