How does having just a few sheep or goats on a small acreage differ from a larger operation?
“You’ll probably get to know them better,” Dr. David Fernandez, University of Arkansas Extension animal scientist, told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor. The increased amount of one-on-one contact will make it easier to identify the one animal suffering from illness or parasitism.
“If you have 50 sheep on 100 acres, you’re probably not going to see them every day, and if one of them is lagging it wouldn’t be uncommon for a few more of them to be standing around with it, forming their own group. In a smaller group of 10, there will probably be one off to the side that will not look like it’s well,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez also has his own small flock, and that dictates his supplemental feeding program during the winter; he can’t justify a big feeder that lets the animals feed with free access.
“I feed square bales, which means I have to go out and feed every day,” he said. “When I’m flushing them prior to breeding, or when I’m providing them a little bit of extra nutrition prior to lambing, that’s a lot of work for me to do first thing in the morning.”
For small ruminants, pasture consists of grasses and broadleaves like clovers, lespedeza and hairy vetch. They’ll also eat blackberries and raspberries, “but they tend to eat those to the ground and you have to replant them every year, and that becomes expensive,” Fernandez said.
Brush – woody–stemmed plants on which the animals like to browse – is more of a large acreage issue.
“You can still rotationally graze on small properties,” he said. “In fact, that’s a good thing to do, because you can better manage your animals and their nutrition that way, and especially on small acreages you get better utilization of the pasture.”
Rotation reduces the need for supplemental feed, but there also has to be water available on each of the smaller units into which the pasture is being subdivided.
Lincoln University Cooperative Extension State Small Ruminant Specialist Charlotte Clifford-Rathert, DVM, said producers should be mindful of the difference between sheep and goats.
“Goats like to browse from the top of plants down to the middle,” Clifford-Rathert told OFN. “They do not like to eat close to the ground, whereas sheep will graze plants down to the soil if allowed.”
She said when monitoring browse, the animals should be moved to the next paddock when 75 to 80 percent of the leaves are eaten. If they’re grazing weeds or grass, don’t let the plants get any shorter than 6 inches.
Control of internal parasites is also important. The one known for having the most detrimental impact on production is Haemonchous contortus, the barber pole worm.
Clifford-Rathert explained that goats and sheep can become infested, then reinfested when forced to graze on forages that are shorter than 6 inches in height, or when overcrowded on small acreage.
In addition to monitoring forage heights, she said producers can control infestation by selecting animals that are genetically resistant to the parasite.
“To do this will be costly,” she said. “Most producers who have resistant animals will sell them for a price, since many producers are actively selecting their breeding stock based on the animals’ ability to ward off a parasite infestation without treatment.”
She recommended a beginning farmer network with other producers that practice this type of selection management in their herds, gain the training to monitor animals, and learn what to look for in order to be able to make these decisions prior to purchasing the animals.


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