Are you just starting out with sheep? How many should I get, Should I get ewes or lambs, Do I need a ram? These are all good questions, and the answers may be different based on your goals. Listed below are a few options that have worked well for our buyers, and you may want to consider.
Ready to Breed
Under this scenario, three to four proven adult ewes would be paired with an unrelated proven adult ram. This would allow you to begin breeding with little delay or risk. An unrelated ram provides genetic diversity if you wish to raise breeding stock. Ewes generally remain productive for 8-10 years.
Pros: Fast start up Proven breeding history
Cons: All ewes may "age out" at the same time Inbreed occurs if ram mated with offspring
Mixed Age Flock
While similar to the Ready to Breed scenario, this approach mixes 1 -2 proven adult ewes with 1-2 yearling ewes or ewe lambs. St Croix ewes are ready to breed at one year of age. Again, an unrelated proven adult ram would round out this starter flock. The flock grows more slowly but the overall productive life of the flock is increased. In our experience having an experienced ewe in a flock helps the first-time breeding ewes and the new lambs at weaning.
Pros: Longer total flock productivity Some proven breeding history Slower introduction to lambing (for you)
Cons: Lower initial productivity Some risk with unproven breeders Inbreeding if ram mated with offspring
Bred Ewe Flock
A starter flock with bred ewes can help overcome inbreeding issues. With this approach, 3-4 adult ewes are bred with 1 or more unrelated rams. This group of ewes is then paired with an unrelated proven adult ram. The ram could mate with the ewes and their offspring, avoiding inbreeding. Long term a new ram may need to be introduced, but genetic diversity is maintained for several generations. While finding unrelated rams is at times difficult, we try to maintain several separate genetic lines and have relationships with other breeders to obtain unrelated rams.
Pros: Fast Startup Proven breeding history More genetic diversity
Cons: Some risk with pregnant ewes (transportation) Possibly more costly.
Any of these options can be combined to build a flock that is right for you and your goals. We breed year-round at Shasta Ranch and generally have ewes of all ages and stages. We maintain multiple maternal lines and lines of unrelated rams. Using our flock management software we can compare pedigrees of multiple animals to prevent inbreeding.