Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

The Backyard Sheep offers sheep raising info for novices and veteran farmers

By Carol Stender
cstender@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 02/05/2013 4:22 PM

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BISMARCK, Ark. — Sue Weaver began raising sheep later in life, but as soon as she started caring for Dodger, a Hampshire and Angel, a Wiltshire Horn cross, she quickly became besotted with them.

From her experiences, discussions with sheep producers and extensive research, Weaver has written The Backyard Sheep, a go-to reference published by Storey Publishing. The book, which will be released in May, offers something for everyone in sheep production, from the novice to the veteran, no matter how many they may own.

There are nearly 6 million sheep in the United States with 94 percent of them kept on small-scale farms or backyard homesteads. Owners, or those who want to be, want to raise sheep for the fleece, to make cheese, for meat production or to keep the livestock as backyard pets.

The Backyard Sheep readers will learn all facets of sheep and sheep production. She's detailed how to select breeds, how to keep sheep safe and how to raise them for milk and fleece.

She admits she's a research addict. That attention to detail is apparent in the wealth of sheep production knowledge she offers through her writings. She uses witty musings and offers the information in an easy to understand format.

Weaver has worked closely with Storey Publishing illustrators to create detailed artwork that coincide with her writing. One picture shows "sheep tipping," where a handler has lifted the sheep off the ground. Once the sheep can't touch the ground, the animal is immobilized allowing the handler to perform routine tasks from hoof trimming to shearing to doctoring minor wounds.

Other sidebars, often titled "Did Ewe Know?", are placed throughout the book and offer interesting facts and details about sheep production. In one tidbit she titled "Baby, It's Cold Outside" readers learn that plastic ear tags are more flexible, thus easier to install, if the tags are warmed. She gives instructions on warming the eartags to put on the sheep when temperatures are below freezing by stowing them in an inner coat pocket or a small covered container with a sealed bottle of hot water.

Another spot focuses on wool fibers.

"Stroked through fingertips from base to tip, its shaft feels smooth; tip to base, a bit 'stickery,'" she writes. "This scaly outer covering is called the cuticle; it causes fibers to interlock with one another. Inside each fiber a cable like cortex imparts strength. A wool fiber is so springy and elastic it can be bent more than 30,000 times without harm. Stretched, its crimp enables it to spring back into shape."

She lived in Pine City, Minn. where she saw and enjoyed her friends' sheep. But she didn't own her own animals until she moved with her family to the Arkansas Ozarks. there she met Anita Messenger of Liberty Mountain Ranch in Bismarck, Ark. Messenger gave her two old sheep she said needed a home. Apparently Messenger felt Weaver also needed some sheep. As she cared for the animals, Weaver wanted more and she wanted to raise lambs. She added to her flock and now has 30 sheep, 30 goats, seven horses, a steer and a water buffalo on her 29-acre farm one mile south of the Arkansas and Missouri state line.

And it isn't just sheep that have captured her fancy. She also loves goats and has written The Backyard Goat also for Storey Publishing.