This section covers some of the basics and is aimed primarily at new flock owners. We hope that it will be useful and point you in the right direction but please do get in touch with your nearest Regional Representative or Committee Member who will be more than happy to help with specific advice.
Keeping Your Sheep In
Before embarking on your quest for some sheep you will need to assess your fencing. Shetlands are no different to most breeds of sheep and given an opportunity will wander off their own holding unless suitably fenced in. Shetlands are browsers as well as grazers and will eat their way through a hedge and will ‘bark’ trees, so hedges and trees will need good protection. The best form of permanent fencing is stock fencing topped with one or two strands of tightly strung plain wire. Electric fencing systems are available for sheep and can be extremely useful in managing a few acres of grassland, however mesh electric netting should not be used with horned sheep.
How Many Sheep
Shetlands thrive on most types of grazing, however stock density needs to reflect the quality of food available. Just as an indicator, about 4 to 5 sheep per acre is acceptable for pasture which is not heavily fertilised and in constant use. If possible rotate use of ground to rest the pasture and reduce disease burden such as worms. It will always be better to start off with fewer sheep which can be increased if needed. It is not so easy to decrease numbers.
Buying Your Sheep
Before buying your sheep talk to as many people as possible. A show with Shetland classes is a good place to begin, there will be plenty of sheep to look at and always someone willing to have a chat. Shows & Sales are also lively places, the Shetland breed stand is often present providing plenty more information. For details of dates see the Shows & Sales page.
You will need to decide what age of sheep to buy. A ewe of three or four years old has plenty of breeding left in her but is an experienced mother. Shearling ewes are usually available to purchase through the summer as they don’t have lambs at foot. They will be ready to go to the ram in the autumn but they will be lambing for the first time and therefore beginners at motherhood. Another possibility is to buy weaned ewe lambs in the autumn but not to mate them until the autumn of the following year. This will give you an opportunity to get to know the sheep and how to handle them.
Help & Advice
The Society is on hand to help new and established breeders in many ways: New members will receive a handbook containing practical advice; the information on this website should also help answer many questions and your area representative or nearest committee member should be able to help on more specific needs. In addition, many different breeders attend shows and are always willing to offer advice. Ram gatherings are also run on a regular basis, here ram inspections take place to obtain the qualification of an approved ram. It is a good opportunity to see a variety of rams of different ages.
The Society also runs open days. Apart from being social occasions a speaker is brought into talk/demonstrate a topic of interest.
It may also be worth enquiring at your local agricultural college as they often have smallholder courses or sometimes short weekend courses covering basic sheep essentials such as handling, foot trimming, worming and injecting. They often have special one day courses in shearing and lambing.