Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep, 5th Edition

Breeding, Care, Facilities


By Paula Simmons

By Carol Ekarius

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Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep is the best-selling, most trusted reference for farmers and backyard homesteaders with any size flock. The fifth edition is now updated with full-color illustrations and photographs throughout, including a gallery of the best breed choices for both meat and fiber. With their small size and gentle dispositions, sheep are one of the easier livestock species to raise and offer varied marketing opportunities, including meat, wool, and milk. Detailed instructions and graphics lead readers through every essential procedure, including shearing, building a lambing shed, breeding and lambing, butchering, and marketing.


The following poem was prepared by Paula's good friend Dr. Darrell Salsbury for an earlier edition, but its wisdom hasn't changed at all.

The Shepherd's Lament

Now I lay me down to sleep

Exhausted by those doggone sheep;

My only wish is that I might

Cause them not to lamb at night.

I wouldn't mind the occasional ewe,

But lately it's more than just a few:

Back into bed, then up again,

At two o'clock and four a.m.…

They grunt and groan with noses high,

And in between a mournful sigh,

We stand there watching nature work,

Hoping there won't be a quirk:

A leg turned back, or even worse,

A lamb that's coming in reverse.

But once they've lambed we're glad to see

That their efforts didn't end in tragedy.

There's no emotion so sublime

As a ewe and lamb that's doing fine.

I'm often asked why I raise sheep,

With all the work and loss of sleep;

The gratification gained at three a.m.,

From the birth of another baby lamb —

How can you explain, or even show?

'Cause only a shepherd will ever know!

D. L. Salsbury, DVM



1. Starting with Sheep

Some Background on Sheep

Sheep Farming Today



Buying Sheep

Home at Last

2. Breeding and Breeds

Breeding and Genetics

Genetic Diversity and Sheep Breeds

Individual Breeds

3. Pasture, Fences, and Facilities




4. Herding Dogs

Traits of Herding Dogs


Selecting a Dog


Dog Trials

5. Protecting Against Predators

Managing for Predators

Guardian Animals

6. Feeds and Feeding



Feeding Practices

Types of Feed

7. General Health Considerations

Healthy Strategies

Recognizing Sick Sheep

Alternative Health Practices

Natural Defenses

Causes of Illness in Sheep


Other Disorders of Sheep

Drugs for Sheep

8. Problems of Rams, Ewes, and Lambs

Problems with Rams

Disorders in Ewes

Lamb Problems

9. Flock Management

Successful Breeding

The Ram


10. Lambing

Preparation for Lambing

The Lambing Process

After Lambing

Problems with Newborn Lambs

Orphan Lambs

Care of Baby Lambs

11. Products and Marketing

Merchandising to Reach Your Market


Meat and Milk


The Live-­Animal Business

Odds and Ends


Smoked Leg of Mutton "Ham"

Breakfast Sausage

Hasty Hash

Vi's Tamale Pie

Garden Meat Loaf Squares

Sloppy Joes

Anna's Casserole

Oregon Lamb or Mutton

12. Showing Sheep

Kinds of Shows

Show Classes

Training Sheep


Show Ring Strategies

13. Records and Animal Identification

National Sheep Improvement Program

Computer Software and Spreadsheets

Sample Record Charts


Lambing Calendar

Feed Requirements

Composition of Common Feedstuffs



Interior Photography Credits

Metric Conversion Chart

List of Tables


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To the 2019 Edition

Eight years have passed since I last worked on an update of Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep. I'm so excited that with this edition, the Guide is going full color. I hope you enjoy this improvement as much as I do.

Agriculture continues to contract with fewer-but-larger producers growing our food, yet the North American sheep industry seems to be bucking the trend, with a greater number of smaller shepherds keeping sheep. In addition, there is a wildly increasing interest in fiber arts. According to the Craft Yarn Council, more than 38 million people are actively engaged in knitting and crocheting.

One important change took place over the last decade that has affected all levels of society: the Internet has gone from a limited resource to which few individuals had ready access to a household fixture with a wealth of information. It has helped revolutionize marketing options for producers. In the Resources section, you will see lists of organizations and websites where you can learn more about specific issues and can network with other shepherds.

As ever, I owe thanks to dozens of people but especially to Paula Simmons. Her vision and knowledge provided the foundation that has made this the finest sheep book on the market for more than four decades! I am proud of the opportunity to continue in her footsteps. Thanks to all the other folks who have participated in the process over all these years!

— Carol Ekarius

To the 2001 Edition

Raising Sheep the Modern Way has been used by more than 100,000 sheep lovers since its original publication in 1976, but times have changed, laws have changed, technology has advanced, and the resources (which change so rapidly) all required updating.

Carol Ekarius, author of Small-Scale Livestock Farming (also published by Storey Publishing), undertook the update for this new edition, Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep. She is particularly knowledgeable about genetics, sheep dogs, guardian dogs, sheep showing, and ecological concerns, and she has addressed these subjects to a greater degree than they were discussed in my original book. Much appreciation to Carol for her good work in updating and adding to a book that has been relied upon by so many sheep owners, to the benefit of their animals.

A book is never the work of just one or two people. From the outset, many have contributed to my initially meager knowledge. The Lunds, original publishers of The Shepherd magazine, were most helpful. And sheep! magazine has been a constant source of useful articles and veterinary columns; in my opinion, this magazine is a "must have" in any shepherd's household, for success with sheep is more certain with a regular supply of current information. And the more you know, the more you will enjoy your sheep.

— Paula Simmons

1Starting with Sheep

Sheep are wonderful grazers and can be fattened on good pasture.

Sheep are the dumbest animals on God's green earth," our neighbor avowed, with a vigorous shake of his head when he saw the newest additions to our farmstead. His belief is not uncommon. In fact, sheep are love-­hate animals — people either really love them or really hate them. And the people who really hate them love nothing more than to malign them.

But sheep don't deserve the bad rap they've received. They fill a niche that needs filling: They provide economically efficient food and fiber, they eat many kinds of weeds that other livestock species won't touch, they're relatively inexpensive to begin raising, and they reproduce quickly so that a minimal capital outlay can yield a respectable flock in short order.

On top of all that, sheep are simply nice, gentle animals. Watching a group of young lambs charging wildly around the pasture or playing king of the hill on any mound of dirt, downed tree, or other object that happens to occupy space in their world has to be one of life's greatest joys.

Admittedly, there are some difficulties to raising sheep: they think fences are puzzles that you've placed there for them to figure a way out of. Their flocking nature can sometimes make handling a challenge. Although they're less susceptible to many diseases than other critters, they're more troubled by parasites. They're also vulnerable to predators. But with the help of this book, even a novice can learn to manage the negative aspects of raising sheep while enjoying the benefits.

Some Background on Sheep

Scientists consider sheep to be members of the family Bovidae, which includes mammals that have hollow horns and four stomachs (ruminants). All sheep are in the genus Ovis, and domestic sheep are classified as Ovis aries.

The human need for animals isn't new: the search for food, fiber, traction (the ability to do work, such as pulling, pushing, and carrying), and companionship led humans to domesticate animals more than 15,000 years ago. Dogs were the first animals to be domesticated, but humans bonded with sheep and goats early on as they settled into agriculturally based communities. Both sheep and goats were domesticated about 10,000 years ago, according to the latest theories.

Biologists believe that modern sheep are primarily descended from the wild Mouflon sheep of western Asia, although other wild sheep (for instance, the Urial of central Asia) have been mixed in since domestication took place. Some breeds, such as the Soay of Europe, still retain many of the characteristics of their wild ancestors, but most modern breeds have changed substantially. Traits of wild sheep include naturally short, fat tails; coarse, hairy outer coats; short, woolly undercoats; and great curling horns on the rams. Wild sheep are endangered or threatened throughout the world.

Anatomy of a sheep

Best of the Web

The Internet has so many sites (many are mentioned throughout the text and also included in the appendix for easy finding at a later date), but the absolute must-visit site for sheepish information is a labor of love from Susan Schoenian, the Extension specialist for sheep and goats at the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service and University of Maryland. Susan has done more to help small shepherds and to keep the small-scale sheep industry functioning in the United States than any other person in the academic and Cooperative Extension universes, and she deserves recognition from all of us who care about sheep and shepherds. In her spare time, Susan raises a flock of mainly Katahdin sheep on her own farm in western Maryland.

At the top of the main page of her website, you will also find links to other pages she has created, including her Shepherd's Notebook blog, educational pages, and a dedicated marketing site. She also has a link to her collection of marvelous photos of sheep and goats, shepherds, and other interwoven subjects from around the globe at a Flickr site.

Sheep Farming Today

The last several decades have not been especially kind to the North American sheep industry. The total number of sheep has continued to fall: in 1995, there were more than 10 million head; as I write this in 2018, the number is slightly more than 5 million. Considering that around the middle of the twentieth century there were more than 50 million head in the United States, this decline seems especially disheartening. The numbers of U.S. farms that report having sheep hit bottom in 2004; since then, there has been a slight increase in farm numbers. The growth largely reflects more smaller-­­scale producers who keep 25 or fewer breeding ewes, while the number of commodity-­scale producers (large-­scale sheep operators who keep hundreds or even thousands of breeding ewes) continues to fall.

In spite of the increase in smaller flocks, however, most sheep still come from the largest operators, primarily in the western states and in the provinces of Canada. According to the "Sheep Industry Economic Impact Analysis," a report prepared for the American Sheep Industry Association by Dr. Julie Stepank Shiflett in 2008, "About 2 percent of sheep operations account for one-­half of sheep and lamb production in the United States." Yet small flocks and shepherds will be better able to respond to changes in the marketplace in coming years.

Globalization obviously has a lot to do with the seemingly endless downward spiral of our sheep industry: Most lamb in the grocery store and offered on the menu at restaurants comes from foreign sources (New Zealand and Australia are the top two exporters of lamb to the United States). But I'm ever the optimist, and there are some factors that seem to suggest better times ahead for shepherds.

Historically, wool was a major, driving force in the sheep industry, but as synthetic fibers replaced wool in most of its traditional uses, and warehouses around the world became clogged with surpluses, domestic producers began focusing more on lamb and mutton production for the meat market. Interestingly, there seems to be a comeback in wool as a fiber of choice, and new processing (such as a new partnership between the American Sheep Industry Association and the Department of Defense in developing uniforms of a wool/Kevlar blend) is showing promise for more uses of commodity wools.

Those who are able to direct-­market their lamb are seeing fairly high returns for their efforts. A growing number of producers are also pursuing sheep for truly alternative markets — raising dairy ewes for the production of sheep's-­milk cheeses, using sheep in land management for their excellent weed-­ and brush-­control abilities, or raising and marketing pet sheep. And a small yet dedicated number of producers focus on direct marketing of high-­quality fiber for the handspinning and specialty-­wool markets, which are actually seeing a renaissance as unprecedented numbers of women and men are committed to taking up the time-­honored skills of knitting, spinning, and weaving.

One particularly bright spot, in my opinion, is the increased awareness of consumers who ask, How was this animal raised, how was it handled and processed, where is it from, or was child or slave labor used? These educated consumers still want to eat lamb (or wear wool), but they also want to be assured that their purchasing choices reflect their personal values. They care about the state of the environment and the humane treatment of animals; they support family farmers as integral members of our society who help maintain our countryside with the "rural character" most of us recognize as important. They care about the aesthetic qualities of farmland viewscapes and the wildlife, water quality, air quality, and other keystones of sustainability that a vibrant and healthy rural place embodies. In fact, consumers have shown time and again that they are willing to put their money where their mouths are. The Slow Food movement, the locavore movement, the grassfed movement (see here for website addresses), and the exponential growth of the organic marketplace in recent years all demonstrate the heightened awareness among consumers of the social and ecological issues that surround the food we eat.

"Country of Origin Labeling," or COOL, is another exciting development for U.S. shepherds: Included in the 2002 and 2008 farm bills, COOL became mandatory on September 30, 2008. Although a change to the regulation in 2016 took COOL away from beef and pork, lamb is still being labeled as to the country of origin and the labeling does seem to be boosting domestic sales of American-­raised lamb.

Like consumers, restaurateurs and chefs, through organizations such as The Chef's Collaborative, are using their voices to advocate for family-­farm producers of sustainably and humanely raised meats, and they are showing increased interest in lamb. A recent study by the American Lamb Board indicates that increasing numbers of chain restaurants are offering lamb and that almost three-­quarters of the high-­profile, white-­tablecloth restaurants regularly offer lamb on their menus.

Global-­energy economics are changing rapidly, and as the cost of shipping products from foreign ports to North America increases, the economic situation for producers here will most certainly improve. This change will particularly benefit the commodity producers, who have challenges direct-­marketing their lamb to consumers or chefs. And as the green building movement continues to expand, environmentally friendly uses of wool, such as for use in insulation or bedding, will also help provide more markets for wool.

Vertical Integration

Vertical integration occurs when large multinational companies begin controlling all facets of production and marketing, though some small-­scale producers successfully use the concept of vertical integration in their own operations, producing not just lamb or wool but also consumer-­ready products, such as specialty processed meats and sweaters.

Typically, when a market segment becomes vertically integrated, it's very hard for small producers to exist in that segment. The poultry and pork industries are good examples. The sheep industry, on the other hand, hasn't been taken over by corporate giants, so small producers who can produce by using low-­cost methods can still remain in the black. In fact, if you're willing to market your own product, you can do quite well.

Homestead Flocks

Sheep are especially good animals for small-­property owners who don't have the space to raise cattle but want some kind of livestock. Five to seven ewes and their offspring can typically be run on the same amount of land as only one cow and a calf. Sheep can graze lawns, ditches, woodlots, and orchards (with full-­size trees only — the sheep will eat dwarf trees if you plant them).

Starting small gives you the opportunity to gain low-­cost experience. If you start with fewer sheep than your land will support (see chapter 3), you will be able to keep your best ewe lamb each year, for a few years at least. After a while, as your purchased ewes become unproductive, they can be replaced with some of your best lambs.

Although a homesteader may occasionally sell a few lambs or fleece, normally the flock is raised primarily for personal use. Providing your own meat, some fleece for handspinning, or a 4-­H project for the kids are all reasons homesteaders choose to keep a few sheep. Typically, these flocks are small, usually no more than a dozen ewes and a ram.

A small flock of ewes can produce abundant food and fiber for homestead operators, and they can be grown to a commercial flock over time, as the shepherd's expertise increases.

Commercial Flocks

Commercial flocks vary in size from fairly small flocks of 20 to 50 ewes to vast flocks that number in the thousands. Today, more than 80 percent of the sheep raised in the United States are raised in large "range bands" in the western half of the country. These bands typically have 1,000 to 1,500 ewes and are tended by one or two full-­time shepherds and their dogs.

The main factor to consider is that for commercial flocks — even relatively small ones — marketing must be vigorous. This can be direct ­marketing to consumers, or marketing through the conventional commodity system of sale barns and middlemen, but to do it profitably, it's going to take time, energy, and thought (see chapter 11).

More than one commercial flock has grown out of a homestead flock. Suddenly, a flock that began with 1 or 2 ewes grows to 20 or 30, and the homesteader is looking for a larger piece of land or some additional places to graze the sheep on other people's land.


  • "Through the years, Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep has been our ‘bible’ at Wing A Prayer Farm. We’ve kept it on hand — dog-eared, margin-noted pages and all — in the barn, in the house, and on our list of recommended reading for beginner shepherds. We encourage sheep raisers, from first-time hobby farmers to seasoned, wizened flock-keepers, to keep their own copy for reference on their tending journey." — Tamara White, Wing A Prayer Farm

On Sale
Jun 25, 2019
Page Count
368 pages

Paula Simmons

Paula Simmons

About the Author

A respected authority on sheep raising for over three decades, author Paula Simmons has written many books and magazines articles on spinning wool, and is the coauthor of Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep. Simmons lecturers and conducts workshops in the United States and Canada on the subject of raising sheep and spinning wool for a living. Together with her husband, she has been raising and sheering sheep, and spinning and weaving wool for over 20 years on their farm in Washington.

Carol Ekarius is the coauthor of The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook, The Field Guide to Fleece, and Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep, and the author of several books including Small-Scale Livestock Farming, Storey’s Illustrated Guide to Poultry Breeds, and Storey’s Illustrated Breed Guide to Sheep, Goats, Cattle, and Pigs. She lives in the mountains of Colorado.

Learn more about this author

Carol Ekarius

Carol Ekarius

About the Author

Carol Ekarius is the coauthor of The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook, The Field Guide to Fleece, and Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep, and the author of several books including Small-Scale Livestock Farming, Storey’s Illustrated Guide to Poultry Breeds, and Storey’s Illustrated Breed Guide to Sheep, Goats, Cattle, and Pigs. She lives in the mountains of Colorado.

Learn more about this author