Raising Sheep: Information About The 4-H Sheep Project
Deciding to do a sheep project in 4-H is a big decision. Sheep, as well as other types of livestock, are a big responsibility. But with that responsibility often comes the satisfaction of knowing you have worked hard to be a successful young farmer. That's one of the many reasons to commit to a 4-H sheep project.
Once you have enrolled in the project, you need to begin your record keeping. Some project leaders will provide you with a formal record keeping book for your project. Others will require you to put together a notebook for this purpose. Either way, your project record keeping notebook is not only valuable to you as a producer, it can also be used to earn recognition at your county Achievement Day and in county and state level competitions.
For the sake of this article we will assume you are properly prepared to raise your animals by having adequate fencing, water and shelter resources and equipment. We will also assume you have researched sheep breeds and that you've selected sheep suitable for your project (market lambs, breeding stock or yarn production). From here, let’s talk about how to successfully participate and complete your project.
1. Be the producer. Do not expect to take on this project in name only; expecting your parents to do the work for you. Raising sheep is a year-round responsibility ... it's much more than simply showing up at the fair and leading your sheep into the show ring. Approaching your 4-H sheep project with anything less than a 100% commitment isn't fair to either you or your parents. It is not fair to your parents because they did not sign on for the work. It is not fair to you because you are losing out on learning responsibility, the pride that comes from working hard and developing a strong work ethic, on learning about farming and livestock health and production and on the maturity that comes with seeing something through to the end. Leading your lamb into the show ring will mean a lot more if you've worked with your lamb every day since it was born.
2. Participate. Attend all or nearly all of your project meetings. Your project leader is volunteering his/her time to help you. Be respectful and appreciative of their efforts.
3. Keep records. We’ve talked about this already, but keeping records (especially financial and breeding records) is excellent practice for any future job and will be the proof of how well you did or did not do.
4. Take initiative. Don’t just stop with project meetings and club meetings. Attend local and regional farm shows and other fairs to see what your peers are doing with their sheep. Visit sheep farms in your area and learn from those who have been through the challenges you're facing.
5. Consider this your job. It is always obvious which young people have spent time feeding, caring for and working with their sheep (or other animals) prior to entering the show ring at the fair. If you are not willing to work with you animals enough to gain their trust, you do not need to be there. Sheep are very much creatures of habit. They only trust what is familiar to them. So if you want them to trust you enough to lead them around the show ring, to the sale or even at home on the farm, they need to be familiar with who you are. Take pride in your work each day and the fair will be a fun experience for you and for your lamb.
Choosing sheep for your 4-H project is an excellent decision. And I’m not just saying that because I spent decades as a sheep producer and over 15 years as a 4-H leader and sheep project leader. I’m saying that because sheep are easier for young people to handle than larger livestock species. They are cost-effective, can be raised on a small scale profitably and do not require vast amounts of land. Sheep are the choice of smart 4-H’ers everywhere and I wish you the best of luck with your 4-H sheep project!
Back to Getting Started
About the Writer:
Darla Noble lives in Southwest Missouri where she works as a writer and consultant for those in the business of raising sheep. A 5th generation farmer, Darla and her family owned/operated one of the regions largest Katahdin breeding flocks and market lamb production flocks for many years before retiring in 2012. Darla also spent over 15 years as a 4-H club and sheep project leader. Retirement does not mean Darla has turned her back on agriculture, though. She continues to share her knowledge and experience through her writing for various agricultural publications.