management practices that contribute to superb sheep
nutrition is the cornerstone of any successful sheep
health program. My philosophy on this has always been
simple: It's wiser (and kinder and cheaper and easier) to
feed your animals well every day and avoid illness in the
first place than it is to try and save money upfront and
deal with sick animals later. I've also found that
well-fed sheep live longer and more productive lives, and
have very few problems with birthing and raising their
Here's the feeding program that works for the
SkyLines flock . . .
SkyLines sheep rotationally graze our own rich, green
pastures for six to seven months out of each year.
During the winter months the sheep eat nutritious
mixed-grass hay and leafy green high protein alfalfa hay,
both locally grown.
During the last six weeks of gestation and early
lactation period (until the pastures are ready to graze)
the ewes also enjoy a daily serving of grains. This helps
them grow georgeous, long, lustrous handspinning fleeces
while also meeting the added nutritional demands of
pregnancy and nursing. The grain mixture is a pure,
simple blend of locally-grown whole barley, oats, and
peas and never includes any sort of antibiotic or other
drug (nor is it "fortified" with any animal by-products,
Note on animal by-products: Animal by-products are
now prohibited from use in animal feed, but fish meal is
still allowed. In this area it can be found as one
ingredient in a feed supplement called a "protein block."
I realize that fish meal can be a relatively inexpensive
protein source, but sheep are herbivores just like
cattle, and are designed to eat grass and grains. I have
no evidence of any negative effect from fish meal, but
just makes sense to me that fish shouldn't be on a
Mineral & Salt Supplements
Since many soils in this country have been found to be
deficient in minerals, and I'm convinced that minerals
are key to optimal health, all of the SkyLines animals
have free access to certified organic kelp meal (a source
of up to 65 trace minerals) and also trace mineral salt
with selenium. Additionally, as part of my organic
internal parasite control program I add Diatomaceous
Earth to the salt mixture (see Management
Practices - Parasite Control page for more
rotation of summer pastures and winter lounging yards
is important, so the sheep are not standing or lying in
deep mud or manure, both of which can harbor disease.
SkyLines barns are all located on high ground, so water
drains away from the yards very quickly and doesn't pool.
Thankfully, "mud season," though it does occur, is
relatively short on this farm. See the Pasture
Management pages for more details on rotational
grazing of the summer pastures.
airy barns allow in plenty of sunshine and air
circulation all year round. Some people believe that a
good barn is one that keeps the animals inside totally
protected from the elements, much the same way our houses
keep us protected. I have come to believe that a tight
barn is actually an unhealthy barn for animals.
I've visited farms where conscientious shepherds had
designed very nice, tight, house-like barns. These barns
had very poor air circulation and provided no opportunity
for wind and sunshine to get in and cleanse the walls and
floors. These shepherds often locked their sheep inside
the barn at night for security also (in lieu of keeping
guard dogs to protect the sheep while they're out in the
fresh air). Often, the sheep that lived on these farms
were weak and quite frequently sick.
All three of the SkyLines sheep barns are metal-sided
pole barns that provide excellent air circulation.
They're basically just large sheds that the sheep can
enter or leave at will and that only offer protection
from the fiercest of the winter winds, rain, and
of exercise. For about 10 months out of the year, the
SkyLines sheep live entirely out on the farm's pastures.
They spend the summer grazing season moving through a
series of subdivided paddocks that cover much of
SkyLines' 63 acres. Each paddock opens onto a long
central runway that the sheep use to access their water
In the winter months they live in one of the heavily
wooded pastures, where the dense evergreen trees offer
protection from the weather, and I deliver hay to them.
As in the summer, every day they make the trek down the
runway to access water and minerals.
In early March the sheep come into the barnyard for
shearing, and they remain there through lambing season
and until the grass is ready to graze again.
This nearly-year-round daily exercise regimen not only
helps keep the entire flock extremely healthy, but it has
made a dramatic difference in the number of ewes who need
assistance at lambing time. In my early years, when the
sheep spent their entire winters lolling about the
barnyard, lambing season was intense and exhausting - as
it still is for many shepherds. Lambing at SkyLines Farm
is now a much more natural affair, and a lot easier for
both the ewes and the shepherdess (though I of course am
still "on duty" during the entire period).
a nearly closed flock. SkyLines sheep do not leave
the farm to attend sheep shows or fairs, or anywhere
else, where they could be exposed to diseases and
parasites carried by other sheep. Nor do I purchase new
ewes from other breeders. I've bred all of my own ewes
The only new animals that are brought to the farm are new
Romney rams every few years, in order to continually
improve the genetic stock. The new rams come from highly
respected, award-winning Romney breeders, but they are
always quarantined for a minimum of one month, preferably
two or three months, just to be safe.
Since sheep are flock animals and a sheep by itself is a
miserable creature, I always choose a lamb to live with
the new ram and keep him company during his quarantine
period. No new ram or his buddy lamb has ever turned up
sick, but I prefer to err on the side of caution and
maintain this strict quarantine policy.
to maintain bio-security on the farm. Throughout the
year, but particularly during the spring and summer
months, I often give farm tours so folks can meet the
SkyLines animals in person. I'm always happy to have
visitors (as long as they call first please!), but I do
have one very strict requirement. I insist that all
visitors wear clean clothes and boots that have not been
worn around livestock or on another farm, particularly
another sheep farm. Mud and manure on boots can easily
carry disease from one farm to another, and I firmly
believe that vigilance pays off in this case. I even keep
extra pairs of boots on hand for visitors who come
Farm 4551 Highway 6 Harvard, ID 83834
Purebred Romney & Romney-Cross