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One of the most basic decisions involved in sheep farming is choosing what purpose will be served by tending the sheep. Many farmers raise sheep to slaughter for their meat or shear for their wool, while others breed or raise sheep to sell them. Another form of sheep farming involves raising dairy sheep for milking. Caring for show sheep and breeding purebreds also are common practices. Additionally, some enthusiasts raise pet sheep as a hobby.
There are many sheep breeds, and identifying which types of sheep to buy is an important part of sheep farming. Certain types of sheep are suitable for meat production, whereas others are prized more for the quality of their wool. Other varieties of sheep, such as certain classes of purebred, are appropriate choices for breeding. Geographical location may play a role in determining what kind of sheep to select, because some breeds are more common in particular parts of the world.
Proper nourishment and a fresh water supply are fundamental concerns in any type of animal farming. Sheep graze naturally and are commonly given access to a portion of grassy land, often referred to as a pasture. The amount of land needed to adequately support nutritional requirements depends on the number of sheep, because a large herd requires more pasture land than a small flock. Commercial sheep farming typically involves the use of an abundant tract of land for the sheep to roam and graze. Small-scale sheep farms utilize a more modest area of land, sometimes used in conjunction with grain or hay for supplemental feeding.
Shelter is another basic consideration for those who raise domestic animals. If sheep farming takes place in a cold climate, the animals may require a structure to protect them, whereas shelter may not be a necessity in areas where the temperature is moderate all year. Sheep may need shelter from the environment before shearing to ensure its wool is dry for the process and after shearing to protect it from the elements.
For any type of sheep farming, maintaining a healthy flock is of the utmost importance. Sheep of any age and breed are susceptible to a wide range of illnesses and health problems. Farmers or veterinarians often give sheep vaccinations when they are young to help stave off diseases. When compared to mature sheep, lambs are more prone to certain illnesses and often require special attention to maintain their health. Consultation with a veterinarian can help sheep farmers prevent and cure sheep diseases.
Sheep farming also involves flock safety, because both mature sheep and young lambs are at risk from predators. Utilizing a guard dog or human overseer, also called a shepherd, may protect sheep from natural dangers and maintain safety. Farmers may also choose to use a shelter to protect the sheep from predators during the night.