Why We Raise St. Croix Hair Sheep
…and not goats
We got our initial trio of sheep, Gwendolyn, Wendolyn and Shaun in the early 2000’s. Scott has always been a sheep fan. He started researching different breeds in his late teens/early 20’s and came into our relationship with a small library of shepherding books.
I thought sheep were boring, dumb and a maintenance nightmare (because of the shearing). I refused to become a shepherdess, I wanted to be a goat herder. I had visions of me sitting out in the field with goats quietly grazing all around me making sweet little sounds as they digested their meals. Instead, I got poison ivy on the back of my neck where they would try to climb on me, on my legs from where they would walk in front of me (tripping me over) and on my hands from trying to move them out from under me. It was like having 30 toddlers all wanting my attention at the same time. Plus, they were always one step away from certain death (usually due to an un-Darwinian lack of any sort of instinct towards self-preservation) but also due to the abundance of persistent parasites in our Piedmont soils.
Goats are meant to (evolved to/were bred to) live in arid regions where these parasites can't survive long term in the soil. Keeping them healthy around here means keeping them off forage (concrete or bare dirt doesn't work for the worm's life cycle) or regular chemical worming. Without one or the other you're faced with a built in (depressing) casualty rate. Neither works for us and the way we want to raise animals. That said some of the best looking milking goats I've ever seen in my life belonged to a guy who raised them on bare dirt in a big rambling barn. They were huge, healthy beautiful animals.
My old vet (you’ll probably remember him from earlier tales) told me once that goats have two directives when they are born…to live or to die, and ultimately you can’t do anything to change this. I think he may referred to it as an off/on switch......anyway a goat that was born to live will survive anything from getting its head stuck in the fence, violent diarrhea from eating something she shouldn’t have to a breech birth. A goat born to die will do just that the very first time something bad comes up. After raising goats, I would have to agree!
I’m pretty stubborn and it takes a lot for me to give up on a dream but after half a dozen tumultuous years as a goat herder I realized I am just not a goat person. I know there are a lot of you out there who love goats, but I am completely comfortable saying that I will NEVER have another goat on the property again, even for a visit! The only goat I ever liked was one of our Alpine originals, Catherine, who was more like a cow than a goat and I think that just about sums it up.
When I finally came to my senses Scott showed a lot of self-restraint by not saying “I told you so” but he did bring up the idea of replacing the goats with a few sheep…..I relented and I am so glad I did. I LOVE our sheep they are everything the goats weren’t (in a good way), they are just about the coolest animals on the farm.
I love the way they act as a group seeming to read each other’s minds, the sweet way they come up for scratches and how easily they can be herded. They are a blast!
If you’re thinking about a small ruminant for your homestead or farm and would like to minimize the drama and maximize the joy in your life you should seriously think about hair sheep over goats. You’ll thank me later.