There are four general styles of sheep husbandry to serve the varied aspects of the sheep industry and the needs of a particular shepherd. Commercial sheep operations supplying meat and wool are usually either “range band flocks” or “farm flocks”. Range band flocks are those with large numbers of sheep (often 1,000 to 1,500 ewes) cared for by a few full-time shepherds. The pasture-which must be of large acreage to accommodate the greater number of sheep-can either be fenced or open. Range flocks sometimes requires the shepherds to live with the sheep as they move throughout the pasture, as well as the use of sheepdogs and means of transport such as horses or motor vehicles. As range band flocks move within a large area in which it would be difficult to supply a steady source of grain, almost all subsist on pasture alone. This style of sheep raising accounts for most of the sheep operations in the U.S., South America, and Australia.
Farm flocks are usually smaller than range bands, and are kept on a more confined, fenced pasture land. Farm flocks may also be a secondary priority on a larger farm, such as by farmers who raise a surplus of crops to finish market lambs on, or those with untillable land they wish to exploit. However, farm flocks account for many farms focused on sheep as primary income in the U.K. and New Zealand (due to the more limited land available in comparison to other sheep-producing nations).
An important form of farm flock management are specialized flocks raising purebred sheep. Many commercial flocks, especially those producing sheep meat, utilize cross-bred animals. Breeders raising purebred flocks provide stud stock to these operations, and often simultaneously work to improve the breed and participate in showing. In the United States, lambs are often sold to 4-H groups.
The last type of sheep keeping is that of the hobbyist. This type of flock is usually very small compared to commercial operations and may even be considered pets. Those hobby flocks which are raised with production in mind may be for subsistence purposes or to provide a very specialized product, such as wool for handspinners. Quite a few people, especially those who emigrated to rural areas from urban or suburban enclaves, begin with hobby flocks or a 4-H lamb before eventually expanding to farm or range flocks.
Sheep breeders look for such traits in their flocks as high wool quality, consistent muscle development, quick conception rate (for females), multiple births and quick physical development.
Another concern of a sheep farmer is protecting the sheep from their many natural enemies, such as coyotes (North America), foxes (Europe), dingoes (Australia), and dogs. Newborn lambs in pasture are particularly vulnerable, also falling prey to crows, eagles and ravens.
Flock of sheep moving through a city early on a holiday morning.
Marking of sheep for identification purposes is often done by means of ear tags. In some areas sheep are still identified through the use of notches cut in the ear known as ear marking, using either specially designed tools (ear marking pliers) or other cutting implements.