Big Barn, Small Sheep

By the time we discovered Soay sheep, we already lived on a farm with a huge old dairy barn.  At first, it seemed a waste to raise animals too small to take full advantage of our cavernous barn.  But we soon realized that little sheep can co-exist quite nicely with a very tall, very wide structure.


We should all look so good well past our hundredth birthdays.  There is quite a story to the restoration of this handsome structure, but that’s for another day.  Back to the utility of a big barn for raising Soay sheep.

As our flock grew and grew and grew, we were glad we had ready-made storage for the many tons of hay it takes to feed all those hungry mouths in winter.


I’m sorry I do not have a camera with a lens sufficient to capture the haystack top to bottom, but at least you can see how to make use of the tall center section of an old dairy barn.

If you have a barn, it will come in handy for both housing and working your Soay sheep.  Although legendary for their hardiness, if the truth be known our sheep like getting out of the heavy rain and occasional snow here in Southern Oregon.  In our climate, sheep also need protection from the sun during the hot, dry summer months.  Barns also can function as predator control.  Sheep trained to follow you into a barn each night are safe from coyotes, cougars, and whatever other animals lurk about hoping for rack of Soay on their menu. 

When it comes time for annual tetanus vaccinations, hoof trims, or periodic worming, having a barn will give you both an enclosed small space (for example, the old milking stalls) to actually work the animals, plus a secure place to store your supplies:  a camp stool for you, a sheep chair for particularly large rams, extra “hog” panels for nudging your flock into the work area, and almost any old discarded cabinet-like affair for storing the little stuff.

What if you do not have a barn?  Pretend.  Treat a small shelter as a barn.  A square roofed shelter with even two enclosed sides (made of old plywood, for example) can double as your working and sun protection area.  Here’s an example.  Even though the sheep (and baby llama Hank) are grazing a section of pasture some distance from the shelter, Steve has left a path for the animals to reach the shelter, where they can get out from under the sun, have access to their mineral feeder, and find water (the tank is barely visible in front of the shelter, left side).


If you give the shelter four high sides and just one door and your flock is small, the shelter can serve as night protection as well.  Voilá!  You’ve got yourself a reasonable facsimile of a barn.   True, the shelter will not give you the same warm, fuzzy feeling as a barn redolent of new-mown hay, but then again, the shelter will cost a whole lot less and will not take up as much valuable pasture space, either.

Author’s note:  This post began life as a 10-minute exercise in “just getting started” at a recent farm writers’ workshop sponsored by Oregon State University.  You never know where you are going to find blog material.
For now …