Are you ready? We live in a challenging time. Many people feel uneasy. Many realize we are one Chinese hack away from an electrical grid shut-down or a stock market melt-down. Some are preparing. Putting away food, seeds, etc. But if you have to provide your own food for a prolonged period, veggies get old and remember vitamins may not be available to supplement an all vegetarian diet. You need a self replicating meat production unit. What is that? It is more commonly known as a sheep, but that is the short answer. Please read on to gain an important understanding of why I am telling you about this at all.
If you live in a city none of this applies to you. If you have been able to get a bit of land, even as little as two acres, you might be able to use this information. I have kept sheep for many years, but not just any sheep. My wife and I have raised Gulf Coast Native sheep for the last twelve years. It is because of my experience with this breed that I believe we have something to offer anyone thinking of preparing for difficult times. Let me explain first about why sheep fit the bill for potential survival scenarios and then why Gulf Coast may be your best option if you decide to get some sheep.
The most important item to consider to start with is this: what will my animals eat? Many people like pork, but pigs eat grain. Grain may not be easily obtained, might be expensive if available and might be better used for feeding people directly. If you have lots of oak trees available, then pigs will grow well on acorns, but we don’t all have the trees. Most people with some land will have grass and/or brush. Here is where ruminants come into their own. With their four stomachs they are quite capable of turning that roughage into meat, milk and/or fiber.
You might be thinking “Well, a cow is a ruminant, I can get one of those.” Yes, that is possible, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Cows are big! If you have a good amount of land, sturdy equipment to handle them and a bit of experience then they can be a good choice. I also have cattle. When you slaughter an animal that size, it can have a serious impact. You will have to kill it, hang it, skin it, gut it and cut it into parts. Then you will have entrails to dispose of, a hide to tan, and a carcass weighing 500-700 pounds. If you have a lot of friends you can have a great party. If it is only for your family, you will have to freeze, salt, dry, and/or can the meat to preserve it for future use. That sounds like quite a bit of work doesn’t it? Now think about doing the above with an animal only 10% that size. I think you would agree that that sounds much more manageable. Throughout the world small ruminants predominate for this very reason. Without the industrial infrastructure to support large scale cattle production and processing most people gravitate to the more practical sheep and goats.
Another consideration is that a piece of land that can support one cow might support ten sheep or goats. What happens if your one cow dies prematurely from disease or accident? You see where I am coming from don’t you? In survival situations you don’t want all your eggs in one basket.
Now that you see that sheep can be a very good choice especially for the small acreage and/or less experienced individuals, I would like to sing the praises of the Gulf Coast Native sheep and why they are the best choice for tough times. First a little history.
The Gulf Coast breed, along with the Navajo Churro, are descended from sheep brought to the new world by the Spanish. They are the oldest breeds of sheep in the US. The Churro is adapted to the Southwest, while the Gulf Coast is adapted to the Southeast. Many centuries of benign neglect (natural selection) produced an animal that is tough, heat tolerant, a good browser, resistant to foot rot and most importantly parasite resistant. The Gulf Coast is a small breed, but that is a positive for heat adaptation. They will produce excellent meat, wool and milk. Unlike many breeds of sheep, they will produce and survive in tough conditions when grain is not available and chemical wormers are not to be found. Prior to the advent of chemical wormers massive flocks of Gulf Coast could be found in the South. Once these wormers became available, larger more modern breeds took their place. They are now an endangered breed. Of course, if you don’t live in the south east, you can still benefit from keeping this breed. There are Gulf Coast Sheep in many parts of the country and they thrive in these ‘easier’ climates as well.
On our farm, we have worked to increase the body size and improve the wool quality and temperament of our animals. We have also worked to maintain the traits that have made this a breed of survivors. We do not routinely worm adult sheep; however, if an animal has another problem, we may worm because of accompanying immuno-suppression. Since we utilize management intensive grazing, we actually increase exposure of our sheep to parasites compared to the conditions that prevailed when they were extensively grazed in the piney woods. We have also had success upgrading the hardiness and parasite resistance of other sheep breeds through cross breeding.
The meat quality of our animals is exceptional. When Americans tell me that ours is the best lamb they have ever had, I thank them, but it doesn’t mean much since most Americans only eat lamb occasionally. When our European and Middle-eastern clients tell me the same thing I know that our lamb is something special.
Our wool has improved in quantity and quality each year until we are now consistently producing a very fine fleece with good staple length. This is a very nice hand spinning wool that could be useful if you are forced to make your own clothing.
We do not milk our sheep, but the breed is being used for that purpose by others. Gulf Coast do milk longer than most non-dairy breeds but the greatest drawback is that they have a more flighty temperament. Through selection over the years, our animals have calmed considerably and I believe could be used for milk production if one wanted to pursue that use.
When times are tough only the tough survive. These sheep are tough and they will survive. If you see livestock as part of your survival plan they may be just what you need. But act soon as the time may be short to make arrangements for you and your family.
If you have questions or are interested in purchasing sheep, my wife Dr. Jan Southers or I will be happy to help. We are:
Hope Springs Farm, Colbert, GA 30628 phone: 706-788-2071 cell: 706-248-1740
There is also the Gulf Coast Breeders Association, 947 County Road 302, Sandia, TX 78383
By C.L. Kitttell, DVM
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