To sheep or not to sheep, that is the question . . .

And it's a question that you'll be faced with sooner or later if you stick it out in sheepdog trials. Many of us begin by taking lessons, renting practice slots, and bumming invitations off of our sheep-owning friends, but eventually the time will come when you long to dash up to your very own field for impromptu practice sessions. Consider the following questions as you ponder this sea change:

  • Do you have the time to care for sheep? Sheep don't require as much care as many animals, but you'll need to feed them every day during the winter when they can't graze. You'll also need to check their water daily. If you have a dawn-to-dark work schedule, or if you travel often, you'll need to consider whether you can truly handle having sheep on your own.
  • Do you have enough money to support a flock? If you've been paying for regular lessons, chances are you'll be saving money by investing in your own flock in the long run. However, startup costs can mount up: non-purebred sheep seem to range from about $50 to $90 a head, and fencing can be very expensive if you need to provide it. Consider the financial aspects carefully before you plunge into shepherding.
  • Are you physically capable of taking care of sheep? Sheep occasionally need to be flipped so you can check and trim their feet, or so you can give them inoculations. There's a technique to it, and most average-size, average-strength women can handle medium-sized sheep with no problems at all. But if you have any physical limitations, you should help a friend with trimming or vaccinations to determine whether you feel comfortable with the work involved.
  • Do you have a safe, appropriate place to keep your sheep? For many people, the field's the rub: leasing an appropriate field can be a daunting task. If you live in a rural area, finding a field will be relatively easy; if you live in an urban or suburban area, be prepared to knock on many doors and pay a premium price when you do find something. Click here for more information about locating a field for your sheep.

If you have to answer "no" to any of these questions, don't despair: you can certainly consider hooking up with a sheep-addicted friend or two to pool your time and resources. Many of us share our sheep with a partner. For more information about locating a sheep partner or starting a sheep co-op, click here.