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Top Ten Tools for Shepherds

Recently, we made a list of “top ten tools” that are our favorites around the farm. We have been building our farm since before 1988, so we certainly acknowledge that accessing all these tools at once may not be feasible, but we thought we’d share our list for other shepherds to consider as they build their businesses and their shepherd shopping lists.

People tend to ask us, “Why don’t you have a four wheeler?” We do…but our four wheels are on a loader tractor! With different attachments, a loader tractor can be used in all kinds of ways – bale mover, heavy bucket lifter, barn clean outs, L-ambulance and more on top of seasonal fieldwork.
hay harvestHarvesting hay with a small crew is made easier with a square bale accumulator and grabber. Say no to unsafe wagon-riding and yes to tight stacks of bales!
Marweld scaleGreat animal-handling equipment helps to ensure low-stress animal welfare and with maintaining positive person-person relationships. (If you know, you know!) As a bonus to the Marweld handling equipment, Marweld also makes great scales that help businesses track the efficiency of ewes and lambs and provide consistency in finished meat products. (This is a brand we sell and deliver to Michigan customers.)
Shearwell handheldShearwell: It is important to measure the performance of a farm business, and this includes the production data of farm animals. Our management records are now kept electronically (and sometimes paired with handwritten field notes) so that we’re continuously analyzing and monitoring the fine details of our flock using a database system that is used worldwide.
Taking pictures on cell phoneCell phone: The amount of calls we take from the fields, barn or truck now is incredible. In the ’90s, we were telling folks a good window to call, but now it seems we have to be available all the time. Spoiler alert: We’re still not available all the time. Farming is dangerous, busy and loud, and it’s important that we focus on our work. But we do keep our phones close-ish for emergencies, farm photos, weather reports, field notes, podcasts and occasional FaceTimes from family.
fence remoteIn a pasture-based system, we do a lot of field walks. It’s THE worst to get to the back of the farm and remember that the fence hasn’t been turned off. A Kencove fence remote can be used to turn an electric fence on or off from wherever you are in a field by it communicating back to the fence charger. It also has a feature that helps find where shorts are in the electrical circuit.
Sheep net fenceRotational, intensive-grazing is made possible with good fences and great forage. Setting up high-quality net fences keeps paddocks to a manageable size. (Appropriate paddock size depends on the number of grazing animals, the forage mix varieties and the growth status of forages. Our strictest rule is to be flexible.)
HoseOn a similar note, fields set up to use above-ground water lines with self-waterers clipped into snap-couplers takes care of the most important nutrition factor – easy-access, fresh water. For meat lambs, self-feeders that are kept full of healthy “grainola,” are another great tool.
manure pileSome manure on our farm is applied directly to fields as sheep move through them by living outdoors. But between using the barn for winter lambing and for feeding meat lambs, lots of manure gets built up and cleaned out as needed. Sometimes manure is left in a pile to compost before the pile of nutrients is applied to our soil with a manure spreader for healthy pastures, and sometimes it is applied right away to hay fields that are freshly harvested.
Bale unrollerA bale unroller is a dream for feeding round hay bales outdoors in the colder seasons. It creates a great line of nutrition that spaces out a sheep flock. Feeding in a different location every day using this tool also helps with ground coverage and natural manure coverage.

Honorable mentions:

  • A basket of lambing tools, including a crook that can be used to nab a sheep or lamb. It’s also an alternative to press the electric fence down when you forget to turn off the fence or grab the fence remote.
  • Our fence post pounder has been a great investment as we built fence for all the grazing and perimeter spaces over three owned farm properties.
  • We always have flowering pastures, so we recently added honeybees to our animal mix. Managing bees has its own learning curve! New in our useful tools list is a bee net hat and gloves.
  • Actually, any gloves are a good idea! And ear protection.
  • A pile of boards for any project on the farm comes in handy. Even handier is having your own woods to harvest trees for custom-milling these boards. And chainsaws.
  • Heavy-duty trucks and trailers, both for equipment and for livestock.
  • Shepherds do not need to be sheep shearers. Some shepherds like us own a shearing machine, handpieces, combs and cutters. And you know what? We still hire professional sheep shearers to shear the majority of our sheep. Our sheep are shorn once per year, plus meat lambs can be shorn to promote growth and cleanliness. Taking a sheep shearing class – or chatting with your sheep shearer for guidance – helps a shepherd understand the importance of calm animal handling techniques, equipment safety, wool quality and more. But we’ll say again: shepherds do not need to be sheep shearers.

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