At the California State University, Fresno Sheep Unit, there are approximately 100 mature Ewes. The sheep raised here are mainly sold for 4-H and FFA project lambs, and meat production. Some lambs are also kept as replacement breeding stock at the unit.
A female sheep is called an ewe. A male sheep intact and used for breeding is a ram or sometimes a buck. A male that has been castrated and will be used for meat is a wether. There are two breeds of sheep raised here. Hampshire and Suffolk, and crossbreeds between the two breeds.
The Suffolk has white wool with a black face and black legs. Their head and legs have no wool on them. The Suffolk sheep came from the South-Eastern part of England. A mature ram weighs 275 to 300 pounds and a mature ewe weighs 200 to 225 pounds. The ewes often have twins which are preferred in the sheep industry. The breed is heavily muscled and is known for it’s abundance of edible meat and high quality cuts. The Suffolk breed is often cross-bred with other breeds to add their characteristics to a herd.
There are approximately 100 ewes used for breeding at the Sheep Unit. All of the breeding is done by natural cover, meaning the ram is turned out with the ewes for 4 months. The ewe’s gestation is 150 days. Most lambs are born between November and April. When it is time for an ewe to give birth, she is kept in a pasture near the barn. Students watch the ewes and will assist with the birth if necessary. As soon as the lamb is born, ewe and lamb or lambs are brought into the barn where it is warm. The lambs are ear-tagged for identification and their tails are eventually docked. Lambs usually weigh about 10 to 14 pounds at birth. They are weaned at 2 months of age.
Once the lambs are weaned, they can be sold. Lambs are marketed for meat when they reach about 110 to 150 pounds, which takes about 5 to 7 months. Some of the lambs are kept on campus for replacement breeding stock, while others are sold to producers, 4-H and FFA kids and some are sold to the Meat Lab for meat production.
The sheep at Fresno State graze on pasture and are fed alfalfa hay and a concentrate which contains rolled corn, rolled barley, soybean meal and molasses. They also have plenty of cool, clean water at all times.
The sheep are shorn or shaved once a year in the spring. The wool is placed in large bags and sold. It is cleaned and used to produce sweaters, blankets, carpet and clothing.