When I lived in CT and my girls were small we had a small flock for my family and I and the mill. During that time I learned a few things about keeping their fleeces cleaner. So, If you are new to raising sheep for fiber there are a few things that will change the condition of your fleece drastically.
The first thing is bedding, what are you using for bedding in the barn or pens? Don’t ever use shavings or sawdust! It gets embedded into their fleece and you will never get it out, plus there is a good chance that the mill won’t take them, I know I won’t.
The best place to keep sheep is on pasture, these will be some of the cleanest fleeces.
However, here in New England, that’s not really practical with our extreme temperatures and growing season, they will have to be fed hay at some point. The best place to feed hay is on the ground or in a feeder. Although Feeding hay on the ground works, they waste a ton so it’s not very cost-effective. A lot of the feeders out there are made to be screwed up high or in a corner and although it looks nice it’s not very practical. Sheep like to eat together so the sheep will pull the hay down and then all the little chaff falls onto their heads or their friends’ backs.
The best feeders I have found I have found are either box feeders or a set up with head gates similar to what you see at a dairy farm.
They both work really well, the key to both is to have enough space that there isn’t overcrowding and they are nicely spaced out so they aren’t eating over each other's backs. If you are handy you can easily make either I think, but the box feeder is probably the easiest if you have a small flock. If you have a larger then I would suggest the stanchion type feeder.
No feeder is perfect, but I think these two types that are out there are some of the best and most practical. Who knows, maybe as you watch your animals eating and interacting you'll come up with something even better. I know we use a box feeder now for my daughters' steers and it saves us a ton from them laying in it. Someday we will be back to sheep but, for now, its kids and 4-h working steers ;)
If you are new to raising sheep for fiber be sure to check out our post here.