Unless you own a farm, any dreams you harbor of having your own sheep depend on finding some land to keep them on. For that search to be successful, you must first know what to look for, and then find a way to get it.
WHAT TO LOOK FORArea
. Think big, even if you and your dog are both total beginners, because as you progress you will quickly outgrow the size field that seems appropriate to you at the start. You can keep six or seven sheep (the bare minimum number to train with) on two acres or so in most places, but that will not afford you enough space to develop your dog's abilities. Five acres is probably the minimum you should consider, and ten or upwards would be a lot better. Just as important as the size of the land is its shape. A long, narrow five-acre field is not much use; your field can be irregular in shape, but if it's small, its overall area should be roughly as wide as it is long. You'll want to make sure the land has decent drainage so your sheep can keep their feet dry, and that it either has good grass already growing on it or the soil is fertile enough to grow good pasture if you have to seed.Fencing
. You need good fencing to keep sheep. If you can find land that is already fenced, you're way ahead of the game. Woven wire field fence is ideal, but board fence is pretty good as long as you can tack wire fencing to it. Even if the land was once fenced and only the fence posts remain, if they are in good shape it'll be a lot easier to fence than if you have to start from scratch. If you do have to do any or all of the fencing yourself, it makes sense to price posts, fence rolls and gates ahead of times to be sure it won't exceed your budget.Facilities
. Running water and electricity are major pluses, though not strictly necessary. I carried water from home and did without electricity for many years, even while lambing. Some type of shelter is fairly essential, though; even if your sheep don't need it, you'll need it to store your hay and feed. If there's no barn or lean-to on the property, you will probably need to build one or buy a portable shed. Another plus of having a shelter is that you can attach guttering and a downspout to it and thereby channel rainwater into a stock tank, which should be sufficient for most of your water needs.
HOW TO GET IT
If you can afford to buy, you probably won't have much difficulty finding suitable land. Otherwise, you'll need to use some ingenuity to find something you can rent. Some possible approaches:
- Tack up a card describing the property you seek at your local feed stores
- Advertise in the PennySaver or a similar local publication.
- Check with your county or municipality to see if there is any unused public land you might be able to use.
- Be alert for land slated for development, where zoning, financing or other problems may delay plans for a few years; the owners may be willing to lease the land to you in the meantime.
If you find something approximating what you want, you'll need to consider terms of a lease. The more work and money required from you to get the property into shape (fencing, for example, or building a shed), the more important it is that you have a lease guaranteeing you the use of the property for several years, so that you can't be evicted before you've had the benefit of the improvements you've made. A fair price will vary according to the part of the country you're in, but having a nice, reasonable landlord, who will perhaps mow for you once or twice a year or feed your sheep in an emergency, is worth a little extra rent.
All this may seem very formidable, but many aspiring sheepdoggers before you have found land on which they could keep sheep, and you can too. It may take a lot of effort on your part, or it could fall into your lap. Many years ago, I drove up the lane of a farm that appeared underused, knocked on the door, and said to the stranger who answered, "I'm looking for a field to keep my sheep in." He stood silent for about a minute and then replied, "Which field do you want?" I had to fence, but there was a dilapidated barn I could use, and I was charged no rent at all, and I kept my sheep there for at least five years. May you be as lucky.