Thailand, a country known for its stunning landscapes, vibrant culture, and delicious cuisine, may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of sheep farming. However, the practice of keeping sheep in Thailand has been gaining popularity in recent years. (We would say that wouldn’t we?)
In this blog post, we will explore the reasons behind keeping sheep in Thailand and delve into the benefits and challenges of sheep farming in the Land of Smiles as we see it.
For the record, we have four sheep. Two ewes and two rams. Both ewes and rams have paired up and are inseparable. We call them Ying and Yang, the other two are called Fish and Chips. Yes, we have a sheep called Fish! Go figure!!
The Growing Demand for Sheep Products
Although our primary reasons for raring sheep in Thailand is simply for land management, there are other reasons to consider.
One reason maybe the increasing demand for sheep products. Sheep are a valuable source of wool, meat, and milk, all of which have a range of applications. Let’s take a closer look at each of these products and their significance:
Wool: The wool from sheep is commonly used in the textile industry to create warm and cosy garments. It is known for its excellent insulation properties (earth houses etc.), breathability, and durability. Thai consumers, like many others around the world, appreciate the comfort and quality that wool provides.
However, our sheep breed shed their wool, so we don’t have to shear them, (I’m a lazy farmer). This breed is more adapted and happier in our hot and humid environment than a wooly breed.
Meat: Sheep meat, also known as lamb or mutton, is highly regarded for its nutritional value and unique flavour. It is a lean source of protein, rich in essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. The demand for high-quality, locally sourced, grass fed and finished meat has been on the rise in Thailand especially among the expat community. A roast on Sunday anyone!!
Thai’s I’m told don’t have the desire to eat lamb because they don’t like the smell. However, finding a reliable slaughter-man and butcher can also be a challenge locally.
Milk: Sheep milk is becoming increasingly popular among health enthusiasts and people with lactose intolerance. It has a higher concentration of solids and fat compared to cow’s milk, making it creamier and more flavourful. Sheep milk is also rich in calcium, vitamins, and other beneficial nutrients.
Milking sheep – I’ll leave to those of you who are more active, but it’s food for thought if you are considering keeping sheep in Thailand.
With the general population becoming more health-conscious and environmentally aware, there is a growing preference for organic and locally sourced products. Sheep farming possibly provides a unique opportunity to meet this demand by offering high-quality, sustainable products that are in line with these evolving consumer preferences.
Adaptability to the Thai Climate
Despite the tropical climate that characterises most of Thailand, certain regions, such as the highlands in the north, offer cooler temperatures and more favourable conditions for keeping sheep. These areas provide the necessary environment for sheep to thrive, with abundant grazing land, moderate temperatures, and a suitable amount of rainfall.
Farmers in these regions have successfully adapted their farming practices to create comfortable conditions for their sheep. They utilize techniques such as shade structures, proper ventilation, and access to clean water to ensure the well-being of their animals. By carefully selecting sheep breeds that are more resistant to heat, farmers can mitigate the challenges posed by the tropical climate.
In addition to the climatic factors, the topography of the highlands in northern Thailand provides ideal grazing conditions. The lush green pastures offer a diverse range of grasses and vegetation that can support the nutritional needs of sheep. This natural abundance of food ensures that the sheep have access to a well-balanced diet, contributing to their overall health and productivity.
However, we are not in the northern highlands of Thailand. We are in Trat province, known as the fruit basket of Thailand with the highest rainfall. It’s always lush and green here even in the dry season, so raising sheep on the land here there is an abundance of fresh food for them. The main concern is to keep them dry, so they do not develop foot rot. Providing suitable shelter for them is paramount.
Sustainable Land Management
Sheep farming in Thailand contributes to sustainable land management practices. The grazing habits of sheep can be beneficial for the environment in several ways:
Control of invasive plant species: Sheep have a natural inclination to graze on a wide variety of plants. This behaviour helps control the growth of invasive plant species that can threaten the biodiversity of an ecosystem. By consuming these plants, sheep prevent them from spreading and overpowering native vegetation.
Promotion of biodiversity: Sheep grazing can enhance biodiversity by creating a mosaic of habitats. As they graze, they create open spaces and diverse vegetation structures, which attract a wide range of insects, birds, and other wildlife. This, in turn, contributes to a healthier and more balanced ecosystem.
Prevention of soil erosion: The hooves of sheep can help compact the soil, reducing erosion caused by wind and water. The grazing action also encourages the growth of grasses with deep root systems, which further stabilise the soil and prevent erosion and floods.
To ensure sustainable land management, farmers strategically rotate the grazing areas for their sheep. This practice allows the land to recover and regenerate, making redundant the need for chemical fertilisers and herbicides. The sheep’s manure also plays a vital role in enriching the soil as organic fertiliser, reducing reliance on synthetic alternatives. This closed-loop system not only benefits the environment but also helps farmers reduce their production costs while maintaining the quality of their products.
Sheep manure is highly beneficial to build healthy soil. It is high in phosphorus and potassium, just two of the essential elements for optimal plant growth.
Our primary reason for adopting sheep into our permaculture system is to let the animals graze so we don’t spend hours cutting grass or paying a team to do it for us. Secondly, the sheep droppings (it looks like rabbit poo) helps to regenerate the soil. By rotational grazing our sheep we are rejuvenating the soil, keeping cost down and saving time on jobs around the farm. So far, it’s working out very well for us. The sheep are also amusing to watch play and are real characters.
Watch our two sheep, Ying and Yang helping to prepare the raise beds and clear the grass between them in this short video.
Economic Opportunities for Farmers
Keeping sheep also presents economic opportunities for farmers in Thailand. By diversifying their agricultural activities, farmers can generate additional income streams and improve their overall financial stability. Sheep farming could be an underserved and a profitable venture, providing farmers with a steady source of revenue through the sale of wool, meat, and milk.
Sheep can be purchased from as little as five thousand Baht to thirty thousand Thai Baht each, depending on the variety and your negotiation skills. A ewe can birth one lamb per year but often deliver twins, so a flock can be built up quite rapidly. The average gestation period of sheep is 147 days.
Additionally, sheep farming can create employment opportunities within rural communities. As the industry grows, there is a need for skilled workers to assist with various tasks, such as shearing, feeding, and animal health management. This can help stimulate local economies and improve the standard of living for those involved.
Furthermore, sheep farming can contribute to tourism in Thailand. The sight of sheep grazing in the picturesque highlands or petting animals at resorts attracts visitors who are interested in getting close to nature, while experiencing rural life in Thailand and agriculture. This can lead to the development of agritourism activities, including farm stays, guided tours, and educational programs. Such initiatives not only generate income for farmers but also promote cultural exchange and appreciation for traditional farming practices.
Challenges and Considerations
While sheep farming in Thailand offers numerous benefits, it is not without its challenges. The tropical climate, for instance, poses a risk of heat stress and disease for the animals. Shepherds must carefully manage their flocks’ exposure to heat and provide appropriate measures to keep them cool and hydrated.
To combat heat stress, we farmers and homesteaders employ various strategies:
Shade structures: Providing shaded areas within the grazing areas allows the sheep to seek shelter from the direct sun. These structures can be natural, such as trees, or man-made, like shelters or canopies.
Proper ventilation: Ensuring good airflow within the sheep housing or resting areas helps regulate the temperature and prevent heat build-up. This can be achieved through well-designed barns or open-sided structures that allow for natural ventilation.
Access to clean water: Adequate hydration is crucial for sheep to cope with heat stress. Farmers must ensure that there are sufficient water sources available for the sheep to drink from and cool themselves down.
Another challenge is the availability of suitable pastureland. As agricultural land is often converted for other purposes, finding adequate grazing areas can be a concern. However, innovative practices such food forests and the cultivation of alternative forage crops can help address this issue and ensure a sustainable food supply for the sheep.
Furthermore, disease and parasite control are crucial aspects of sheep farming. Farmers need to implement regular health checks to prevent the spread of diseases and maintain the overall well-being of their flocks. They also need to address the risk of parasites, such as ticks and worms, through proper deworming protocols and parasite prevention measures like rotational grazing. Having your chickens free-range with your sheep can also mitigate some of these potential issues.
The practice of keeping sheep in Thailand is gaining momentum due to the growing demand for sheep products, adaptability to the Thai climate, sustainable land management practices, and economic opportunities for farmers. While there are challenges to overcome, innovative approaches and a commitment to animal welfare can help ensure a thriving and sustainable sheep farming industry in Thailand.
Keeping Sheep in Thailand FAQ
What are the primary motivations behind keeping sheep in Thailand?
Our primary motivations for keeping sheep in Thailand is for the management of grass and to regenerate the soil on our farm to build a healthy and sustainable closed-loop ecosystem.
What are the pros and cons of raring sheep in Thailand?
Pros – Sheep are easy to look after, keep grass and weeds in check and provide the beneficial manure for you garden.
Cons – Need to build high fences to keep them enclosed and safe from soi dogs, need plenty of land for rotational grazing and prevent over-grazing. Finally, sheep pens and infrastructure are needed to keep them safe, cool, and dry from the elements.
How do sheep farming practices adapt to the Thai climate?
Sheep farmers in Thailand need to provide shade structures with proper ventilation, and access to clean water to ensure the well-being of their sheep. They also need to carefully select heat-resistant sheep breeds to mitigate the challenges posed by the tropical climate.
How does sheep farming contribute to sustainable land management in Thailand?
Sheep farming contributes to sustainable land management by controlling invasive plant species, promoting biodiversity, and preventing soil erosion. Farmers strategically rotate grazing areas, which allows the land to recover and regenerate naturally, eliminating the need for artificial chemical fertilisers and herbicides.
What are the economic opportunities for farmers in sheep farming?
Sheep farming provides economic opportunities for farmers in Thailand by diversifying their agricultural activities and generating additional income through the sale of wool, meat, and milk. It also creates employment opportunities within rural communities and contributes to tourism through agritourism activities.
Do you have experience of keeping sheep in Thailand or another hot and humid climate? If so share your experiences in the comments below.
Why we keep sheep in Thailand