Raising sheep has always been difficult in the mountains due to predation by wolves, to begin, and later on, dogs and coyotes. Through the years some Mitchell County landowners have attempted to bring sheep back to Mitchell County with electric fencing and the addition of donkeys or dogs such as Great Pyrenees. This photo from about 1952 illustrates the importance of fences and a good sheep dog to raising sheep.
Sheep are valuable as providers of both wool and meat, and one acre of land can support 3-5 sheep, as opposed to 1-2 cows. It’s untrue, as cattle ranchers in Old Westerns claimed, that sheep ruin grazing lands, but they do crop the grass more closely and must be rotated around the pastures. After the Spring shearing, sheep were taken higher in the mountains to graze the lush Summer grass in places like the Roan Highlands’ Grassy Ridge, shown here.
According to Jeff Vance with the Agricultural Extension Office, only 50-75 head of sheep are now grazed in Mitchell County by about half a dozen producers. Surrounding counties have higher numbers of sheep. Much of the former pasture land in Mitchell County has gone back to woodland, but this photo demonstrates that grazing animals and growing grasses for fodder once kept the hillsides clear.