Agricultural Issues - Raising Sheep

The relatively low investment and natural slowly increasing size of a flock of sheep makes them ideal for the beginning small or part-time farmer. Plain white wool, naturally dark colored wool, "freezer lambs," and ordinary slaughter lambs are the primary markets available for small-scale sheep production. Experts figure it takes about 2 hours of work per year to maintain one ewe and her offspring on a farm pasture.

There are some economic and biological advantages to adding some sheep to a beef cattle operation. When beef prices fall, lamb prices go up, and vice versa. And shared pastures work well because cattle prefer grasses and sheep prefer forbs.

If the forage is adequate, sheep can be fed out to market on forage alone. This can greatly reduce the cost of feeding them (except in the winter). As long as the sheep are protected from predators such as roving dogs and coyotes, they can run freely on natural meadowland, woods, orchards, waterways, or abandoned cropland.

Startup cost for a 104 animal flock (100 ewes, 4 rams) ranges between $100 and $150 per ewe and $200-$300 per ram. Compared with beef cattle, current market prices allow you to buy 10 ewes or 1 cow. At market time, a price of $75 per hundred-weight means that the gross annual profit per ewe can average $80.

An entrepreneur can increase earnings by improving flock quality. Higher quality means more lambs produced per ewe and those lambs grow faster. The sheep producers council has organized the National Sheep Improvement Program with a computerized evaluation system to help producers find superior stock.

Suppliers of "freezer lambs" can earn much higher profits. What they are doing is direct supplying local lamb consumers or immigrants from Middle Eastern countries like Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iran or Greece. Many freezer plants and slaughterhouses have a butcher available for processing after slaughter.

There are sheep that produce blond, red, brown, silver, beige, and gray wool, in addition to those that produce white and black wool. Undyed, unprocessed, natural color fleeces are popular with the felt, weavers and fiber art markets but no major woolen mill will handle colored wool because of the wide variations in quality, grade and color. The best fleeces of natural colored wool command premium prices, especially if you are selling them directly to art weavers, spinners and schools that have classes in fiber and textile arts. logo
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