Thursday, March 21, 2013

The 2013 plan: Flock reduction of sheep

I've been thinking about farming operations, and here's the basic plans for the coming year. 

In this entry: 
Sheep:  Reducing the flock

Coming entries (in alphabetical order):
Beef:  Change the herd
Bees:  They're back!
Chickens: Increase the flock
Dairy:  Start milking this summer
Pigs:  Increase the herd

Twin lambs from this ewe last year

I'll be reducing the size of my sheep herd to about half what it is now; I'll keep a few sheep around because they're handy to mow down the grass and I do like to eat them, but I'm not going to offer lamb as a product from here on. 

I've been working with the sheep for five years now, and I cannot fault them.  They lamb with basically no intervention, eat a lot of grass, and don't require much input to keep around, and generally can be ignored most of the time, but I just don't see enough revenue coming from them to continue to grow them commercially. 

I  am torn about this because  this is one of the few animals that you can honestly put out to pasture and have it do pretty darn well just on grass and a little bit of minerals and some hay in the winter.  If the world ended tomorrow, I could do worse than a flock of sheep for this area, and climate. 

As far as farm operations go, I have to take pains to keep the sheep from eating the turkey or chicken or pig food; they are insistent about eating anything they can get, and while there is plenty of green grass around, sheep (and cows) will fight to get into the feeders of other critters.  The sale of individual sheep brings in somewhere around $200, but after counting all the costs and labor,  I net about $40 per sheep, and the random sheep sales we do are mostly a distraction that takes time away from other farm activities. 

To make it worthwhile I'd have to get a lot more sheep (and a bunch more acres to feed them) and figure out something that works better as fencing, as we have lost sheep to dogs or coyotes and even had sheep get killed by fencing when I tried to change our practices to get the sheep to fit into my farm more completely.

The biggest market for sheep in this area are Muslims, and having a pig operation on the same property complicates that business.  If I were to do sheep, I'd probably have a lot more sheep than I do now, and do sheep exclusively. 


Jeff said...

I've been vacillating between getting sheep or cattle for a while now. I agree with the upside of cattle being more revenue per animal and easier to fence. There are a lot of grass-fed cattle producers around here and not many sheep producers though, and it seems easier to market a whole or half lamb to a family than a whole or half beef.

Bruce King said...

it's a lot larger sale to sell even a quarter beef than say 4 to 6 lambs. My experience has been that people around here buy one or two lambs a year. Selling 4 beef quarters means I deal with (mostly) 4 families. Selling that same amount of lamb means I have to deal with 12-24 familes.

Not saying that customers are bad, but every customer does need a bit of support in the sale, and those minutes add up for me.

Plus there's a pretty ready wholesale market for beef that supports pretty good prices right now, so if I decided that I didn't want to directly market my product I can load the trailer and the cows are all gone in a day.